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Leading The Pack: Rifle Shooter Lucas Kozeniesky Assumes Alpha Role with Rio In Sight

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (July 15, 2016)

By:  Lauren Phillips, NC Wolfpack Rifle Shooter 

He had always been known in the shooting community as “That guy who goes to NC State.” But collegiate junior Lucas Kozeniesky put his name in lights after winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Airgun, separating himself from his competitors by 18 points over the three-day match.  Now, he’s headed to Rio as leader of the Pack.

Kozeniesky’s dominance on the firing line at Olympic Trials is just the tip of the iceberg of the success he’s experienced over the past season, earning NCAA Rifle All-American honors and Most Valuable Player for the NC State rifle team. But these successes are often the last pieces you hear from Kozeniesky when asking about his passion for shooting, due to his overwhelming humbleness and appreciation for what he’s trained so hard for. Kozeniesky has built a following that is spreading across the country, radiating from a small collegiate range in Raleigh, North Carolina, where his heart lies with the Wolfpack.

Like many juniors in the shooting sports, Kozeniesky attended the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships (NJOSC), and was inspired by the Olympians that came before him, including USA Shooting’s Director of Operations and former National Rifle Coach Dave Johnson.

“I ended being able to go to Junior Olympics my freshman year, and sat in the crowd of other shooters listening to the speech where Dave Johnson told us there could be a future Olympian in this very room,” Kozeniesky recalls. “When I first started shooting, it felt like more of a possibility rather than a specific goal; it would be cool, but not as much ‘I’m going to do this.’ It didn’t actually hit me that I could make the Olympic team until my coach [Keith Miller] and I were on the flight back from the 2016 ISSF World Cup Bangkok, where I shot a match best. When Trials came around, all the practices and training sessions gave me the building blocks for success. I had the best performance of my life.”

Aside from just leading in score on the firing line, Lucas prides himself as a leader within the NC State rifle family, a culture he has fostered since beginning his undergraduate degree in Sports Management.

“When I got recruited by NC State, I saw it as an opportunity to make the team better and to gain so much from the coaching staff,” he said. “I wanted to put NC State on the map, so I became a barrier breaker; I became the first NRA All-American since 1975, and broke all of our school records.”

It is easy to see the Wolfpack’s move up the rankings for NCAA Championship contention as the team jumped seven places in this year’s final rankings to 11th place. This team-oriented outlook has developed highly from Kozeniesky’s view on the importance of family strength and resilience. His father, Craig, a Marine Corp Colonel and mother Helene, play a major role in Lucas’ humbleness in pursuit of his Olympic goal.

“My entire freshman year, my dad took me to rifle practice at 6:00 a.m. on Saturdays,” Kozeniesky recounts. “He was very engaged in what I was doing, and he gave a lot of positive reinforcement and support. My mom took me to all the Wednesday rifle practices despite not having much technical knowledge of shooting, but always supports me. Together they’ve always celebrated my victories and the best parts of my defeats with me.”

“I have a learning disability that makes school difficult sometimes, and when I was young my mom taught me how to learn correctly, even though many people told me I wouldn’t make it to college,” he adds. “I ended up being the nerdy kid in high school that got a Division I athletic scholarship. I get qualities from both my parents; from my dad I get humility and persistence, and from my mom my ‘never-give-up-mentality.’ My girlfriend [Blair Gruendl] has been my biggest fan for the last six years, and she’s always paid attention to why my good days are good, and why my bad days are bad.”

Every bit of support that Lucas receives from his family he has projected onto his teammates, acting in a leadership position among his peers since his freshman year. This leadership, along with his experience on the firing line, continues to push him towards his long-term goal of being a coach in the future as he continues to compete. But long-term goals come after many of Kozeniesky’s short-term “gold-medal” goals, as he focuses on his upcoming performance in Rio de Janeiro.

“When I first started shooting, my grandpa told me about the acronym WIN, ‘What’s Important Now’. The idea of it is to focus on what is in the present, what is in front of you, what is achievable, and you build on that success to lead to greater things.”

It is these principles, along with the literal strength of the Wolfpack within, that pushes him toward the great opportunities awaiting in Rio. And in true Lucas fashion, he left us with this quote to inspire young athletes as they continue on their own path to greatness; “I’m not some superior genetically-immaculate specimen, I’m an average guy doing above average things. Set an example that you can do anything you put your mind to. I won’t say that it’s going to be easy, but it’s not impossible.”

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National Shooting Sports Foundation