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By Andi Bourne

Shooters Go Out With a Bang


Photo provided by CMP

The Hellgate Civilian Junior Shooters' first team on the podium after taking third in the USA Shooting National Championship. (L-R): Ibby Lorentz, Sam Weisenburger, Jonna Warnken, Justin Thomas, Head Coach Trace Weisenburger, Assistant Coach Chris Lorentz and Assistant Coach Don Warnken.

CAMP PERRY, OHIO – Squadded next to Texas Hill Country, the number one precision shooting team in the nation, the Hellgate Civilian Junior Shooters stepped up to the line on day one of their two day National competition. The first of their two teams took second to Texas Hill Country at the Western Regional Air Rifle 3 Position Championships last April.

Hellgate's first team shooters Ibby Lorentz, Justin Thomas, Sam Weisenburger and Jonna Warnken finished their 60 shots (20 prone, 20 standing and 20 kneeling) and stepped off the line. Sam recalled Head Coach Trace Weisenburger saying they beat Texas Hill by one point.

"It was just a cliff hanger. Our kids stand up pretty well," said Assistant Coach Chris Lorentz.

Their score earned them a third place finish in the USA Shooting Junior Olympic Championships. On the second day during the Civilian Marksmanship Program National Championships the team took fifth. This is their second year sending a team.

* * *

The Hellgate Civilian Shooters are based out of Bonner and coached by Trace, Chris and Don Warnken. This year they had 13 shooters in their program and eight earned an invite to the National Championships June 22 and 23 at the Olympic Training Center in Camp Perry, Ohio.

Prior to Nationals, Trace said they did a lot of mental training on how to identify and deal with distractions while shooting. Then they implemented a shot plan, a four to five step checklist each shooters goes through when they shoot.

"I tell them [the shot plan] is their insurance plan," said Trace. "When you are nervous or anxious and things aren't going great, go back to what you know, always, and that is your shot plan."

Trace said that taking eight of their 13 shooters to Nationals is a huge accomplishment compared to programs like Georgia where they have more than 800 kids in their program and they took only four kids to Nationals. Of the 46 teams that participated, the Hellgate Civilian Shooters had two of the three teams from Montana.

Ibby, Justin and Sam on the first team are from Seeley Lake. The second team included Libby Diller, Abby Donald, Jack Seibly and Alex Weisenburger.

* * *

The USA Shooting Junior Olympic Championships was the first day. The coaches chose the team from the eight shooters based on their previous performances.

"The team that we picked did very well compared to last year where we placed 22," said Trace.

"There was a lot less stress and we prepared a lot more," said Justin comparing this year to last. "This year we knew that we had a chance to be on the podium and I think that was one of the driving forces. We wanted to place at nationals not just be at nationals."

Justin shot a personal best the first day. This surprised him because normally at big matches, shooters are at or below their average.

"Justin had stars on his shoulders for this one. He showed up ready to play," said Chris. "It is really neat to see it all come together at the right time."

Ibby shot at her high average, shooting 589 the first day.

"I was a little nervous as last year I had the miss and I just had trouble. It was a lot better than last year and I was really happy," said Ibby.

In response to beating Texas Hill Country on day one, Ibby said, "They were the people we wanted to stick with and see if we could beat. They are a fantastic team and so it felt really great to know that we were good enough to compete against them and make them work for it a little bit."

Of the 241 shooters, Ibby tied with 9 other shooters with a score of 589 for eighth place. Only one advanced to the finals so they decided by Xs, points given for closest to center on the bulls eye. Ibby finished 16th on the first day based on Xs.

"If I would have had a point better, or a few more Xs, I would have definitely been in the finals," said Ibby. The first place shooter going into the finals was only two points ahead of Ibby.

Trace said Jonna shot very well finishing with 582 points, landing 65th place.

Sam didn't shoot as well as he wanted, shooting slightly below his average, but he said "it was leaps and bounds better" than last year.

"The team had the same mind set [to] go there and do well and if someone does well then we are all there for them. Since everyone was doing well, it was kind of perpetuating," said Sam. "Placing third in the nation, I don't know if I can top that."

The second team was ranked 44th of the 46 teams going to Nationals. They placed 30th the first day.

Trace said Alex and Abby did very well and Libby shot a personal best of 582. Jack, a 12-year-old shooter that just joined the team this year, didn't do as well as he had hoped but bounced back the second day.

* * *

Day two at Nationals is the CMP National Championships. The Hellgate Shooters hung with Texas Hill Country through the 20 prone shots. However, Texas Hill pulled away during the standing and kneeling. They finished first and Hellgate's first team finished fifth for the match.

"Everyone shot really well the first day and we just went down a little bit on the second day which is normal," said Ibby.

Even though Ibby shot a point higher on day two, she missed finals again by Xs after tying for eighth place. She finished 12th in the CMP National Championships.

"I really want to be in finals next year," said Ibby. She also hopes the team will make the podium both days since those that place in the top three win between $3,000-$5,000.

The second day, the second team was one point higher and placed 32nd. Jack improved his score by 13 points.

"He shot a whole lot better and he'll be there again next year," said Trace.

"It's great to see the whole team do so much better than last year," said Ibby. "We have improved so much and it was a great way to go out with a bang."

"Every point at nationals counts," said Trace. "Like Ibby, one point would have put her in the finals. If we would have gotten six more points on day one, we would have been first place."

"We had a really big presence at Nationals that was really exciting," said Sam. "When we came in [this year] we were a team people knew. That was the biggest difference."

* * *

Photo provided by CMP

Ibby Lorentz looking down her rifle.

Chris said the total cost of getting the eight shooters to the match was $12,000. This did not include coaches or families. They raised more than $8,500 towards the cost.

"The community has been fantastic. The Wilderness Sportsman Club is a fantastic group of supporters. They have been very generous to the team as a whole," said Chris. "We are very appreciative of all the support in the community."

The Hellgate shooters will be back at the range come September. They have some new entry level equipment thanks to the Friends of the National Rifle Association. They are hoping to recruit a few new shooters.

"Overall the kids did fantastic and I'm extremely proud of them," said Trace. "We were so close to taking first this year. Next year we have the same kids going in and we will be really tough to beat since we are already so close to the top."


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