Members of the Alexandria trap shooting team shared a laugh at the shooting station after the voice of one of their teammates cracked when he yelled "pull" to trigger the clay from the house on May 13.
Between shots, these kids like to joke around with each other. It's created a comfortable atmosphere at the Alexandria Shooting Park, but they also know the right balance between having fun and focusing on the task at hand to get big results.
"Between changing stations and stuff, I like cracking jokes here and there sometimes or laughing at voice cracks like we did tonight," junior Kallista Roers said. "When it's my turn to shoot, I just focus on me and get everything in the same rhythm and hope for the best. One target at a time."
Roers is one of many lights-out shooters for Alexandria this season. Through four weeks of competition in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League, she is the second best female shooter in the state by average (23.88 out of 25), behind only Lizzy Nicolai of Farmington.
Alexandria's Jeremy Knight is tied for second in the state among all shooters with a 24.75 average. The leader? Jake Mader of Annandale with a perfect 25 average.
That's how good some of these kids are on the trap range. It takes a nearly perfect score to win, especially at the league's nine-day championship shoot that is coming to Alexandria again June 10-18. The Cardinals shoot there on June 16 and have looked like a team that is ready to compete against the best the league has to offer in a couple weeks.
Alexandria, which has 68 kids in grades 7-12 this spring, has dominated its Class 7A, Conference 2 field through four weeks. They lead the conference entering this week with a total score of 40,441. Big Lake is a distant second at 33,185.
The Alexandria boys have five of the top seven shooters in the conference by average. Jeremy Knight is first, while Nicolas Witt (second, 24.13), Erik Knight (t-fourth, 23.63), Adam Oehlenschlager (sixth, 23.50) and Devin Dummer (t-seventh, 23.38) are right behind him.
There are three Alexandria girls among the top 10 female shooters in the conference. Roers is first, with her younger sister, Ellie Roers, sitting second at 22.50. Maddie Swenson is 10th (19.63).
"We probably would like to see that, and they want to see that," head coach Tom Townsend said of expectations nearing almost perfect scores for some of these shooters. "The kids who are doing that have been in the program since it started, so they're very disappointed if they don't shoot a 24 or 25."
The league as a whole has grown to the point where the championship shoot in June is expected to draw more than 8,500 student athletes from more than 330 schools.
"We've been good all the time, but it's good seeing different kids come in, like Nicolas (Witt) as a freshman coming in and posting good scores," Roers, now in her sixth season, said. "We're seeing these younger kids come up. It's more of a popular thing now. They're starting at a younger age, so it's nice seeing those younger ones follow through on that their whole career."
Alexandria's best shooters are seeing success because they put in the work. Each week's official league night starts with a classroom setting where they go over how they can better themselves on the range.
"I know some kids couldn't care less about the classroom," Townsend said. "They'd rather be shooting, but there are kids who pay attention, and I think it shows out on the line."
A lot of that classroom work goes over the details of how to approach each shot before the trigger is ever pulled. A consistent routine and the ability to move on after a miss helps make the best marksmen.
"When I step up for the first time, I always set my feet and then I swing my gun to make sure I have enough rotation," Witt said. "After that, I set my feet at the next post and rotate off of there. It's one target at a time. You don't think that much about it."
Witt, Jeremy Knight and Kallista Roers are all among the top 100 shooters in the state by average. They will make the individual state tournament in Prior Lake on June 22 if that holds.
Alexandria is also hoping to qualify as a team again. The top 40 teams from the championship in Alexandria make it to that state tournament at the Minneapolis Gun Club to compete for an overall state title.
"For me, I want to make it to state again for individuals, and I hope the team makes it," Witt said. "We want to get a team to go again and have everybody post good scores (at the championship) like they're posting in practice."
Alexandria finished sixth out of those top 40 teams at state a year ago by shooting a five-person score of 480. After a successful spring to this point, this group is eager to get back.
"We've got some shooters who are definitely capable of doing that," Townsend said. "It's a mental game. Anyone can have an off day, but if we have five shooters who can shoot their scores, the possibilities are there."
Minnewaska also has two shooters among the top 100 in the state by average in Brady Drewes (24.13) and Carson Tauber (24.00). The Lakers lead their Class 2A, Conference 4 field in the team standings.
Osakis is led by Nathan Hirte (t-third, 22.63) and Brandon Hetland (t-sixth, 22.13) with top-10 individual averages in their Class 2A, Conference 7 fields. Osakis as a team is fifth in the conference.
Brandon-Evansville is third among eight teams in Class 3A, Conference 2. Chris Vinson (t-third, 23.38), Hunter Koep (t-fifth, 22.75), Trevor Peterson (t-fifth, 22.75) and Riley Bitzan (t-seventh, 22.50) are all top-10 shooters in that league.
Parkers Prairie is ninth in the Class 6A, Conference 1 standings. Dawson Smith and Kolby Becker are their top shooters with a 23.00 average.