The Junior Olympic qualifiers from Fort Wayne's X Count shooting facility get by with a little help from their friends.
The facility has seven shooters under the direction of coach Gregg Rice who have qualified for next month's Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the potential of qualifying a few more in the coming week.
Among them are state champions Mackenzie Miller – who is a student at Indiana Connections Academy and competes with Bishop Dwenger's shooting team – Saint Francis' Alex Hoover and Fairfield's Katelyn Tinsley. Miller qualified in the 10-meter air rifle event, Tinsley in the 50-meter small-bore and Hoover in both.
“(They) didn't have anything official in their hands but they knew they were going,” The X Count's vice president Diane Rice said. “What happens is, they want about 65 athletes so they take a list, put all the state champions, automatic qualifiers. ... That's the first-round cut score. If some people say no or don't turn in their materials, they'll do a second round.”
In addition to the three state champions, the facility has qualified Leo's Eric Uetrecht and Zach Hegbli, and Carroll's Ben Butler, Corey Schreiber in the 10-meter air rifle event.
“It's awesome. It's unreal,” said Tinsley, a freshman. “ If you would have told me two months ago that I would be here, I would have said you were crazy. This is unreal.
“I wouldn't be here if it weren't for (everyone else on the range). At the beginning of my season, I pretty much wanted to quit and they wouldn't let me. I'm glad they didn't because now I am where I am.”
Miller, a freshman, has used much of the last year to gain confidence since, as she described it, the sport is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
“Last year, I only had two practices before I went in and shot for Junior Olympics (qualifier),” she said. “This year, I worked on my hold, my position and my mental game. The mental side of it is a really big deal.
“To build that confidence, for me, shooting at the college matches and traveling helped a lot. I learned to control my nerves more. When we traveled to Akron, I know everyone who joined the precision team was extremely nervous. ... Traveling around helps with my nerves, it helps me get more comfortable with other facilities and having other people around me that I don't know.”
As a college student, Hoover has experiences to share about Junior Olympics, but for most, this will be their first trip.
Hegbli was able to participate at the national competition in Georgia at the beginning of February, but even he's been told the Junior Olympics will be different. To combat the pressure, he trains like he's competing.
“Down there (at nationals), it wasn't all that bad,” he said. “On the firing line, we were all together so it felt like we were at practice because the people you know are right there beside you. At Junior Olympics, coaches said that's not how it is. You might not have those people right there. You'll be around people you've never met so it might be a little bit harder out there.”
At last year's Junior Olympics, there was an instance where a competitor was trying to receive a pep talk from Gregg Rice but was clearly distracted by the fact that 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ginny Thrasher who among those competing.
“That's the level of competition that you're experiencing when you go out (to the Junior Olympics), there are Olympians,” Diane Rice said. “You'd be hard pressed to find an Olympic athlete in our sport that didn't compete in the Junior Olympics.
“(Thrasher was) 19 years old so she's still eligible for the JO. That's the competitive level of this match.
“It's an honor to go.”
For more information about The X Count, its teams or to donate to the facility and the youth who participate in its programs, go to www.thexcount.com.
At a glance
The X Count Junior Olympic Qualifiers
Mackenzie Miller: 10-meter air rifle
Katelyn Tinsley: 50-meter small-bore
Corey Schreiber: 10-meter air
Zach Hegbli: 10-meter air
Eric Uetrecht: 10-meter air
Ben Butler: 10-meter air
Alex Hoover:10-meter air, 50 meter small-bore