HOHENFELS, Germany -- If Hohenfels Middle/High School had existed in the dystopian world of "The Hunger Games," Katniss Everdeen may have faced some stiff competition from the HMHS Rifle team captain, Katherine Gamble.
As the DODDS Europe Eastern Conference champion, Gamble averaged a 280 score going into the European Marksman Championships held Feb. 1. Her top score for the year was 287.
"She was leading the way through the conference the whole time," said Hohenfels coach Bob Cheney.
Gamble's average leaped more than 10 points from last year. In five conference matches, she took the overall top shooter three times.
"We went to practice the first day, and I shot a 279," she remembered. "Sgt. Cheney and I kind of looked at each other like, 'that's never happened before.' And it just kept happening."
While impressed with Gamble's improvement, Cheney said he wasn't surprised by it.
"She's more focused and well-balanced, and experience also ties in with that performance," he said.
A junior at HMHS, 16-year-old Gamble was recruited in the eighth grade by former rifle coach Bruce Andrews.
The coach asked me three really random questions," Gamble recalled. "Do you play a musical instrument, do you have good grades, and can you do math well. Then he asked if he could teach me to shoot over the summer."
Though hesitant at first, Gamble's parents encouraged her to give it a shot.
"They said, you can't really pass that up because of how good a coach he is," she said.
A complete novice, Gamble admits that when she began she didn't even realize she had to load a pellet into the rifle. But she said the foundational skills built over that summer have played an important role in her success.
With her previous activities including ballet and piano lessons, Gamble said her friends and family in the States remain confused about her choice of sports.
"When they first heard I was shooting, they were like -- 'wait, she's what?'" Gamble laughed. "None of them understood it. It's the most random thing for me to do."
Gamble said she enjoys the solo aspect of the sport.
"I like that it's an individual sport and if I have a bad day, it doesn't affect anyone else, it's just me. And I don't have to rely on anyone else to do good," she said.
Not that she had many bad days this year. Each conference match, medals are awarded to the high-scoring participant in each of the three shooting positions, as well as to the overall high-scorer of the match. In two years on the team, Gamble had yet to earn one.
"I always wanted one," Gamble said, "and at the first match (this season), I got two!"
Gamble went on to earn 10 medals over the course of the season.
"That's more than any other shooter in the conference," Cheney said, adding that of the 25 available medals, Hohenfels brought home 16.
The early victories fueled Gamble's motivation.
"After the first two, it was like, well, I can't screw up now. I didn't want to let my coach down," she said.
As part of her prematch ritual, Gamble destressed by painting her fingernails. They were pink when she won her first medals, so she continued the tradition throughout the season.
"We would go on trips late at night to get a new shade of pink," she laughed. "Then the other teams' coaches started noticing it, and they would bug me about it, and the other shooters started noticing it."
Gamble enjoys a good relationship with her fellow competitors and their coaches alike, often laughing and joking with them between positions.
"I can't stay quiet that long," she joked.
When she steps up to the firing line, though, it's all business.
"You can't think about anything," said Gamble.
"She puts everything to the side when she's on the firing line," said Cheney. "In between -- well, OK -- but once she starts shooting, that?s it. She wants to do her very best."
With plans to attend CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program) Advanced Standing Air Rifle Camp in Anniston, Ala., this summer, Gamble's goal for next year is to shoot a perfect score in the prone position at a match.
"I've done it lots of times at practice, but never at match, except a postal match, and nobody got to see it," she said.
Cheney has no doubt that Gamble will continue to improve.
"She has all the potential in the world," he said. "Next year, I'm almost positive she'll shoot in the 290's and that's really tough to conquer. Anybody would love to have her on their team, and I'm thankful to have her on the Hohenfels team."