CHURCH HILL — Volunteer High School senior Jaden-Ann Fraser may already have the credentials to become a NCAA Division I competitive shooter, which his her ultimate goal, but on Saturday she added the crown jewel to a growing list of national titles.
More than 1,500 air rifle shooters from across the country competed in a “postal” event earlier this year to be among the 30 chosen to compete July 25-27 in the 29th annual American Legion Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship.
The “postal” preliminaries involved shooters mailing in their results, with American Legion judges choosing the best of the best for this national invitational.
Two members of Volunteer's NJROTC rifle team scored well enough to make that cut — Fraser and freshman teammate Olivia Cattrell, who were among the 15 competitors in the Sporter division. Another 15 competed in the Precision category.
The national event was held at the USA Shooting Range at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Fraser and Cattrell were sponsored by the Kingsport American Legion Post 3 to cover their traveling expenses.
Just being at the Olympic Training Center was an experience in itself, which the girls talked about in a video that can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.
The three day event started with two days of preliminaries (Thursday and Friday) involving two 60-shot rounds each day.
Heading into Saturday's finals, the field in each category was whittled down to eight, with Fraser holding a four point lead and Cattrell in third.
Following the 10-shot finals, Fraser and Cattrell held on to their previous positions of first and third, respectively, with Fraser taking the national title by only three points.
“There was a lot riding on that two days of shooting and then the finals after,” Fraser told the Times News on Tuesday. “Every shot counts. Every single movement counts. You can't take any individual thing for granted or else you'll throw the match. We went in there knowing what we had to do. It's what we trained for all these months. I feel like I trained for this match since my freshman year, and we went and did what we know how to do.”
After the first day, Fraser held a comfortable 12 point lead over second place Kayla Kalenza from Volunteer's arch rival Fort Mill, S.C.
But that “pretty good cushion,’ as Fraser described it, didn't last as Kalenza cut the margin to four points heading into Saturday's finals. Fraser said she had a stressful Friday night.
Kalenza is left handed, and Fraser is right handed. As luck would have it they stood facing each other during the finals.
“We were right in front of each other the entire time making eye contact,” Fraser said. “Their monitor is fully in sight because she's left handed and I'm right handed. I can look at hers and she can look at mine. I'd shoot, know what mine was, and just be like, ‘OK your turn. What are you going to do?’”
Cattrell was only three points behind second place after the first day, and she had hopes of moving into second place on day two. But like her teammate, Cattrell struggled on day two and lost touch with second, although she had a comfortable 13 point lead over fourth place heading into the finals.
“My goal going in was top five, so I'm very pleased,” said Cattrell, who completes a freshman season that included multiple top-five finishes in national events.
This was Cattrell's first year of shooting anything, period. She never even shot a BB gun before joining the Volunteer NJROTC rifle team a year ago.
She can't explain her immediate success.
“I'm still comprehending it myself,” Cattrell said. “I don't think it has really sunk in yet.”
Fraser already owns multiple national shooting titles, but none of them top this American Legion championship at the Olympic Training Center.
“This is by far the biggest match I've ever shot,” Fraser said. “It's just the caliber of this match. Where it was. What it took to get there. I've never shot anything this intense with this much on the line, and I personally don't think I've shot this well competitively.”
She added, “You have to realize going into this competition, these are the top 30 shooters in the country. You know you're good, but you also know they're good. I knew I had the capability of doing that, and Olivia knew she had the capability. It's just applying that and not getting in your own way and taking it one shot at a time.”
Fraser's goal for this year is to repeat her past championships, win the titles she hasn't yet won and earn a shooting scholarship to an NCAA Division I school, preferably a military academy.