Proving He Belongs
With a little patience, junior Daniel Sojka has become a key contributor to the West Virginia University rifle team’s success this season.
The No. 2-ranked Mountaineers enter the weekend undefeated, and Sojka is ready to prove to the squad why he belongs on a team of champions.
Sojka began competing for West Virginia this year after transferring from Murray State and Harper College in Illinois. He grew up in Cracow, Poland, and his family moved to Illinois when he was 14.
Although rifle wasn’t popular in Illinois, Sojka was lucky to find a club team near his home and began shooting because he wanted to be like his brother.
“I started shooting in Poland when I was about 12 because my brother did it, and I just stuck with it,” Sojka said. “Rifle was very small in Illinois; there were maybe one or two other clubs around me. I was fortunate to have a club near me, or else it would have been difficult to continue.”
Sojka participated in this rifle club until graduating from Wheeling High. During that period, he was a three-time NRA Junior Nationals competitor, as well as a Junior Olympics competitor.
At Murray State, Sojka helped his team finish third at the 2010 NCAA Championships and was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) championship team. He was All-OVC Second Team Air Rifle and on the All-Newcomer Teams for air rifle and smallbore.
Due to NCAA transfer rules, Sojka sat out last season and earned a redshirt, but he continued to shoot during his down time and finished 15th in the men’s 10m air rifle at the 2012 USA Shooting National Championships. This season, he is back in action for WVU and is contributing in smallbore.
“(Coach) Jon (Hammond) puts me on the smallbore team on a regular basis,” Sojka said. “I can put up a decent number there. It feels like my work is appreciated, especially because smallbore is what I’ve struggled with for the past few years. It feels good that I’ve improved so much.
“Even at times when my score doesn’t count, I know I’ve earned my way to that spot.”
Sojka said that he’s been struggling with air rifle recently but managed to shoot a personal-best 590 at the team’s season-opening win at Army.
Going into his second year at WVU, Sojka couldn’t say enough good things about the atmosphere surrounding the team. Coach Hammond and the rest of the rifle squad quickly grew on the student-athlete, and he said they’ve helped improve his overall experience.
“I’ve gained a lot here. This team feels like family, and there is a lot of support,” said Sojka. “The shooting environment is a good one, and when you have a problem with shooting or even in your personal life, the team is like a family.”
That relationship has helped Sojka to excel, but he said that certain personal skills are crucial in succeeding in this sport, especially patience.
“Patience is the No. 1 trait you need to have to be a good shooter,” he said. “You need to be able to repeat. You really have to like this sport because it demands high consistency and precision. There’s almost no room for error.”
Though he’s been recognized as a big contributing factor over the past few years, Sojka remains hard on himself, but only because he wants to be the best shooter he can be.
“When I achieve something, it’s not like I dwell on it,” Sojka said about his past accomplishments. “I just want to improve. I have the mentality where I can shoot my personal best and still think I could have done better.”
Still, he is able to recognize his improvements along the way.
“Some days I realize that even when I struggle, I still come through.”
The rifle team spends 2-3 hours daily shooting. They spend a lot of time at the WVU Rifle Range, and they also work out twice a week, too. Traveling also is a big factor in the team’s weekly routine. Sojka said being on a college team almost feels like a part-time job in regard to the amount of time it takes.
Once school is added into the mix, free time is hard to find. Sojka prefers that, though; he said that keeping busy in school calms him down and takes focus off upcoming matches.
Sojka was unsure about his major when he transferred to WVU, but he said that coach Hammond steered him in the right direction, and he currently is studying mechanical engineering and is set to graduate in May, 2014.
Ready to further WVU’s success and push the team toward a nation-best 15th national title, Sojka and the Mountaineers will travel to No. 4 Alaska-Fairbanks this weekend for two matches on Nov. 17-18, inside the E.F. Horton Rifle Range.
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