High school shooters shine at national event
Sibley East team finishes third at clay target league’s national championship
Mason, Mich. — More than 50 high school trap-shooting teams from Minnesota took their skills to central Lower Michigan in early July. Four of them finished in the top 10, with the five-person team from Sibley East High School grabbing third in the USA High School Clay Target League National Championship.
Sibley East (973 of 1,000 targets broken) nipped a fellow Minnesota team – Pequot Lakes High School’s squad one – by a single target. Pequot Lakes finished fourth, the team from Hastings High School finished seventh, and Prior Lake High School’s squad one landed in ninth place. There were 232 teams from across the nation competing in the event.
For the Sibley East team, the Mason, Mich., shoot marked the end of a long and winding road strewn this season with shards of clay targets and piles of empty shot shells. Meets were attended throughout the spring season, culminating in state tournament/championship events in both Alexandria (third place in Class 8A) and Minneapolis (Minnesota State High School League, third place). The team’s road trip to Michigan – a caravan of two pickups and one economy car – was about 11 hours, one way.
“I’m emotionally drained,” said Andy Hengel, one of Sibley East’s coaching assistants, as he traveled back home to Minnesota earlier this week. “The team did awesome.”
The high school team from central Minnesota (Sibley East includes the towns of Gaylord, Arlington, and Green Isle) included Jacob Sharpe, Hunter Leighton, Joey Mueller, Lexi Classen, and Nevyn Hengel. Head coaches Kenny Mueller and Jon Harbarth also were assisted by Charlie Leighton.
The five national event shooters were just five of 68 Sibley East team members this season, a season that began officially during a cold April and ended in steamy July.
In Michigan, the team not only had to compete against other high schools, but also inclement weather that included heavy rain.
Hengel said average scores determine which shooters and which teams compete at the national championship. In the team competition, each of the five team members shoots 100 targets twice, on separate days, 25 targets at a time. It was how the team started and finished that impressed Hengel the most.
“They started the competition 125 of 125 in the first round (each of the five team members breaking every target presented) and ended with 124 of 125,” he said. “That’s impressive.”
According to Hengel, all of Sibley East’s shooters use 12-gauge shotguns. And they shoot Federal target loads, in 8-shot.
For most of Sibley East’s shooters, the taste of national competition was their first. A year ago, two team members – Hunter Leighton and Nevyn Hengel – traveled with coaches to Mason and took part in the individual competition.
This year, the team that took part grew together and bonded during the season, Andy Hengel said.
“They’re like brothers and sisters together,” he said. “They make each other better.”
Are the shooters also wild game hunters? Hengel said one of them is an avid hunter, one is a “kind of” a hunter, and the three others don’t hunt.
“That (whether or not they hunt) might depend on where the team is from,” he said, citing the example of the shooting team from Roseau (northwestern Minnesota) where, Hengel said, most of the team members use their hunting shotguns in clay target competition.
Hengel said the clay target season, like other high school sports seasons, can become grueling as it wears on. It was the same for Sibley East shooters, he said.
“They put a lot of time and effort into getting to where they are,” he said. “Each kid this year took that deep breath and stepped back into the ring. So this is emotional. You get tears in your eyes.”
Finishing third nationally, Hengel said, give his gunners something to shoot for in 2023. The team this year consisted of 14- to 17-year-old students. All should be back next year.
“Not finishing first (at the national championship) gives them a goal for next year,” Hengel said. “It just pushes them.”
More championship results:
Other Minnesota high school teams that finished strong in the competition were Lakeview High School (12th), Tri-City United High School (13th), Princeton High School’s squad one (16th), Stillwater High School’s squad one (17th), and Jordan High School’s squad one (19th).
The overall No. 3 individual male shooter was Benjamin Nachreiner, of Lakeville South High School (198 of 200 targets hit), and the No. 9 overall individual female shooter was Taylor Reinhardt, of Spring Grove High School (193 of 200 targets hit).
The top two teams both came from Illinois. Calhoun High School finished first and Franklin-Waverly High School took second place.