FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The top junior rifle teams in the country competed in the 2019 U.S. Army Junior Rifle National Championship (USAJRNC), Jan. 24-26, hosted by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and the Civilian Marksmanship Program, at Pool International Indoor Range Complex.
More than 150 competitors on 40 teams qualified from a field of more than 2,000 individual junior marksmen and over 200 teams nationwide to compete at this year's championship.
The three-day competition featured matches in the smallbore, sporter and precision rifle classes. Each day culminated in finals pitting the top eight competitors from each class against one another in a series of rounds scored to one-tenth of a point.
The smallbore competition is styled after the Olympic and International shooting competitions where competitors shoot from the prone, standing and kneeling positions. Competitors qualify for a winner-take-all final where qualifying scores do not carry over and the winner is crowned National Junior Champion, according to Sgt. 1st Class Hank Gray, USAMU International Rifle Team coach.
Morgan Kreb from Colorado Springs, Colorado and the National Training Center Shooting Club (NTCSC-Citius) won the 2019 Junior Smallbore National Champion title. She was competing at her fourth USAJRNC match and has been shooting competitively for over seven years.
"I had a lot of confidence coming into the final, with all the preparation and training I do all year," said Kreb. "It feels really awesome to win this final."
Kreb continued, "I love this competition [USAJRNC] because it serves as a reference point to how I compare against the rest of my peers."
The advice she would give on any young competitive marksman looking to compete on the highest levels is to keep working hard in practice, keep competing and the results will follow.
The remaining spots on the smallbore individual podium were filled by second place finisher Jaden-Ann Thompson from Danvers, Illinois, and Gavin Barnick, from Mendota Heights, Minnesota who claimed third.
The Smallbore National Championship Team title went to NTCSC-Citius, led by Kreb. Second place went to the Granbury Marine Corps Junior Reserves Officer Training Corp (MCJROTC) Team 1, from Granbury, Texas while Ole Mill Blue Team, from Griffin, Georgia finished third.
This year's match featured newcomers like Olivia Cattrell, from Church Hill, Tennessee who just started competitively shooting last year and wound up earning third place overall in the Sporter Class.
"It is really exciting for me to do so well at this match, especially since I just really started in this sport in 2018," said Cattrell. "It just shows me what I am capable of achieving."
Cattrell's team, Volunteer High School Navy Junior Reserves Officer Training Corp (NJROTC), out of Church Hill, Tennessee, claimed the Sporter Class National Championship Team title, for the second year in a row, and was captained by last year's individual Sporter National Champion Jaden-Ann Fraser, from Church Hill, Tennessee, who followed up her title winning performance from last year with a second place showing in this year's individual event.
"Competitive shooting has opened my eyes to many new things, with all of the travel you do," said Cattrell. "You get to see lots of new places and meet some very wonderful people along the way."
Bonus points received by competitors in the Sporter and Precision Class final matches were added to qualification scores to determine overall winners in each category.
The 2019 Junior Sporter National Champion was Sarah Leininger, from Fort Mill, South Carolina and the Nation Ford A-Team out of Fort Mill, South Carolina, who placed second in the Sporter Team Nationals, with Pueblo County A team from Pueblo, Colorado, finishing in third place.
The championship weekend began with a clinic conducted by USAMU's International Rifle Team. The Soldiers discussed a range of topics with the junior competitors including mental preparation, dealing with failure, having confidence and enjoying the journey of being a competitive marksman.
"Get your confidence built up while you practice at home, no matter what the conditions are because it will only make you a better competitor," said Sgt. 1st Class George Norton, the guest speaker at this year's awards ceremony and a shooter/instructor with the USAMU International Rifle Team told the captive audience during the clinic. "So when you show up to match like this [USAJRNC], you are ready to win no matter what."
One of the USAMU Soldiers conducting the clinic this year saw a familiar face in the crowd, Pvt. 1st Class Jared Desrosiers, a shooter/instructor with the International Rifle Team, from Swansea, Massachusetts shared his story while his dad, Andre Desrosiers, a coach with the Taunton Marksmanship Unit (TMU), out of Taunton, Massachusetts was in the audience with his team.
"It is really pretty exciting to watch him fulfill his childhood dream [of being on the USAMU International Rifle Team]," said Desrosiers [Andre]. "He gets to work with some of the people he idolized as kid every day and it makes me extremely proud of what he has achieved."
Kevin Winters, a coach alongside Andre Desrosiers with the TMU team, said, "I love this competition because it brings all the best school-age marksmen in the country together, in a very competitive environment at a world-class facility. And, they get to meet the USAMU Soldiers, and learn from some of the best marksmen in the world."
Winters added, "It's a great thing to come to this event and see my former pupil [Jared] working for the Army and the USAMU, it makes me feel good being his former coach."
A current student of Coaches Winters' and Desrosiers' team, Aliya Butt, from Taunton, Massachusetts made an impression in this year's precision matches finishing second in the Day 2 Final and third overall in the Individual Precision National Championships.
"I am very proud that I was able to fight my way back from a rough start to the match and use my coaches' and teammates' gestures to make me laugh and get myself refocused and get my head in the game," said Butt. "I was pleased with my performance overall."
Sarah Lough from Morgantown, West Virginia won the 2019 U.S. Army Junior Precision Rifle National Champion title while Scott Rocket, from Hampton, Virginia garnered second place.
Butt was competing this week with her younger sister Emma Butt, and her cousin Sofia Khan, both from Taunton, Massachusetts.
"It was fun to have some of my family members competing alongside me this week. We push each other and that makes this sport fun," said Butt. "You have to love what you are doing, work hard, and in the end it will all pay off."
Butt's team, the TMU Ring Leaders, captured third in the Precision Team National Championship, and the 2019 U.S. Army Junior Precision Rifle National Team Champions were the Ole Mill Rangers, from Griffin, Georgia. They were followed by the NTCSC-Citius team from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Team champions were determined by the overall compilation of scores from each member.
The weekend culminated in an awards banquet conducted by the USAMU and the Civilian Marksmanship Program, in which the top three finishers in each category received a trophy and medal for their accomplishments.
USAMU supports the nation's youth by fostering junior participation in noteworthy state and national rifle competitions, promoting firearms safety and connecting the nation's youth with the expertise and professionalism of the U.S. Army and its Soldiers.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit wins national and international shooting competitions, supports Army accessions, and advances small arms lethality to demonstrate Army marksmanship capability, enhance recruiting and increase marksmanship effectiveness in combat. USAMU is part of the U.S. Army Marketing Engagement Brigade and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.