Rifle team members in Nassau high schools; Amisha Mangal, left,...

Rifle team members in Nassau high schools; Amisha Mangal, left, of Valley Stream Central High School, and Priya Mangal of Memorial Junior High School, in kneeling position of 3p. 3p stands for 3 position. The 3 positions in air rifle shooting are: offhand, prone, and kneeling. Credit: Heather Zawislak

Matthew D’Arcio has great memories of West Point from 2018.

D’Arcio competed as a sophomore for the Valley Stream District air rifle team that won its eighth state championship that year at the United States Military Academy.

Two years later, D’Arcio and the Eagles, who have a combined record of 28-0 the last two seasons, qualified for the state championships on March 7. Valley Stream District punched its ticket to West Point after capturing its 14th Nassau title (and fourth in the last five years) since the 1994-1995 season.

“I was excited to be [at West Point] again,” said D’Arcio, a senior captain, who attends Valley Stream South. “I knew we’d all do our best, and I’d be happy as long as I did my best for us.”

The state championships -- with schools from seven sections across the state that compete in the coed sport -- feature both team and sectional titles. Valley Stream District finished second behind Clarence (Section VI) in the team event, and Nassau (Section VIII) was second in the state sectionals behind Section VI.

D’Arcio placed ninth in the state in the standing position and was 14th overall (aggregate). He was joined by teammates Nicholas Cavaliere (Valley Stream North) who was second in prone and eighth overall; Amisha Mangal (Valley Stream Central) who was fifth in standing position and 13th overall; and her sister, ninth-grader Priya Mangal (Memorial Junior H.S.), who was sixth in both prone and kneeling, seventh in offhand and sixth overall.

Malaika Zaidi and Ivan Ymaz, both from Valley Stream Central, also competed on the varsity for the Eagles, while members of the Nassau sectional team included Victoria Xikis (Glen Cove), Sierra Shim (Freeport) and Brianna Utz (Massapequa).

“I’m glad that we participated in the state championship both as a district team and a sectional team,” Amisha Mangal said. “We all did our best, and earning any award was an honor.”

Awards and honors bring to mind Long Island high school athletic programs that dominated their respective sport. The list could include Miller Place in badminton, Ward Melville in boys and girls fencing, Manhasset in boys track, and Mepham in wrestling, to name a few.

The Valley Stream District air rifle team is worthy of some consideration for that group as well with a record eight state crowns, including seven straight from 2007-2013. The coach behind that amazing run was Blake McCauley, a long-time PAL rifle coach and instructor.

Interestingly, his daughter, Heather Zawislak -- a former standout at Garden City -- has been the Eagles head coach the past two seasons.

“I’ve always just loved the sport,” said Zawislak, who competed against and met her husband Stephen, who was coached by her father at VSD. “My whole life is intertwined with this sport in one way or another. When the job opened up [at Valley Stream District] I had to go for it . . . and it has worked out well.”

The Eagles, who won a Nassau championship on Feb. 11, are one of eight teams that compete in air rifle in Nassau, including Glen Cove, Freeport, Garden City, Baldwin, Massapequa, Bellmore-Merrick and Sewanhaka District. (No Suffolk high school has competed in air rifle since the 1970s according to Newsday high school sports historian Andy Slawson.)

Zawislak always has a go-to person when it comes to riflery -- her father.

“He talks to me all the time," Zawislak said, "and he knows so much."

The beginning of the season can be a stressful time for Zawislak.

“Because of video games like Call of Duty and games like paintball, I can have 60 kids try out, which is really tough to do,” said Zawislak, who says she keeps between 10-to-12 members on the varsity team. (There is also a junior varsity team.) “I want to make sure each athlete gets the right amount of attention so they can get better.”

When it comes to air rifle in Nassau and the state, few programs have better pedigree than Valley Stream District.

“It’s good to know I’ll be remembered with other exceptional athletes,” D’Arcio said. “I’m just keeping the tradition going -- the Valley Stream legacy.”

How it works:

In a high school air rifle meet, each team has six athletes that take 20 shots (all while standing, called offhand) with their air rifle from a distance of 10 meters. The bull’s-eye of an air rifle target is about the size of a silver dollar. Athletes have 29 minutes to complete the 20 shots, and only the top four scores count toward the team’s final score.

In county and state championship events, athletes take 30 shots -- 10 each in three different positions: offhand (standing), prone (lying down) and kneeling. -- John Boell

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