Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Aiming For Her Best

By Brian Rosenthal

The only returning All-American on Nebraska’s roster, junior Samantha Peterson, from Ham Lake, Minnesota, leads the No. 11 Nebraska rifle team into Sunday’s NCAA qualifier match against Murray State to conclude the regular season. As a sophomore, Peterson was the only member of the team to be squadded in both disciplines in every match for the Huskers, including the GARC Championships and the NCAA Championships. A four-time member of the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll, Peterson is also a two-time selection to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team. Peterson discussed her background in rifle and explained more about her sport in this question-and-answer session with Brian Rosenthal.

BR: How did you become interested and involved in shooting?

Samantha: “I’ve been shooting since I was probably around 12 years old, and my family, we’ve always been very involved in the outdoors and hunting and fishing. I can’t even remember the first time I shot a firearm, because I had just been exposed to them for so long. I actually, kind of funny, did competitive dance before rifle. Then my brother, he found a local rifle club and I went to one of his competitions one day, and I was like, ‘OK, that’s pretty cool.’ And the next year, I picked up rifle.”

BR: In your opinion, what’s the most important skill a shooter must have to succeed on the Division I level?

Samantha: “I think the most important skill that a shooter needs to have is resiliency. Because in a competition setting, you really have to learn when to pick yourself up, even when things aren’t going as planned. I have come across a lot of obstacles, such as my gun breaking or my position just not feeling right or maybe a physical injury or just not feeling well. But you really have to just push through it and make every shot count. It’s a really great feeling when you walk off the line, and you’re like, maybe things didn’t go as planned, maybe I had a few obstacles that I need to overcome, but I did give it my all and I did lay it all on the line today.”

BR: What do you do when your gun breaks?

Samantha: “Our wonderful coaches, you set a timer sometimes, and your coaches kind of have to come together and figure out what went wrong, and then if we have the resources available to fix it, then you can fix it. But I actually have had matches where I had maybe seven shots left in air rifle and I just had to pick up my teammate’s gun when they were done and finish the seven shots with their rifle, if the pieces or equipment or whatever broke wasn’t available.”

BR: Can you explain to new spectators or fans what to expect if they attended a meet?

Samantha: “We always start out shooting smallbore, which is .22, and smallbore is personally my favorite because of how different it is, compared to air rifle. In smallbore, we shoot three positions. We start out in kneeling, and then we shoot prone and then we shoot standing, and it’s 20 shots in each of those positions. Personally, I really enjoy the position changes. I think it’s fun and different. We have probably a 30 minute break in which you have to get your air rifle ready, eat a snack, because it’s another hour and a half of competing, so you need extra energy to prepare yourself. It’s 60 shots air rifle, and that’s all in the standing position.”

BR: What’s something about competing in rifle that fans and spectators may be surprised to hear?

Samantha: “Something I think is so unique about rifle is first of all, we do work out and we do things like yoga and cardio and a lot of body weight lifting. We are a physically active sport. You just don’t see that part because when we are shooting, we’re just standing there, or kneeling or in prone. Another thing is while you don’t see the physical component, you also don’t see the mental aspect of it. It is very much a mental sport. Every single match, you have to train your mind for it. You have to prepare your mind, because when you’re up on the line, it’s kind of just you and your thoughts. You have to be able to control them if things aren’t going well. Personally, I meet with a sports psychologist. You really have to take the time ahead of the match to get yourself ready mentally and physically.”

BR: What’s your most memorable moment in competition at Nebraska?

Samantha: “A memorable moment for me would probably be last year at NCAA qualifiers. We were pretty close to making the championships, and we ended up doing it, and I was one of the last people to get off the line. Just something I’ll never forget is my teammates running up to me and yelling, ‘We did it!’ and giving my hugs and stuff, and just the happiness and the energy. For the rest of the trip, it was just super rewarding.”

BR: So there is a team concept and feel to the sport even though it’s also individual?

Samantha: “That’s a really good question, because to me, it is both. But you need to make sure your teammates are good to go and when you’re up on the line, you know your teammates have your back and you have your teammates’ backs. We do lot of team bonding, because it is important to get to know your teammates and be on the same page with them. It’s a good opportunity for gaining trust and getting comfortable with each other. But when you’re up on the line, it’s a fine line, because I can only control what I shoot. I can’t control what my teammate is shooting.”

BR: What would you tell a recruit in any sport who’s considering coming to Nebraska?

Samantha: “I really like this question, because I was looking at other schools, and I got an official visit here, and I’m not even going to lie. At first, I was like, ‘Nebraska? What is there to do in Nebraska?’ This is kind of one of those cliché moments, but my coach picks me up and we drove around I saw the stadium and we got in campus and I just got this really good energy, and I was like, ‘OK, this is it.’ I have not found this in any other school we’ve been to when we go to compete. It’s just now much Nebraska loves its Cornhuskers. My sport is a small sport, but the fact I’m part of the athletic community at Nebraska means I’m a super star in a lot of the public’s eye, and with the support and resources Nebraska has, I have not seen that at any other school.”

BR: What are your goals for this weekend?

Samantha: “I have been preparing very hard and very long for this qualifier. My goal for this weekend is to just have fun and let it show. When I walk off the range, I’ll know that I’ve put blood, sweat and tears on the line. It’s time to have fun. It’s time to really let that show.”

BR: What are your plans after graduation?

Samantha: “I would really love to go on to law school. That’s something I’m looking into right now. I’ll always be involved in the shooting community. It’s a pretty close-knit community, but I definitely want to pursue my education further.”

 Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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