Two Columbus area teams will be a part of the 14-team field at Saturday's state riflery championships at the Pool International Shooting Complex at Fort Benning.
Northside will be trying to build on its fourth-place finish last year to win for the first time since 2007. Columbus, which is coming off back-to-back seventh-place finishes at state, is searching for its first title in program history.
Though the two teams took different paths to make the championship field, both coaches are confident about their chances.
Northside made it in with victories in the state playoffs, defeating South Cobb and Gainesville to be among the 12 teams that won their way in. Columbus, meanwhile, lost its semifinal match to Luella by three points, but was one of two wildcard teams to advance via point totals.
"We feel like we can match up well with every team competing at state," Columbus coach Frank Tuggle said. "If you look across the board, we consistently scored as high or higher than a lot of teams."
Columbus scored higher than six of the 12 semifinal winners. It lost with a score of 1,138, just seven points shy of last year's winning total. It scored 1,154 in a quarterfinal win.
"If the stars align, I think we can make some noise," Tuggle said.
He is basing his hopes on a solid core of shooters. Kelly Orck averaged near 288, he said, followed by Josh Gonzalez at 285. Sierra Moon was at 282, and Veronica Leggett, a rookie shooter, at 278.
If they shoot their averages, the Blue Devils should be in the thick of things.
Northside, meanwhile, enters with high expectations.
After a fourth-place finish a year ago, it is looking to get back to its winning ways. It won three straight state titles from 2005-07 and was runner-up in 2008 and 2010.
"Obviously, we're looking to improve on (last year's finish) this year," coach Richard Brewer said. "I believe we've got as good a chance as any in the field going out there. If we shoot what we're capable of shooting, we've got as good a chance as anyone else."
It averaged just over a 1,111 for the season and scored 1,132 in the Area-1 championships, one point shy of area champ Columbus.
In the state championships, though, anything is possible, Brewer said.
"I can tell you from experience, there's just something about the state meet that changes the dynamic of that place quite a bit," he said of the shooting complex. "It's just a high-pressure environment. Teams can have some high averages during the season, but then last year's winning team shot a 1,145. Everybody realizes this is a big deal. This is the finale. You're looking to come out of there with the big prize."
There will be two relays at the event, one at 11 a.m. and another at 12:45 p.m. The total score from the two relays will determine the team champions. Then, the top eight shooters from the first two relays will compete individually to determine individual champions.
Admission to the event is free of charge.