When his team finishes in the top five at nationals for 10 consecutive years, a coach tends to have high expectations for postseason action.
The Fort Hays State University shotgun team didn’t disappoint Dr. Duane Shepherd the last week of March at the Association of College Unions International Collegiate Clay Target Championships in San Antonio.
The team of American Skeet shooters recorded a near perfect score of 499 out of 500 to win that event. That set a tournament record and also is FHSU’s best score in the history of the sport, surpassing the club’s previous best mark of 496.
That performance propelled FHSU into second place overall among Division II schools. It marked the fifth runner-up national finish for Fort Hays State since 2011 to go along with three national titles. Two of those national championships have come in ACUI competition, while the other came in the fall of 2016 at the Scholarship Clay Target Program (SCTP) season finale.
Shepherd, an assistant professor health and human performance at FHSU who is in his 13th year of coaching the team, calls this his deepest squad ever.
“We have kids all across the board putting up big numbers,” he said. “We’ve had several shoot 100s, but the thing is can they all do it at the same time?”
They did last week in American Skeet when Michael Saint, Wyatt Pursell, Riley Ross and Austin Svoboda all shot perfect 100s, and Cody Escritt was just one point shy of perfection with a 99.
“I’m really not too amazed at anything these kids accomplish,” Shepherd said. “The great thing is, not only are they quality shooters, they are quality young men and women.”
The majority of the FHSU squad is made up of men, but one of the women on the team records some of the top scores on the team.
Heather Gordon, a sophomore from Pine Valley, Calif., was part of two first-place teams and recorded the highest overall (HOA) score for women in trap events. Svoboda, a senior from Burwell, Neb., also earned HOA honors in combined American events for men. In all, Svoboda was part of three championship teams at nationals and helped two others place third en route to earning first-place All-America honors.
Ross earned second-team All-America honors, while Escritt and Saint made the honorable mention list. Ross, a freshman from St. Paul, Neb., brought home one of the top individual honors by winning the long target contest.
It was the fifth All-America effort in as many tries for Svoboda. But he is quick to give the entire squad credit for FHSU’s success.
“It’s fun because we haven’t had this deep of team until this year,” he said. “We’re all pretty well best friends and have the same common interests, so it makes the trips fun. I get to do what I love with friends.”
The trip to San Antonio was the second fun, and successful, one to that city in an eight-week span for Svoboda and Co. In February, FHSU swept all three events en route to winning the ACUI Lower Midwest Conference Championship in San Antonio.
Four weeks later, Fort Hays State won all six events at the ACUI Clay Targets Western Super Shoot in Tucson, Ariz. FHSU was led by Svoboda and Gordon, who won HOA honors in both International and American events for male and female shooters, respectively.
That meet then was followed by another impressive showing at nationals.
“It’s been a great spring for sure,” Svoboda said, “but everyone’s a little bummed how we did at nationals. We thought we could have done better and won it all.”
Students are able to compete in shooting sports six years in college, so Svoboda is looking forward to his final collegiate competition during the 2018-19 school year.
“We’ll have the same team next year, so we’ll be hungry,” said Svoboda, who is set to graduate with a degree in construction technology this December.
Svoboda knew he wanted to participate in either football or shooting sports in college after growing up with both – he played football since grade school and participated in shooting sports as a youngster in 4-H, then in high school as well. After he was injured in football during his senior year of high school, he decided to look for a school that offered construction technology degree and a solid shooting sports team as well. He found both at Fort Hays State.
“That’s the way it works for a lot of our students,” Shepherd said. “They’re looking for a college that has a good reputation in their major field of study and a good shooting sports team. We’re very blessed to have the number of degree programs that we offer here at Fort Hays State and that we have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels in shooting sports, too.”
Following are the names of students who competed at nationals and the regional meet in meet — and the results from both events.
National and Regional Super Shoot competitors
Akron, Colo.: Jenny Schoenecker, junior (nationals)
Aurora, Neb.: Lane Sorensen, freshman (nationals)
Burwell, Neb.: Austin Svoboda, senior (both)
Cambridge, Neb.: Jake Whipple, junior (both)
Crete, Neb. : Caleb Scholz, senior (nationals)
Colby : Keegan Morgan, junior (both)
Cole Ziegelmeier, freshman (nationals)
Jay Ziegelmeier, Colby (both)
Janesville, Wis.: Luke Heinzen, sophomore (both)
Jewell : Michael Saint, senior (both)
Minneola: Jerrod Lies, senior (both)
Pine Valley, Calif.: Heather Gordon, sophomore (both)
Pleasanton: Hunter Secrest, freshman (nationals)
Pleasanton, Neb.: Cody Escritt, senior (both)
St. Paul, Neb.: Riley Ross, freshman (both)
Topeka: Wyatt Pursell, sophomore (both)
Yoder: Cordell Waggoner, freshman (nationals)
FHSU national results
(ACUI Collegiate Clay Target Championships)
• Gordon – third, American trap (women) and third, Olympic ISO ladies bunker; HOA combined trap events (women).
• Svoboda – NRA first team All-American; HOA combined American events (men).
• Ross – First, long target contest; second, American Skeet; NRA second team All-American.
• Escritt – NRA honorable mention All-American.
• Pursell – third, American skeet.
• Saint – NRA honorable mention All-American.
• HOA (highest overall) – second, Division II.
• American skeet – first: Escritt, Pursell, Ross, Saint, Svoboda (499 of 500).
• American trap – first: Gordon, Morgan, Secrest, Svoboda, Waggoner (492 of 500).
• International trap – first: Gordon, Lies, Svoboda.
• International skeet – third: Pursell, Saint, J. Ziegelmeier.
• Sporting clays – third: Escritt, Lies, Pursell, Ross, Svoboda.
• Super shoot – third: Escritt, Lies, Saint, Ross, Svoboda.
FHSU regional results
(ACUI Clay Targets Western Super Shoot)
• Escritt – first, super sporting; second, sporting clays; third, international skeet.
• Gordon (women’s division) – HOA female International and American events; first in trap, skeet, sporting clays and international trap; second in super sporting; third in international skeet.
• Lies – third, skeet and super sporting.
• Svoboda – HOA male International and American events; first, sporting clays and international trap; second, trap.
• J. Ziegelmeier – second, skeet and super sporting; third, trap and international trap.
HOA team awards
• International skeet – Escritt, Lies, Ross, Svoboda, Whipple.
• International trap – Lies, Pursell, Ross, Svoboda, J. Ziegelmeier.
• American trap, skeet and sporting clays (combined) – Gordon, Lies, Saint, Svoboda, J. Ziegelmeier.