Trojans turn scope to state

5 trojan rifle athletes stand together for group photo
Jessica Gallagher

Corey Cusick/Times-Georgian

After firing past the area, sectional and semifinal rounds, the Carrollton High School precision air rifle team has its scope set on the grand finale.

The Trojans are completely locked in on the GHSA State Riflery Championships, which commence on Saturday morning at 10 at the Pool International Shooting Complex in Fort Benning.

As one of 17 teams to qualify for the final stage of the season, Carrollton enters the competition ranked fourth with a scoring average of 1,141.

In just its second year of existence, Carrollton has already established itself among the state's elite under the direction of head coach Mike Lewis, and the target goal for this group is to prove that it is the premier Peach State program.

The Trojans will take their top-five marksmen — juniors Collin Grubbs and Taylor Berry and sophomores Morgan Frank, Ben Bradley and Thomas Harris — down to Columbus on Friday with the top-four scorers counting toward the team tally.

Ware County is the defending state champion and the top-ranked team coming into Saturday with a season average of 1,174, but the Trojans are confident that they can raise their game and potentially out-gun the Gators.

"They're getting excited because everything is kind of falling into place. Like Thomas, he's found the sweet spot at standing. He kind of closes his eyes, opens his eyes and he's right dead on target. He's relaxed, settled in and he pulls the trigger and shoots a 10," Lewis said. "Morgan has been shooting like 95s and up in standing, which is outstanding. They're all ready. So we're going to go in and just have fun with it.

"We want to go in relaxed, comfortable, confident and how we do is how we do. I think we're definitely ready for it."

All five Trojan shooters were on hand for the state championship last year, although Grubbs was relegated to spectator status due to having to sit out last season as a transfer.

But having competed in major competitions before, including the Junior Olympics in Colorado over spring break this year, Grubbs is excited about the prospects of being part of the action on this trip.

"Obviously, I feel more involved this year. I feel like I can contribute a lot more to the team than just being a caddy for somebody or on the sidelines just kind of watching," Grubbs said. "I'm glad I'm helping Carrollton make a name for themselves across the state."

Frank is not only the top shooter on the team and one of the best across the state, but she's made a name for herself as one of the elite marksmen in the nation.

She recently finished fifth at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's Regional Championship and earned one of the highest honors available to junior marksmen — the Distinguished Shooter Award. The recognition elevates Frank into an exclusive group of shooters across the United States.

And now she's looking to cap off her incredible run with a state title.

"We're all really excited because we have a good chance of being state champs this year," Frank said. "We've all really learned ourselves and what works for us, so that has been a big component in our success."

For Harris, the return trip to Fort Benning marks an opportunity for the Trojans to improve on last year's standing and continue to climb the ranks among the state's best.

"Our scores are coming up right when they need to come up. We're peaking at the correct time of the season, so we're really excited," Harris said.

Even though they're ranked No. 4 coming in, Berry said that's definitely not the ceiling for the Trojans.

"I know we're ranked fourth, but I also know that our team has a lot more potential than what our season scores reflect. So we've just got to bring it and see what happens," Berry said.

Bradley said what's made this season even more special is the chemistry the Trojan rifles have developed over the course of the year, building on the promising start to the program last year.

"I see that we all have our eye on the prize. We're all dedicated to this sport. If there's an issue going on with whatever they're struggling with in shooting, we'll answer the questions and help each other out. We've developed a real bond over the year," Bradley said.

That cohesiveness is something Lewis has also noticed while watching his athletes practice, fine-tune aspects of their craft and continually work to find ways to improve.

"They help each other, they watch each other. When they have a question about how they're shooting and what they can do to improve, they're as likely to go to a peer as to anybody else," Lewis said. "That's pretty amazing because they all have enough experience now to actually go to one another."

Another thing working in the Trojans' favor this time around is being more familiar with the facility and all the ins and outs of what to expect upon arrival, including any potential pitfalls such as the air conditioning going out like it did last year.

Lewis affirmed that getting a taste of the state championship environment last year should prove beneficial come Saturday.

"Yes, it does. Anytime you go some place that you've never been, there's that element of, 'Am I doing things right?' Collin just got back from the Junior Olympics and the equipment inspection was incredibly intense," Lewis said. "They've all been through equipment inspections now, whereas last year it was one of our first experiences with an inspection. We will be going there with one trip under our belt and it will make this trip a little more relaxing."

The Trojans are actually packing up and taking off for Columbus this morning in order to get settled in, have an opportunity to shoot on the range this afternoon and further familiarize themselves with the surroundings.

"It helps a lot with just knowing the general flow of things. Last year I was really nervous going into it. Now I have my mental game and am in control of everything. So I'll just go in there and do everything just like I know I can," Harris said.

And now with all the training in the rearview mirror and one day separating the Trojans from their shot at state championship glory, it's simply a matter of staying on target.

"The last practice we shot for score was 1,160 and that's 19 points better (than our season average)," Lewis said. "Ware County is coming in with an average of 1,174. Man, I don't know how they're doing it. That's going to be tough to beat. But if everybody shoots to their potential, we'll be right up there with them."