Sometime before the sun comes up on Monday, three gun-toting local athletes will follow Horace Greeley’s advice to “Go west.”
Conemaugh Township rifle team members Deanna Binnie of Hollsopple and Morgan Dressick of Davidsville will meet up with former Indians teammate Kaitlyn Wilson of Boswell at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for five days of shooting matches to determine who gets coveted spots on the USA Shooting’s National Junior Team.
Binnie is a senior, Dressick a junior and Wilson is a freshman at Murray State University in Kentucky. The trio will be accompanied by Conemaugh Township coach John Binnie, Deanna’s father and a USA Shooting official.
Preparations started months ago with competitions in 47 states and 80 different shooting clubs, with more than 2,200 participants trying to qualify for rifle or pistol events. State champions – such as Deanna Binnie – qualify as do those who shoot the highest scores – the path used by Dressick and Wilson. The 17-day, invitation-only event brings more than 500 shooters together in several categories. All three local shooters qualified in women’s smallbore (.22), while Deanna Binnie and Wilson also qualified in women’s air rifle.
“They’ll be there for five days,” John Binnie said. “Air rifle is 2 1⁄2 days long. Smallbore is 2 1⁄2 days long. Air rifle is shot at 10 meters. Smallbore is shot at 50 meters.”
And the bullseye, it should be noted, is the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
“The top two shooters, first and second place in each category, get invited to be on the national team,” John Binnie said. “If they make the national team, they get to shoot all over the world.”
Deanna Binnie, the most experienced of the group, is making her fourth trip to the nationals, and she exudes confidence.
“You go to a match and you just expect to win, because if you don’t expect to win, there’s absolutely no chance you’re going to,” she said. “The experience I have under my belt will help me. It helps the people I travel with, too, because I can tell them what to expect in the chaos that sometimes ensues in this competition.
“If I place first or second, then I’ll think that I’m successful. That is the ultimate goal for me right now. My first year, I did very well. I placed third and got on the podium, so to speak. However, the last years I was there, I was mediocre. I did decent, but not good enough.”
This past season, Binnie shot a score of 584 out of a possible 600.
“It’s my best score in a match so far,” she said. “I actually shot the best out of everyone who qualified for this match, and there are hundreds of qualifiers. It gives me a little bit of confidence. I know I can do it. I just have to prove myself.”
Wilson also has been to the nationals before. She qualified three straight years, but was only able to compete twice.
“I hope to do the best I can because this is my last year,” she said. “I’ve been working all year. I had a lot of matches this year that have prepared me for it. I qualified the past three years, but one year couldn’t go because I hurt my shoulder in soccer. But, I’ve been there. I know the ropes.
Wilson said shooting in a match such as this one requires mental toughness as much as a steady hand. She said the past college season, in which Murray State was the Ohio Valley Conference runner-up, helped her develop a strong approach.
“It’s hard dealing with the pressure of the match,” she said. “That’s one thing we work on there - mental games. Hopefully, I can get it together and place. There are a lot of good shooters. It’s really good competition. As long as I do my best, I think I have a really good chance to make it into the finals.”
Dressick will be entering that atmosphere for the first time. She said she is looking forward to it, but won’t be satisfied to just say she’s been there. She expects to do well.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “A lot of people go there just to have fun, but I want to go to win and do the best that I can. I’ve actually never been this confident. Some other people from Pennsylvania are going, and I hope everyone has a good time.”
In addition to shooting against local high school competition in the WestPAC, Dressick is one of the area’s top shooters who have the benefit of experience on the Jerome Sportsmen Junior Rifle Team, a traveling squad.
“Basically, when school is over for the summer, we take some of the better shooters from schools around the area for the team,” John Binnie said. “They get pretty good, because they get a lot of practice.”
Dressick said those trips will help her deal with shooting in unfamiliar surroundings.
“We have had multiple out-of-state shooting trips,” she said. “We have had many other trips where we stayed in a different state.”
While all three shooters said they’re goal is making the National Junior Team, USA Shooting notes that the competition has led many to the Olympics.
“The Junior Olympic Shooting Championships is the next step in the development of any junior shooter and his or her Olympic Path,” USA Shooting’s Director of Operations Dave Johnson said in a news release. Johnson himself is a 1992 Olympian.