The school year is coming to an end and the summer shooting season beckons and that can only mean one thing–USA Shooting’s Spring Selection Match for Shotgun is upon us. This year’s host is the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) in Ft. Benning, Ga., and competition gets underway for 69 shotgun athletes Friday in Men’s and Women’s Skeet.
With many young competitors among the National, Junior, Junior Olympic and aspiring hopefuls participating in the Spring Selection Match, nerves are already high given the demands of school work, finals, year-end projects and graduation. Add in an intense match in which World Cup and World Championships selection is a part of the prize and the ingredients are ripe for plenty of intrigue.
The course of fire in skeet will include 250 targets over three days with competition taking place with the old ISSF rules that includes six finalists and qualifying scores carrying over to the finals. The 2013 Spring Selection Match is a qualifier for selection to the 2013 World Clay Target Championship Team as well as the upcoming ISSF World Cups in Cyprus and Granada, Spain.
Thanks to the record-breaking performances of Kim Rhode (El Monte, Calif.) and Vincent Hancock (Eatonton, Ga.) these past eight years, the USA Shooting Team is recognized as the world’s best in international skeet. With a stranglehold on skeet mastery for the time being, Rhode and Hancock search within to create challenges that feed their competitive drive.
For Rhode, that challenge will come in the form of motherhood as she and husband, Mike, are expecting the birth of their first child at any moment now. Her absence at Nationals and this Spring Selection match opens up even greater opportunity for the plethora of talent that resides among U.S. female skeet shooters. Jaiden Grinnell (Port Angeles, Wash.) broke Rhode’s National Championship record on her way to winning the 2012 National title by nine targets and then finished third at Fall Selection. Haley Dunn (Muenster, Texas) returned to competition in a big way last fall in Kerrville, Texas, by winning Fall Selection. Recently, Grinnell and Dunn finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the year’s first International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Acapulco, Mexico.
Caitlin Connor (Winnfield, La.) has been a steady force in women’s skeet having accumulated five National Championship or Selection Match medals since 2009 to go along with two World Cup medals. Connor dialed in her game with a win at the ACUI International Shoot-out and with a World Cup trip to United Arab Emirates.
“I’m really excited for this match and I’m ready to go head-to-head with some really tough girls,” said Connor. “We’ve all trained hard for this, so I know it’s going to be a great competition.”
Amber English (Colorado Springs, Colo.) showed up in a big way at the 2012 Nationals with a bronze medal and after taking the time necessary the past couple years to get her degree in health science and become a paramedic, she’s feeling good about her upcoming match.
“I expect to have a great match,” said English. “I took a lot of time off last year to finish school but I’ve been training hard lately and I’m excited for the finals on Sunday.”
Coming off a successful collegiate season competing for Texas A&M, 2012 Junior Olympic Champion Brandy Drozd (Bryan, Texas) will look to find a spot on the podium after back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the 2012 Nationals and Fall Selection. Morgan Craft (Muncy Valley, Pa.) scored a medal during the Tucson World Cup and won the Spring Selection event on the same range but then struggled with sixth-place finishes at Nationals and Fall Selection.
While the Women’s Skeet title is up-for grabs with about 10 legit contenders, there will be no doubt who the perennial favorite is among the men. Until proven otherwise, the top spot is Hancock’s to lose. Since winning gold again in London, Hancock has done everything to prove that there will be no relapse in his game this quad and has shown that by winning Fall Selection two months after London and then by winning the gold medal at the Acapulco World Cup.
But, Hancock is well aware that there’s a hungry pack of contenders eager to unseat the Georgia native. Look no farther than those Olympic Trials finalists that created the most dramatic of selections with a sudden death shoot-out among three contenders for a final Olympic Team spot. Securing that dramatic spot was Hancock’s good friend Frank Thompson (Alliance, Neb.) who also finished second to Hancock at Nationals and Fall Selection. Thompson just missed joining Hancock in the Olympic final with an eighth-place finish in his Olympic debut.
“I am very anxious for this match,” Thompson said. “I have been training very hard and am excited for the results. I am always excited to come here and see my friends that used to live in Colorado and other friends I’ve made at the unit. It is always a good time for me to come here.”
Thompson also joked that he has more than one goal in mind: “I have two goals; take one shot at a time, and finish ahead of the infamous villains, Caitlin Connor and Jaiden Grinnel!”
Jon Michael McGrath (Tulsa, Okla.) and Mark Weeks (Clinton Township, Mich.) came up just short in their Olympic quest. McGrath just missed a bronze medal at the Acapulco World Cup earlier this year after the 39-year-old shooter Said Bin Futtais of the United Arab Emirates out-shot the20-year-old McGrath 15 to 14 hits in the bronze-medal match. McGrath had a great shooting performance in pursuit of his second career World Cup medal. The other Olympic Trials finals contender was Dustin Perry (Lovelady, Texas), who competes collegiately for national powerhouse Lindenwood University.
2013 USA Shooting Spring Selection Schedule
May 10-12 — Men’s & Women’s Skeet
May 14-15 — Men’s Double Trap (Preview coming May 13)
May 17-20 — Men’s & Women’s Trap (Preview coming May 16)
Images courtesy USA Shooting