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Blackduck High School Trap Shooting Team hits the target at state meet

Pictured is the BHS trap shooting team at the State Tournament. In the back row from left to right are Lucas Rieplinger, Andrew Metzler, Toni Long, Joe Long, Nolan Juelson. In the front row are assistant coach Morris Frenzel, William Roberts, Jace Roberts, Jody Bloom, Karly Pitzl, Maggie Frenzel, Emily Notsch and head coach Shannon Eichstadt. (Submitted photo)

Minnesota’s safest and fastest growing sport is trap shooting, and Blackduck’s shooters and coaches finished a very successful tournament on June 24 at the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League’s State Tournament in Prior Lake.  

It is only the fourth year of trap shooting in Blackduck -- and the team snagged a spot at the state tournament with their exceptional performance at the State Qualifying League Championships in Alexandria, over a grueling nine-day event in which BHS shooters, both as individuals and as a team, gave some record-breaking performances.

Eleven teams from that qualifier, along with 29 others qualified to shoot at state. From the team of 15, five individuals and two alternates are chosen to represent their school at the State Tournament. Representing Blackduck were Andrew Metzler, Toni Long, Nolan Juelson, Lucas Reiplinger, and Joe Long, along with alternates Emily Notsch and Billy Roberts.

According to Head Coach Shannon Eichstadt the Blackduck team shot very well at state, “but then,” he laughed, “everybody there shot well.” Assistant coach, Morris Frenzel added, that state was, “a tough, tight competition.” Both coaches have been with the team since its inception in 2014 through Blackduck Community Education, and serve as unpaid volunteers. Taking a new program with inexperienced shooters and turning them into a state team in what is their fourth season is an incredible accomplishment, but the coaches give all the credit to the students. “They’re taking it more seriously and along with the experience are getting much better,” Frenzel said. “Their dedication to the sport is more and more evident.”

At the State Tournament, the Blackduck team saw the dedication of many other, larger teams, with far more experience. As a complete team of 15, they met teams who have 120 or more shooters -- some which have tryouts to make the team and are filled completely with upperclassmen athletes, while Blackduck’s team has shooters from age 12 to 17. The experience has galvanized the team spirit to keep growing and improving, and Frenzel said that he expects to see more and more kids joining over the next few years.

Qualifying for state was, in itself, a great thrill for the shooters, who were quite dominant at the League Championships, where they qualified as a team for state and also led the competition with the top female athlete: Toni Long; the top male athlete, Andrew Metzler; and the high varsity overall, also Metzler. At the qualifiers, there was nine days of shooting, with 903 kids competing on Day 1 from 79 schools. Two Blackduck shooters spent half of the qualifying rounds tied for first place, but ended up in fourth place after the application of a tie-breaking formula. Nolan Juelson with fourth-place varsity and Joe Long was fourth-place junior varsity. The combined individual scores from the top five scores from the team would earn them the right to send five shooters and two alternates to state.

Out of the 903 shooters beginning the event -- Blackduck managed to snag 10 spots in the top 25. For the females, Toni Long placed first; Emily Notsch placed third, junior varsity and 12th overall; Maggie Frenzel was 15thy; Jody Bloom was 16th and Karly Pitzl was 19th. Long was the female Conference Champion with a 21.5/25 average. For the males, Andrew Metzler placed first and first overall; Nolan Juelson placed fourth; Brian Denny was sixth; Lucas Reiplinger placed seventh; and Joe Long 22nd. Metzler’s average was 23.3/25 -- just percentage points shy of qualifying for the State Tournament as an individual. Rounding out the Conference Team and Blackduck trap shooters are Billy Roberts, Calvin Eckstrom, Aiden Erickson, Jaret Swedberg and Carter Cornell.

Coaches Eichstadt and Frenzel and many of the team’s shooters said a lot of memories are being made as the team continues to grow and find success.

Sophomore Jody Bloom said, “I really appreciate how the whole team can come together as a family.” It was Bloom’s first year on the team, “everyone is really encouraging and helpful,” she said. Seventh-graders Maggie Frenzel and Billy Roberts both commented on the improvement they have made since they first started shooting and see themselves improving week by week.  The high point of the season for Joe Long and Nolan Juelson were their extraordinary scores at the Conference Championship -- with long shooting a 94 percent and Juelson a 98 percent.  Juelson’s score is not only a personal best, but a team best as well. Andrew Metzler said that seeing the great improvement of the varsity shooters over the course of the season was exciting, and commented that, with the exception of Brian Denny graduating, the entire team will be back for next season.

BHS trap shooter Andrew Metzler participates in the qualifying shoot at the state tournament.

Toni Long said she’s very proud of the team for making it to state: “It shows that our four years of hard work really paid off.” Lucas Rieplinger agreed with Long, stating: “It's really cool to be a part of the start of a new sport and have it succeed and have kids make it to state. We also have awesome coaches!”

The coaches both complimented the students on their hard work, listening skills and their ability to overcome particular disadvantages based on geography. As spring comes later to northern Minnesota than to a large part of the state, area shooters are dealing with bad weather, snow, wind and mud, which can give them a bit of a later start to train seriously. The shooters compete out of the North Beltrami Sportsman Club, where their scores are tracked online to engage in competition with other schools. During the season and through to the Conference Championships, Blackduck competes against schools of a similar size, but the class system is not laid out quite like Minnesota State High School League sports.  However, at the State Tournament, there is no class distinction at all, making for an extremely difficult and diverse competitive group.

Coach Frenzel said “trap is a physical sport, but it’s also an extremely mental sport, you have to have a routine and follow it every single time. If you don’t; if you miss a single aspect of that routine, it’s all going to fall apart.”  

Coach Eichstadt said he’d like to see the program grow more, but, “the kids who have stuck with it since 2014 have really made the activity come alive. We are getting a lot more young kids interested -- that seems to be the trend. When they begin at a younger age they tend to stick with the sport and the longer they’re in the sport, the more successful they’re going to be.”

BHS trap shooter Toni Long participates in the qualifying shoot at the state tournament.

Eichstadt also cited the tremendous support they have received from the school board and community to make the team’s success possible and help to fund the trip to state.

Students are able to join trap shooting at age 12 and after earning a league-approved Firearm Safety Certification. The practice season officially begins in early April and continues into June.  Information will be available about the BHS trap shooting team and how to join when coaches, athletes, parents, and students come together in August for the pre-season Sports and Activities meeting.

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