Last season saw the Elizabethtown Area High School rifle team come flying out of the gates. The Bears won their first eight matches of the year to seize control of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, all with a mostly inexperienced lineup.
Alas, cracks wound up forming down the stretch. Elizabethtown went 3-3 in its final six matches to finish with an 11-3 record. That’s still pretty good considering how many first-year shooters the Bears had, and the three losses were only by a combined 7 points. But the first of those came against Manheim Township, who jumped Elizabethtown to win the regular-season title at 12-2.
“I pushed the kids really hard in the preseason,” head coach Dave Reinfried said. “I had them shooting doubles a lot. Toward the end of the season, our scores dropped a bit, so I think I’m not gonna push that as much this year. We might throw some more novelty shooting in during the season so they won’t get burnt out. They were just mentally fatigued near the end. They didn’t have the bad habits in their head yet. At the beginning, you’re not thinking about the extraneous stuff. When you’re not as focused, your mind allows other thoughts to get in, and you get distracted.”
The good news for the Bears is that there wasn’t much turnover from last season’s roster. Only two seniors graduated, and while six underclassmen elected not to return, only three (sophomores Kylie Masser, Marrie Smith and Erin Weaver) saw match time.
The two departed seniors, Matt Risbon and Aaron Tetkoskie, will be missed. Tetkoskie averaged a 97.86 in seven matches last year. Meanwhile, Risbon, the Bears’ leading in scoring average at 99.58, did about as much as one shooter can do in four years of high school. He made the league All-Star in three of those seasons, finishing as the top scorer in the L-L during his sophomore year, winning the pairs tournament as a junior and placing in the top 10 of the year-end individuals tournament twice.
But that just leaves more room for the rest of the team to grow. They’ll have time to develop, too. This season’s roster has just two seniors, only one of whom was on the team last year: Bella Albino, who was the highest finisher at the individuals tournament for the Bears (10th place) and was third on the team in scoring average with a 98.67, appearing in all but one match.
Junior Cole Ginder was the only other Elizabethtown shooter aside from Risbon to appear in every match last year. He had an average of 98.75, second behind Risbon, in addition to placing 20th at individuals. Three other Bears had double-digit match appearances as well; juniors Tyler Chapman and Jagger Gilleland mirrored each other with a 98.08 average in 13 matches, while sophomore Rachel Broomell had a 97.5 in 12 matches. The latter two finished in the top 25 at individuals; Elizabethtown had five shooters meet that mark, the most of any team aside from Manheim Township.
“They’ve come back ready to go,” Reinfried said. “It’s amazing because they mature a lot over the summer. Their balance is better, and their mind is a little bit sharper because they’re not so distracted by the little stuff. It makes a big difference.”
Given that a team normally takes nine shooters to each match, the Bears will be looking to a wide variety of shooters to fill in some gaps. That will start with the handful of kids who got limited match time last season. Juniors Evan Kready (96.5 average) and Emma Kreiser (96.13 average) had the most time (eight matches), while sophomores Luke Barton (97.33 in six matches) and Emily Bonsall (97 in five matches) were more consistent. Sophomore Kyle Lloyd (95.5 in two matches) is the last member of the team back from last year.
“I can tell they’re really excited,” Reinfried said. “We’re going to be really solid. I think it will take care of itself. The key is to build depth. I know we’re really solid in the top five or six, but I’d like to get another group under them that I can count on. I think it’s gonna happen. I had the youngest team in the league last year. That doesn’t mean everybody else won’t be good. We can only focus on us. But we can beat anybody.”
What could put Elizabethtown over the top is how well the new shooters perform. The Bears have only five freshmen this year, all of them boys (Bryce Autret, Parker Bryant, Branden Rain, Ben Pietsch and Luke Turner), compared to nine last season. But they do have one new senior (Lily Shaeffer), one new junior (Mick Nicodemus) and four new sophomores (Gerald Huber, Allison Lowell, Nizaly Ortiz-Kreiner and Aivery Shuck) to make up for that. Reinfried highlighted Shaeffer, a Mount Calvary Christian student, and Shuck, whose older brother Braydon was an All-Star for Elizabethtown in the past, as two newcomers who could surprise.
“The new kids will have their first-match jitters, but I’ve seen a lot of potential,” Reinfried said. “I think they all have the capability of being really good shooters. They have to start believing. They’re inconsistent at this point; they’ll shoot a 96 or a 98, then jump back down to 91 or 92, but that just comes with time. I have a great core to build on.”
Since high school rifle in Pennsylvania doesn’t have district or state competition yet, the Bears are zeroed in on winning the L-L, along with the individuals and pairs tournaments. They’ll have their work cut out for them; most of the other teams in the league are also returning most of their lineups from last year, especially Ephrata and Manheim Central. But Reinfried is confident that his team will at least compete.
“I think we’re so close to having an incredibly good team,” he said. “It’s not gonna take much. Most of the ones who have shot 100s in practice have shot multiple ones. There’s no doubt that we’ll be in the hunt, but nothing’s guaranteed. I’m a realist too because there are other teams who are out there that are really good. But you don’t need to worry about what anybody else does. It doesn’t matter. You’re shooting against you. If you focus on yourself, you’ll be fine. If you know you can shoot 10s, you will shoot 10s. You don’t think about anything else. The most important shot of the night is the one you’re shooting at that moment. And if you can get your mind set that way, it’ll go a long way.”