Riley Dunn dabbled in several different sports when she was younger.
Dunn played basketball. Soccer, too. She was also a cheerleader. And to this day, she still golfs, as well.
But when Dunn was 12, her parents had her take aim at a more uncommon sport — rifle.
“At first I hated it,” recalled Dunn, a senior at McGuffey High School. “I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
But an interesting thing happened each time Dunn picked up the air rifle. She got better. That progress led to her decision to stick with the sport. And just a few years later, Dunn has not only established herself as one of the best shooters in WPIAL history, but she also now has a scholarship to compete for a school nearly 1,000 miles from her family’s home in South Franklin Township, Washington County.
Dunn took a shot at rifle, and it has paid off handsomely. Earlier this month, Dunn, a two-time WPIAL champion, signed with the University of Nebraska. Dunn chose the Cornhuskers over offers from Mississippi, Memphis and Akron. Those four schools are among the 22 that have NCAA Division I women’s rifle teams. Dunn is one of three signees in Nebraska’s recruiting class and is already good friends with another of the program’s signees, Alivia Perkins.
“When I was younger, I would never have seen myself in this position,” Dunn said. “I’d say about two years ago was when I started getting serious about pursuing a rifle career in college.”
Dunn is setting her scope on a rather big goal this high school rifle season, which began last Friday. Dunn can become the first girl and just second person overall to win three WPIAL individual rifle championships. Avella’s Robbie Gagliani won three consecutive titles from 2007-09. Gagliani is in the WPIAL Hall of Fame. Dunn, too, has an opportunity to three-peat.
For Dunn, that pinpoint marksmanship extends beyond Western Pennsylvania. Dunn is a national level shooter and in the past year has competed in 11 different states. She was this year’s NRA Junior Air Rifle national champion and is a three-time Junior Olympian. Dunn has twice competed at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, most recently in April.
Dunn, who has bagged one buck and three does in her hunting career, believes she has found the right fit at Nebraska, which placed sixth at last season’s NCAA championships and has been ranked as high as No. 3 nationally this season. Dunn visited Nebraska in September, a visit that included her standing on the sidelines taking in the Nebraska vs. Louisiana Tech football game. Dunn is excited not only to be a part of the rifle program but also to pursue her major, which will be criminal justice. She hopes to one day work for a federal agency.
“I’ve been thinking about Nebraska ever since I got into the college process because of everything I want to do,” said Dunn, an excellent student who carries a 3.9 GPA.
And that’s the story of how this Highlander became a Cornhusker.
Like father, like son
Penn State extended an offer to the son of one of the program’s all-time greats. LaVar Arrington II is a junior who attends Charter Oak High School in Covina, California. Like his father, the North Hills and Penn State great by the same name, Lavar II is a standout linebacker. The younger Arrington (6 feet 2, 175 pounds) wears No. 11 just like dad, but Penn State was actually the 10th school that extended him an offer. His list also includes Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
A senior and two freshmen recently picked up their first FBS offers. Valley senior Demetrius Ballard, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound lineman, received an offer from Buffalo. Central Valley’s Jance Henry and Central Catholic’s Roman Thompson became the latest in a very strong WPIAL freshman class to be courted by FBS schools. Henry was first offered by UNLV and has since added offers from Toledo and Akron, while Thompson’s first offer was from Akron.
Bethel Park’s Santino Diulus (Seton Hill); Fox Chapel’s Christian Wilkinson (IUP); North Allegheny’s Cole Suba (Penn State Altoona); Seneca Valley’s Creed Erdos (James Madison); South Fayette’s Tyler Skeen (West Liberty); South Park’s Daniel Pepke (Bluefield State); Thomas Jefferson’s Alec Warden (Penn State); West Allegheny’s Wil Gubba (Marshall).
Blackhawk’s Jaden Tesch (Penn State Beaver); Ellwood City’s Claire Noble (Clarion).
Shaler’s Brandon London (Saint Francis).
Plum’s Bella DiFrancesca (Davis & Elkins).
Avonworth’s Gianna Babusci (Rollins); Highlands’ Annamarie Williams (Virginia).
Belle Vernon’s Talia Ross (Lock Haven).
Burrell’s Cooper Hornack (Columbia).