Shotgun team sets sights on ACUI national qualification this weekend in Maryland
Since finalizing its roster of 16 student-athletes, including six newcomers, in mid-September, Liberty University’s men’s and women’s shotgun team has been firing regularly at the Liberty Mountain Gun Club ranges in preparation for this weekend’s Upper East Coast Regional Championships at the Prince George’s Trap and Skeet Center in Glenn Dale, Md.
Liberty third-year Head Coach Roger Johnson will bring a team of 12 shooters to the three-day event in Maryland, where the women will compete individually and alongside the men as part of a team competition with Virginia Tech, Maryland, George Mason, James Madison, Washington College, and the U.S. Military Academy (Army), among a field of approximately 13 colleges and universities.
“We have grown beyond the point of being able to take everyone to regionals,” said Johnson, who expects his team to move up to Division 2 next season, adding as many as 10 team members. “Our recruiting and national performances have drastically improved, providing the means to step up to a higher level of competition.”
The Flames and Lady Flames ended last season on a high note, placing second among Division 3 programs at the ACUI Clay Target National Championships held at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio in late March.
“This is not the same level as we will see in San Antonio, but it is a good level of competition to see where we sit as we prepare for nationals,” Johnson said. “We came back and went right back to work as a team, with some staying in Lynchburg, practicing together and competing individually through the summer.”
Liberty’s travel team includes returning team captains Austin Applegarth, a junior, and senior Justin Johnson along with graduate Chloe Sterner, seniors Elijah Labrozzi and Victoria Hendrix, juniors Ethan Goodman and Will Stewart, sophomore Carl Pongs, offseason recruits Max Henderson, a freshman, and freshmen walk-ons Dalton Krossman, Harrison Russell, and Matt Daniels.
Other student-athletes who made the team but won’t be traveling are freshmen Josh Anderson, sophomores Madison Southwell and Jessica Wilhelm, and junior Gavin Bowman.
Last fall, the regional event was canceled by COVID-19 and the Flames and Lady Flames qualified for nationals automatically based on their performances in Texas in previous years. Johnson said the pandemic has caused teams to scale back their numbers with a shortage of ammunition also a factor.
Liberty team members have spent the first half of the fall semester competing in conference events and hosting an NSCA Sporting Clays competition on Oct. 10 at Brushy Mountain Gun Club in Hurt, Va. They have been practicing in all six disciplines of the sport represented in ACUI competitions — Skeet, Double Skeet, Trap, Double Trap, Sporting Clays, and Super Sporting Clays.
“In order for our team to qualify for High Overall Award honors, all of our competitors must compete in all six and team scoring will based on our top five place finishers in each discipline,” Johnson said, noting that the top three men and top three women shooters overall in each discipline will be recognized.
A top-three team finish will secure Liberty a bid to the ACUI National Championships in Texas.
“If we qualify for nationals, this will be our last ACUI event of the year,” Johnson said, noting that Liberty will host Virginia Tech in a scrimmage on Dec. 11 before participating in a Feb. 12 invitational with several collegiate teams at Shane’s Sporting Clays on in Greensboro, N.C.
If the Flames and Lady Flames do not qualify for nationals this weekend, they will have another opportunity at the Lower East Coast Regional Championships in Savanna, Ga. Johnson is confident that won’t be necessary.
“We are in a strong position to win this weekend and prepare us for nationals,” he said. “We actually have the most well rounded, best-performing team that we’ve ever put together, and are the strongest candidate ever to win the Division 3 title this year, after such a close second-place finish last year, losing by 10 points. With the work we have put in the last several months, we are well positioned to come back stronger than ever and to do well in every discipline.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer