This past weekend’s junior shooting sports final saw national records broken, $10,000 in scholarship money awarded and a championship that was won by just nine-tenths of a point.
Antonio “Andre” Gross of Webster, N.Y., won the sporter category, and Michael Steinel of New Philadelphia, Ohio, emerged as the winner from a hotly contested precision group at the 24th annual American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship held at the U.S. Olympics Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Each winner received a $5,000 scholarship funded by The American Legion and the Sons of The American Legion.
Gross, who finished with an aggregate score of 2,309.5, maintained a commanding lead throughout much of the three-day event. But the precision title was decided in the third-day’s final “shoot-off” in which the top eight shooters from each category fire 10 scored shots from standing position to determine the final rankings.
Steinel entered the shoot-off trailing Samantha Peterson of Ham Lake, Minn., by two points. He shot a competition-best 101.1 in the final round to squeak out a victory over Peterson, finishing with an aggregate score of 2,469.1, barely besting Peterson’s 2,468.2.
“That definitely gets the heart beating,” Steinel said. “But that makes it harder to shoot, so you have to be able to take a moment, pause and reset.”
Steinel tied a competition record with a score of 200-19x in the kneeling position round. He joined several other record breakers at the meet, including Alec Patajo of Vashon, Wash. Patajo’s score of 199-17x in the precision standing position round set an overall national record, and his mark of 597-51x in the “three-position by 20” round set Junior Club and Age Group Three records.
Peterson tied an event record with a maximum score of 800 in precision’s prone category, and second-place finisher Madie Snyder of Kimball, Neb., set a tournament record in sporter’s kneeling round with a 764-42 mark.
Snyder sat in eighth place after the tournament’s first round and climbed up to second after her record-setting kneeling performance. But Gross carried a 13-point lead into the final shoot-off which proved too great of a deficit to overcome.
“I’m happy with how I did even though I shot a little below my average,” said Gross, who will begin his sophomore year of high school this fall.
Steinel and Peterson set the stage for their final shoot-off after the two shooters traded turns sitting atop the leaderboard throughout the three-day tournament. Steinel claimed the narrow victory, shooting under 10 only four times in the shoot-off.
“I had a pretty consistent performance. I was only a few points away on each match,” Steinel said. “My shots weren’t great, but they weren’t bad.”
Steinel will represent the United States at the 2014 World Shooting Championship in Granada, Spain, later this summer.
A rising senior who is also in the process of becoming an Eagle Scout, Steinel says he is glad to have the support of his local Legion post, his coaches and the various scout masters who he has encountered as an amateur athlete.
“Luckily, all the Legion people for me in my area are very, very supportive,” he said.