When Taylor Christian takes aim with her .22-caliber competition rifle, there is no fooling around.
She takes a deep breath to calm herself as she lines up the target that is no larger than a half dollar.
With her steady hand, Christian is likely to strike the bull’s-eye – a circle that’s smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser.
Christian, 13, is a top member of the perennially successful Spokane Junior Rifle Team. She sees competition shooting as a door to her future just like it’s been a door for other team members before her.
“I really like the sport. I know I can go far with it,” she said during a break in a practice last week. She attends Horizon Middle School.
Christian said she expects to attend this year’s National Junior Olympic Championships in Colorado in April. Team member Cassidy Wilson, 14, is likely to join her. Wilson is home-schooled.
At the same time, other top team members are preparing to attend the U.S. Army National Air Rifle Championships at Fort Benning, Georgia, in April.
It would be the second year in a row that the Spokane team has gone to that competition.
Christian had a top score statewide last December in a Junior Olympics qualifier and last weekend was the top shooter in a sectional competition in Spokane in a National Rifle Association event.
Over the years, the Spokane Junior Rifle Team has been so successful and built such a reputation that college coaches scour their published scores looking for potential scholarship recruits.
Several of the team members have dreams of competing not only on college teams, but also internationally and possibly in the Olympics.
“I think nationally it’s a very strong team,” said Tammy Christian, Taylor’s mother.
Olympic success has become a proud part of junior team history.
Probably the most successful of the team’s four Olympians was Launi Meili, who grew up in Cheney and won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 after honing her skills on the junior team.
Eric Uptagrafft competed in two Olympics – 1996 and 2012.
The others are Hatti Ponti in 2004 and Amanda Furrer in 2012. Furrer won a shooting scholarship at Ohio State University and has been competing internationally. Her father, Mike Furrer, is the team’s head coach.
Other top scorers on the team are Randi Loudin, 18, Post Falls High School; Aidan Maddox, 15, Riverpoint Academy; David Wright, 16, home-schooled; Maliya Hillman, 16, Lewis and Clark High School; Mason Maystrovich, 13, of Northwest Christian Middle School; Mary Maystrovich, 15, Northwest Christian High School; Katie McAdam, 13, home-schooled; and Mike Cooper, 17, Mt. Spokane High School, along with Wilson and Christian.
The team meets and practices at an indoor range at the Spokane Rifle Club in Northwest Spokane.
Top team members arrive early with their rifles and other gear so they can get set up and shoot through their practice rounds before the weekly team meeting.
“This sport is really about perfection of position,” said Ray Wilson, whose daughter Cassidy is gaining respect for her skills.
He said success depends on discipline, focus and managing stress. “It’s a very mental sport,” he said.
Mason Maystrovich, said he joined the team after a neighbor in Nine Mile Falls suggested that he check it out. He is now in his third year. His sister Mary joined a year later after she was invited to try her aim at some targets.
“I really like the feeling of being able to compete,” Mary Maystrovich said. “It’s a real peaceful sport when you compete.”
“Usually you have to calm yourself because your heart is beating so fast.”
Both Mason and Mary Maystrovich are considered up-and-coming shooters.
The shooters report that working through their targets can leave them drained.
“When you are done, you are usually really, really tired because of all the mental work,” she said.
The coaches constantly emphasize discipline. They preach the value of good health and nutrition.
“I’m committed to you guys. I know the other coaches are, too,” said Mike Furrer during a team meeting last week.
Getting into the sport is not cheap. A top-flight rifle might cost $3,950 with another $600 going for the rifle sights.
Specialized coats and pants are worn to help stabilize the shooters.
The rifle team has a collection of weapons and gear. Team members may use team equipment, although several of the advanced shooters have their own.
The junior rifle team has existed in Spokane for years. It used to be sponsored by the Independent Association of Foresters and has been at various facilities in the area prior to finding its current home at the rifle club.
Bill Havercroft, a longtime coach, said traveling for national or international competitions has become the norm for the team. “They build their shooting resumes as competitors,” he said.
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