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Alexandria part of more than 300 teams in Minnesota glad to be back and busting clays again

The Alexandria Shooting Park will once again be host to the nine-day Minnesota State High School Clay Target League championship shoot from June 14-22.

Alexandria senior Karissa Downing gets some advice from volunteer coach Jeff Parkin between rounds at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24, 2021. Downing joins Erik Knight as the two seniors on this year's team that consists of 48 students overall. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Alexandria’s Karissa Downing wrapped up shooting her two rounds of 25 clay targets at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24 when she spent some extra time going over strategy with volunteer coach Jeff Parkin.

Downing is one of two seniors for this year’s Alexandria team in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League. She joined the program her sophomore year, but grew up shooting targets for fun with friends and family.

“Honestly, it’s the enjoyment. I love my teammates. I love shooting,” Downing said of what she gets out of being on this team. “It’s just a fun hobby. It’s something I can take with me lifelong. I’ll be going into the military, so it might help me with that. It’s something I can do with my family, friends, and it’s something that brings people together.”

When Downing misses, it often stems from a tendency to shoot over the top of targets. Alexandria coaches spent part of their classroom training on Monday going over how the south winds that kids had to shoot with on May 24 will cause those clays to drop even faster.

“There’s lots of little things that go into it,” Downing said. “Where you’re looking, where you’re holding, your stance, everything. It’s the small things that really count.”


A mix of youth, experience

Alexandria freshman Blake Erickson busts a clay during his round with the high school team at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Coaches kept a close eye on their athletes as they shot on Monday and were quick to offer support, especially for some of the new members of this program.

Alexandria’s team consists of 48 students in grades 7-12 this year. It’s a mixture of experienced veterans and newcomers.

“The experienced ones had a little bit of rust to start with, but after they got into it, they’ve come around really well,” coach Tom Townsend said. “We’ve got around 15 new ones this year. There’s some young shooters who are doing well. They’re still learning, but we have some who are kind of natural, and we’re looking forward to working with them.”

Like all spring athletes in Alexandria, the trap shooting team missed out on the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s team has been split up into two groups through much of the season, but it’s starting to feel more like normal as the state loosens restrictions.


Alexandria started its season in early April with a couple of practice weeks before five weeks of competition ran each Monday from April 19 through May 17.

“Next week is a practice round,” Townsend said. “We’re going to have everyone here at one time. We’ll shoot 100 rounds and shoot it like a tournament where the first group goes out and shoots 50 before the next group shoots 50.”

Alexandria senior Erik Knight catches his spent shell after busting a clay at the local shooting park on May 24, 2021. Knight, who leads the team with a 48.6 out of 50 average through five competition weeks, busted 50 straight clays that night as he prepares to be ready for the biggest shoots of the season in mid-June. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Senior Erik Knight is the top shooter on this team by average. Through those five weeks of competition, he busted an average of 48.6 clays out of 50. He was a perfect 50-for-50 on May 3, and followed that up with another 50-for-50 performance this past Monday.

“It was nice and sunny,” Knight said. “When the wind is out of the south, (the clays) tend to drop down faster, but I just stayed focused. I’ve shot enough that it’s gotten easier.”

Knight has been shooting since he was 11 years old. That experience helped him become one of the top marksmen in this program even in his younger years. Now in his last season, he is certainly one of the many shooters from the 324 teams in this year’s spring league who is capable of a perfect run out of 100 clays that it often takes to win at the championship and state tournament shoots coming up in June.

Knight said he simply wants to do the best he can and see where the results lead. Junior Devin Dummer (47.6), freshman Blake Erickson (46.0), junior Cody Lea (46.0), junior Danny Townsend (46.0), junior Nicolas Witt (45.8) and freshman Hunter Walz (44.8) join Knight as shooters who all averaged better than 44 out of 50 through their five competition weeks.


“We can be pretty good I feel like,” Knight said of this varsity team. “It just takes focus. Just do your best."

Alexandria junior Cody Lea reloads between shots at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Nine-day championship back in Alexandria

Alexandria has three mandatory practice weeks on May 24, 31 and June 7 that are designed to get them ready for their championship in mid-June.

After its cancelation a year ago, the Alexandria Shooting Park is once again going to host the MSHSCTL trap shooting championship June 14-22. More than 300 high school teams and over 6,500 student athletes are expected to compete over the nine days. The top teams from the championship will advance to the Minnesota State High School League’s state tournament June 25 at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake.

Alexandria junior Danny Townsend releases his shot as the clay floats to the right out of the house during his round at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


“With the outdoor venue, I think it’s going to be pretty relaxed,” Townsend said of possible policies in place due to the pandemic. “I haven’t had anything come down that is restrictive so far. I think it should feel pretty normal, unless something happens between now and then.”

The championship is an opportunity for kids of all ability levels to compete for team and individual awards on a big stage. Athletes are broken up into novice, junior varsity and varsity divisions with students who all have accomplishments they can shoot for.

“I just want to better myself,” Downing said of her goals going into that championship shoot. “My biggest thing is I get nervous when there’s a lot of people watching me. So I’m just going to try to focus on just one right after another. Don’t worry about the other people. Don’t worry about the rest of the targets I shot before. Just focus on the single target.”

Alexandria coach Blaine Gulbranson talks over some strategy with freshman Dakota Christopherson at the Alexandria Shooting Park on May 24, 2021. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

On the varsity level, Alexandria has long been one of the top programs in this league that vies for a spot at that state tournament. No scores in Minnesota had been posted on the league website until this week, so it’s been hard to know how teams stack up against others.

Alexandria coaches are still confident that this team will be ready to compete at a high level during the championship.

“I think our varsity team here, they’re doing quite well and pretty consistently,” Townsend said. “I think we can compete with some of the best.”



June 15: Osakis, Ashby, Class 2A

June 16: Brandon-Evansville, Minnewaska, West Central Area, Class 3A

June 19: Parkers Prairie, Class 6A

June 20: Alexandria, Class 7A

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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