The Cambridge-Isanti clay target team had more than a “shot” at success this season.

The Bluejackets garnered a number of individual and team honors this spring, including a strong team performance that resulted in an appearance in the MSHSL tournament in Prior Lake last month.

It was a tribute to a group of mentally tough athletes, according to one of the team’s coaches, Loren Larson.

“If you walk up and watch it, you can see you don’t have to have great athletic ability to excel in this sport,” he said. “You have to have hand-eye coordination and muscle memory, yes. But when you get down to it, this is a difficult event mentally.

“The people who excel in this sport are the ones who can focus on 100 targets, basically dial the world out and be methodical and machine-like. It all boils down to who is the mentally toughest person in the field.”

And this year Cambridge-Isanti proved it has a mentally tough team. That proof began during the regular season, when the Bluejackets finished second to Blaine in Class 5A Conference 1. And the margin between the two teams was razor-thin: C-I lost by roughly 300 clay targets hit out of a total of more than 36,000 over the course of five weeks.

“We led Blaine for a good part of the season, but we had a hiccup in Week Four that cost us the conference trophy,” Larson explained.

What Larson didn’t mention is that Cambridge-Isanti shot brilliantly in the final week of the season, connecting on more than 8,000 targets – the best total in the conference all season – before falling just short. He also was too modest to point out that the Bluejackets took the top four individual spots in the season standings.

Senior Calub Klontz led the way, earning the “Top Gun” award with his average of 24.5 clay targets hit per round of 25 shots.

“I just went out there to do as well as I could, but my goal was to have fun at the same time,” Klontz said. “If you try to do more than that, you can get caught up in mind games, and that can cause you to miss and overthink things.

“It’s better to have a clear mind and let things happen. There’s no point in getting mad about missing one; you just worry about the next one.”

Klontz thanked his parents, father Chanin and mother Kim, as well as his coaches, particularly Larson, for his successes in this sport.

“Loren Larson helped the team a lot, teaching us how to shoot better by teaching what to do and what not to do,” Klontz said. “He helped with everything: holding the gun, making sure your head is down or using the best stance.

“And my mom and dad have been very supportive as well.”

Close behind was fellow senior Hunter Minke with his 23.9 average, while senior Brandon Hammes and junior Nate Larson tied for third with 23.8 targets. Sophomore Brandon Wendberg tied for seventh at 23.3 targets hit per round.

Minke was neck-and-neck with Klontz through most of the season despite using a dealer model of a gun he bought before the season. Before the fourth week of the season Minke switched guns and had a hiccup in that first week shooting the new gun.

“You can order an exact carbon copy of a gun, but every gun is a little bit different,” Loren Larson said. “I’m not sure Hunter understood what I was saying, but he struggled the first time he used the new gun. Hunter was neck-and-neck with Calub before that. That basically was the difference between those two – they are both that good.”

Larson said he was pleased to see Hammes enjoy success during his senior season.

“I don’t know if it was because it was his senior year, but he far exceeded his prior years on the team,” Larson said of Hammes. “He stepped forward in a big way, and it was pretty impressive. It was a great way for him to close his high school shooting career.”

And Loren Larson was obviously pleased to see his son thrive during his junior year.

“Nate went through a gun change last July, and his fall season wasn’t as good as he had hoped for,” Loren Larson said. “I’d like to take credit for his improvement this spring and say we shot a lot in the fall, but we really didn’t.

“When this season started, he just elevated his game – he improved by four birds per round, which is a huge jump.”

The team placed seventh among 27 teams in the Class 5 team championship held in Alexandria on June 14. Among all schools who shot at that event the Bluejackets placed 37th with 475 targets broken to earn a berth in the MSHSL event in Prior Lake on June 21.

“We were really, really happy with the scores – we had some kids put up numbers that were well above their averages,” Loren Larson said. “But conversely, we had some kids who didn’t shoot their average, so it was kind of a mixed bag.

“And we were missing Hunter Minke in Alexandria, who was among our top shooters. We tied for fifth, but the tiebreaker dropped us to seventh, and you can’t complain about that kind of performance.”

Minke was in Germany, and that trip also caused him to miss the event at Prior Lake.

“Hunter Minke is a kid who thrives on shooting on a big stage with the bright lights on him,” Larson said. “The more pressure, the more he elevates his game. It was a shame for him to miss those events.”

The Alexandria event allowed a number of other Cambridge-Isanti shooters to compete and several stepped up to perform well there, as junior Riley Puck and Wendberg both broke 97 targets.

“Brandon is extremely active in shooting sports,” Larson said, noting that Wendberg shot during the skeet season. “He has really improved at trap, and it’s because he does everything but sleep with his shotgun. Every one of those sports is different, but if you’re practicing like that you’re going to improve.”

“Riley, when you put him on a big stage, he seems to find a way to get it done.”

At Prior Lake the team took a step forward, finishing 29th out of 40 teams against a potentially intimidating slate of opponents. Larson said the way the Cambridge-Isanti team handled that pressure was a testament to its toughness.

“At an event like this, if you miss you’re going to lose,” he explained. “You know somebody is going to break 100.

“If you ‘drop’ a target, and you let that feed off itself and give you more lost targets, that’s a problem. And you have to remember: You are shooting with your team. You don’t want them watching and saying, ‘So-and-so is coming apart at the seams.”

Klontz led the way at Prior Lake with a 97, while Wendberg was close behind at 96.

The good news for a number of these shooters is that there still is one competition on the calendar: Klontz and his younger sister, Kelly, will join Minke, Hammes, Nate Larson, Wendberg and Puck as well as more than 2,000 competitors in the High School National Championship held in Mason, Michigan, starting this week.

“It’s always hard to see kids graduate and leave programs, and this group of seniors will be especially hard to say goodbye to because it has really been fun working with them and watching them develop into such strong trapshooters,” Loren Larson said. “They are leaving us with some very big shoes to fill. That said, I am really excited to watch them finish their high school shooting careers next week at the national high school trap shooting championship.”

Klontz said he looks forward to the challenge of the national event.

“I’d like to shoot 75 straight because I’ve shot a few 50s and a bunch of 25s,” Klontz said. “I’d like to try the next step.”

But Loren Larson said he enters the national tournament with no specific expectations.

“I’d love it if the seniors went out on a high note,” he said. “Hopefully they can up their game and have success.

It’s our first time going there, and I’d love to bring home some hardware – that always has to be your goal when you’re competing. But if everyone shoots close to their average, and everyone competes well, it’s 100 percent a success.”

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