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Utah completed its two year stint as home of the USPSA Handgun Nationals with a perfectly executed competition, that provided challenging, option-laden stages with rapid online scoring and new walls that allowed for easier coverage of the best competitive shooters in the country. The dedication of the Match Organizers was without question, extra iPads were made available during the match running the PractiScore application that has become the definitive standard for automated scoring in this sport.

It seemed that the only thing that did not co-operate was the weather, everyone expects this desert State to be hot, even in September so the high heat that seemed to kick in just after noon each day was normal, but the rain and hail? Not so much...

The match was broken down into two parts, the first was the pre-match which was originally intended to allow the staff to compete for score, there were also some places available for competitors who could not make the main match due to other commitments or lack of space in the main event. Scores recorded in the pre-match counted in the overall competition, which allowed Randi Rogers (S&W) and Maggie Reese (Colt) to attend the Nationals and still make their other commitments to the 3-Gun Nation qualifier series that was scheduled at the same time as the main match.

Joining Maggie in the pre-match were Sara Dunivin and Cindi Thomas along with Julie Golob who has recently returned to competitive shooting, made up the USA Ladies Production team that will compete at the IPSC World Championship held in Florida in just a few weeks. This was an excellent opportunity for the ladies to shoot together as a group. They would compete in nine grueling stages on each of the three days of the pre-match, fortunately the stages went by very smoothly which allowed the squad to complete their allotment each day before the temperatures reached boiling point.

Competitive shooting like any dynamic sport is constantly evolving and improving as competitors hone their skills and any absence from the game can leave an athlete struggling to keep up and Julie Golob has been away from shooting for two long years as she has focused on raising a family. But she was soon back in the thick of it battling away with her M&P against Sara Dunivin (CZ-USA). All four women were using the same guns that they would use at the World Shoot which means that the triggers have to comply with the IPSC rule-set which requires a 5lb first shot. This discriminates against striker-fired guns such as the M&P, as every trigger pull is technically the same as the first whereas guns like the CZ and Sphinx that Maggie and Cindi use have a double-action hammer so subsequent shots have a lighter pull.
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Also shooting an M&P was Julie's S&W team-mate, Randi Rogers who was shooting in Limited division in preparation for her participation in the US Standard Team along with Tori Nonaka, Brooke Sevigny and Carina Randolph. All three of the other members would compete in the main match leaving Randi to shoot the stages without the benefit of direct competition, this can make it difficult for a competitor to know how to pace themselves for the match, which would become an issue in the Ladies Open category during the main contest.

Both Maggie and Julie have suffered from knee problems, though Maggie showed no signs of her injury that had plagued her in the past, Julie sported a bandaged knee for the contest but it did not seem to impede her movement, particularly on Stage 8 as she hauled up the steps with ease to engage the top-most set of ports on the raised platform. Being limber was definite advantage on several stages that had low ports or stairs such as Stage 22 as it required the competitor to engage four poppers and two targets through a very low port. The women just folded over with apparent ease while several men who were shall we say, "less bendy" had some serious issues getting low enough.
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There is no doubt that the best weather was during the pre-match, stable conditions allowed the women to focus on the match without the need for bagged targets or slippery range conditions that plagued the competitors on Saturday and Sunday. Any sport that takes place outdoors is at the mercy of the weather which is why it is so important for the match contenders to shoot the stages in as similar conditions as possible; For the Ladies Production team, the top four all shot the match together in the same squad, but for Tori, Brooke and Carina the weather was less than ideal and they were spread over three different squads.

Despite the dry conditions there was one small slip-up; Sara Dunivin had shot the match without cleats, a decision that could have caused a nasty injury as she fell badly on Stage 28 as she transitioned rapidly from right to left, her right foot slid out from underneath as she slid to a stop and fell down heavily on her right side. She maintained perfect muzzle control throughout and rapidly pulled herself up, continued the stage and still beat 108 competitors! Afterwards Sara and the other Ladies of the Production team posed for a photograph in front of the Safariland banners that decorated the stage... All four of the top ladies use Safariland gear.

After the dust had settled and the last magazine had been cleaned, Sara Dunivin emerged as a clear winner beating out over 130 other men and women in the last big match before the World Championships. Sara will need this kind of performance to take a medal in Florida and she will be backed up by an exceptional team that will be striving for the Gold in the Team Category.

Randi Rogers would have to wait four days to find out if her performance in Limited was enough to take the USPSA Championship title. As the pre-match was winding down, so the main match registration was underway and soon the rest of the competitors were walking the stages, trying to figure out where fractions of a second could be saved and the best way to shoot the stage. Some stages had so many options that it was hard to know if there was a best way.
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In 2013, Nils Jonasson dominated the USPSA Nationals arena, winning both the Limited and Limited-10 titles in the back to back Nationals in Utah. But Nils got off to a rocky start on the first day of the Combined Handgun Nationals; The Limited Super Squad started their match on the tricky Stage 7, "No Heads or Shoulders" which utilized the IPSC Classic target. The competitor started at the back of the stage in the middle and then had to move forward on one side to engage the targets before transitioning back up-range around the start position to engage the remaining targets. There seemed to be no end to the variety of ways that this apparently simple stage could be shot as the activating poppers were available from more than one location. Nils had a fast time but dropped a slew of points on the smaller IPSC targets, Robert Vogel who shot the entire match with a weighted non-functional tactical light attached to his Glock had an almost identical time to Jonasson but with thirteen more points on those targets he pushed Nils back to 90%. Travis Tomasie of Para-Ordnance was right behind Vogel with the same number of hits but a marginally slower time.

Dave Sevigny and Blake Miguez took the honors on the sixteen round Virginia Count stage, "Cobra Venom" as both shared the exact same time and points for a joint win. Matt Sweeney and Bob Vogel were less than a single point behind with Junior competitor Kolby Pavlock taking the fifth place spot on his best stage of the match.
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The Men's Production Super Squad was proving an interesting match-up; Team USA members, Ben Stoeger, Matthew Mink, JJ Racaza and Kale Garretson were all aiming for a solid match in preparation for the World Championship, though Alex Gutt would break into the top four by the end of the competition.

Racaza, Garretson and Stoeger were shooting Tanfoglio's while Matthew Mink was working his CZ-USA, Stoeger is now sponsored by Importer European American Armory (EAA), Both Stoeger and Racaza both shared the same number of stage wins throughout the contest, but not all the stages went according to plan. Production division with its Minor-only scoring requires extreme accuracy and too many D-zone hits or misses can have a devastating impact, Stoeger suffered from a miss/no-shoot on Stage 24 that cost him twenty-two match points from Alex Gutt, and a slow run for Racaza on Stage 21 cost him over thirty-one points after Alexander Valentine tore down that stage over a second faster than his nearest rival.

With a combined Nationals comes a large number of 'super-squads', made of up those competitors with a solid chance at a title, and this years Nationals had four of them - Production, Open, Limited and Limited-10.
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Once again there were no women's Super Squads.

All four of the Men's top squads were shooting in the AM-PM-AM-PM schedule while many of the top women were shooting on the opposite schedule spread over multiple squads, some such as Tori Nonaka and Brooke Sevigny were on the same schedule as the men, Randi Rogers had competed in the pre-match which gave the remaining women some scores to aim for.

With Randi scores moving downward as the top men in Limited changed the Hit Factors, Tori, Brooke and Carina Randolph's scores were moving upward as they shot their stages, it was impossible to determine who was leading the match each day. These four contenders would compete together later at the World Shoot as the USA Ladies Standard team.

The situation was the same in the Open division, with Jessie Duff, Athena Lee and Valerie Levanza competing in one squad while USA Team-mates Lisa Munson and Kaci Cochran were in two other squads. Lisa was unfortunate in not having any women Open shooters to compare her times with as Carina and Debbie Keehart were shooting in Limited and Limited-10 respectively. Keehart dominated the Ladies L-10 division to become the 2014 National Champion.

Both Athena and Jessie were shooting a solid match, never straying more than a dozen points from each other as they swapped leads several times. The Shooting USA film crew were on the range for a few days and spent a lot of time following these top competitors, confident that one of them would win the title. Having to compete under the continued scrutiny of the TV cameras can be a distraction to any competitor.
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Bad weather threatened throughout the match and on the third day the forecasted rain fell with a vengeance as the first shots were fired. It was hard to tell who was impacted the most, for the Limited shooters the light was so flat that sometimes the fiber-optic front sights were largely useless in the dark, overcast cloud cover. For the Open competitors a hotel towel or handy rag was the order of the day as they struggled to keep the rain from turning their scopes into a kaleidoscope of dots. This was more of a problem on Stage 27 where after spending time wiping down the gun the competitor had to place it on a wet shelf where the rain proceeded to get everything wet all over again. While the shooting areas were relatively intact, the areas where the targets were located began to soften up and some stages turned into quagmires by the start of the final day as competitors ended up ankle-deep in mud as they pasted the targets.

Max Michel was soon running away with the match as Shane Coley seemed off the pace and KC Eusebio continued to have problems with his Open Glock, this was the second year in a row that equipment problems had plagued KC and shortly after this match his partnership with Glock came to an end, capping what had become a frustrating period of time for this talented competitor. Chris Tilley provided the main challenge to Michel as the match continued, he had gotten off to a rough start on the first day but by day three he was on fire, finishing in the top five in all but one of the seven stages that were completed each day of the main match.

The women had the better weather on that third day as the rain had stopped by the afternoon and the bags were off the targets and even Stage 18 was perfectly dry. This was probably the most fun stage of the match as competitors ran through a gully engaging targets to the left and right before running up a small hill to finish off with some long range shots. Stacey Borgia topped this stage for the Ladies in Open, while Bill Drummond abolished it in a hair under twelve seconds, over a second faster than Max.

Athena Lee spent the evening of the third day crunching scores through a spreadsheet and had determined that Kaci Cochran was most likely to win the match. The Shooting USA camera crew were tipped off that morning to make sure that they had some footage of the likely champion who was shooting in a different area from Jessie and Athena. All the while that these two had been battling it out, Kaci Cochran was quietly running away with the match on another squad and would finish the match nearly 140 points ahead to finish 25th overall. Athena Lee rounded out the top three just twelve points behind Jessie.
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As the final day of the 2014 Nationals got under way, the big battle was in the Limited divisions, after a rocky start Rob Leatham was starting to make some inroads into Todd Jarrett's lead in the Limited-10 division. But three days of solid runs were too much for Leatham to overcome as Jarrett had shot an almost flawless match to take the title by nearly eighty points, Elias Frangoulis topped out the top three. Jarrett and Leatham had both chosen to shoot their Single Stack guns (albeit with ten round magazines) in preparation for the Classic Division at the IPSC World Shoot. At least that was the plan...

Despite solid runs from Vogel he was unable to catch Nils who was once again dominating the Nationals and placing himself squarely in the list of likely winners at the World Shoot. One of the final stages for the Limited Super squad was Stage 26, 'Slip Sliding' a twenty-six round field course that featured a swinger and two targets (one atop the other) that slid down a rail after being activated by a popper. The problem here was that the gravity seemed to take its sweet time realizing that it had some work to do after the popper fell. The sliding targets took forever to show up leaving the competitors with a little too much time on their hands. This caused some shooters to run outside the area and approach the final array of targets at an angle that presented the popper sooner so they could get it moving, Bob Krogh used this approach to record the fastest time on this stage but down a few too many points. Dave Sevigny ran up the middle for a slightly slower time but better hits, while Nils and Bob Vogel ran to the outside finishing first and second by less than 1.5 points.
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Tori Nonaka was shooting in the same area at the same time and was locked in a right race with Randi Rogers who had completed the match four days previously, despite some hail in the afternoon it didn't slow her down as she recorded her second consecutive Nationals title edging out Rogers by just over four points.

It was a tough match for Nonaka as the weather conditions had been less than ideal for the main match. Brooke Sevigny and Carina Randolph rounded out the top four.

This was the final year that Utah is hosting the USPSA Nationals, though the expertise and flawless execution of the match would make it a likely contender to regain our premiere event in the not-too-distant future.

If they could just put a big roof over the whole range, and perhaps some air-conditioning it would be perfect.