As senior Tommy Mavencamp unzips the case to his 12 gauge over/under shotgun, a couple of “team moms” nearby plug in slow cookers and tear open jars of pickles, bags of chips and maybe a tub of licorice.
This is not your average practice.
But for the state’s most successful target shooting program, state bound once again after winning championships in each of its first two seasons, it’s a regular night at the range for the St. Michael-Albertville High School target shooting team.
“It’s not going to feel like any other sport,” said senior-to-be Paige Berning, the state’s 23rd-ranked girl in Class 4A and No. 2 on the STMA team, behind future junior Emma Olson. “The feeling you get here, it doesn’t add stress. You’re talking between rounds and kind of just enjoying being out here.”
“Trap” shooting started as a club sport in STMA in 2012, when the many students who participated in summer programs approached the school district and asked for local support. Scott Berning was named the program’s first “head” coach, but there are a slew of experts around the house at the Crow River Gun Range in nearby Rogers ready to help the more than 45 kids on this year’s team.
“We’ve got eight of the top 100 shooters in the state in our class this year, and that’s just a huge accomplishment,” Scott said. “It’s a credit to the amount of time these kids put in nightly. And we’ve been scoring our highest heading into our biggest meets of the season, so that’s coming together well. There’s no reason this group can’t be in contention for a state championship again this year.”
Mavencamp is the state’s top-ranked male gun at the varsity level, and has been with the program all three seasons. Together with teammate Colton Schoen, the Knights’ boys have a formidable 1-2 punch.
“You get a lot of people who love the outdoors, who like the progression of getting better at it and seeing how far they can go,” Mavencamp said. “You shoot that first 25 round [hit 25 straight targets, or ‘birds’] and you’re hooked. You come back.”
Mavencamp was upset, of sorts, by Schoen at Tuesday’s Class 4A meet in Alexandria, where Colton took top prize with a perfect score of 100/100.
“It helps that we have the best coaches anywhere,” Schoen said. “These guys give you a lot of confidence. It does get competitive, but when you’ve been around a family like mine that’s been shooting, it feels pretty laid back. You can set your goals and shoot for yourself.”
The Knights, who scored 494 points, topped Prior Lake by 10 points, and Delano by 15 to get the title. All three will head to the MSHSL State Tournament at the Minneapolis Gun Club this weekend.
“This continues to be the fastest growing sport in the state, with more than 6,000 kids this year, which has us really excited for the future,” Berning said. “We get a lot of local help to make this happen, from the volunteers who come to help coach to the organizations that fund our program and help offset the costs for a lot of these kids.”
Wright County Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, for example, donated more than $6,000 to the team this season, part of more than $20,000 it handed out countywide.
“Our goal,'” said Dan Pollock, who represented the WCFSC at Crow River, “is to really help families stay involved, thanks to the fundraising work of several different conservation groups around our county.”
The Knights will kick off action at the Minneapolis Gun Club in Chanhassen Saturday, heading into the Class 4A meet as the favorite. Mavencamp and Schoen, who started shooting together nine years ago, they said, will be hoping to repeat some of the magic they had in Alexandria last weekend.
Meanwhile, both Olson and Berning shot 99 (out of 100) at Alec, but lost on tie breaks to a shooter from Prior Lake. They’ll be hoping to move up to that top spot this weekend for the Knights.