Valley Stream District wins program’s 15th air rifle title

When the undefeated Valley Stream District air rifle team departed the Nassau County championship in Glen Cove, they knew they had a chance of winning the program’s 15th title. But the team didn’t know for sure – and they wouldn’t find out until the next morning.

“It was hard and I completely understood desperately needing to know who won, because I also competed in high school,” VSD air rifle team coach Heather Zawislak said. “But what can you do? All I could tell the team was that I watched them shoot and I counted up their targets and they all did extremely well.”

To guarantee everyone’s safety, only two of the four teams competed at once. This caused a delay in crowning a champion the night of Feb. 24.

This year, each team had six athletes take 20 shots (all while standing, called offhand) with their air rifle from a distance of 10 meters. Athletes have 29 minutes to complete the 20 shots, and only the top four scores count toward the team’s final score. The maximum score is 200 per athlete and 800 as a team.

Zawislak found out the team won with a 751 score the next morning. She made sure to text the six varsity members – co-captains Nicholas Cavaliere and Ivan Ymaz, Priya Mangal, Victoria Andreo, Tiffany Wu and Keegan Banda.

The team’s coach also had special news to share with Cavaliere.

“When [Zawislak] said I shot a 191 and I was the individual county champion, I was so excited,” said the junior from Valley Stream North. “I was at home sitting in my chair and I jumped up because I didn’t expect that. It was a real shock, but I have been working really hard to get that.”

Although Cavaliere was elated, he couldn’t share his excitement with anyone in person. Both of his parents were working, but he made sure to give them a call.

“If we were all together, I am sure our reaction would have been different,” Cavaliere said. “But we were at different places when we found out. I didn’t have anyone to tell until my parents got home. They were so proud, especially my dad who taught me all about the sport.”

Cavaliere’s father, Gerardo, also helped the team with COVID-19 protocols.

To start the season, the team could only have three – not six – athletes practice at a time. After using this format for two weeks, Cavaliere, Gerardo and Zawislak sought out a solution.

“My dad came up with the idea to create dividers with PVC pipe and shower curtains,” Cavaliere said. “This allowed us to all practice together and get in the same amount of work that we needed in order to continue to improve this season.”

Ymaz said creating the dividers was a game-changer.

“It was difficult to basically have our practice time cut in half,” the junior from Valley Stream Central, said. “In this sport, practice time is crucial and once we were able to get in as many reps as normal – it was great.”

The team was able to come together for a small celebration in the basement of the Valley Stream Memorial Middle School, which is where they practice. Although the tables were spaced out, masks were on and distances were kept, the team was just happy they could all be together to celebrate a successful end to a crazy season.

“I am so proud of this team and everything we accomplished,” Cavaliere said. “If there are less restrictions next year, we will go about it the same way we did this year. That is what I have been saying to my team.”

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