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Banner Day for U.S. Skeet at Junior World Cup

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (July 18, 2019)

Six medals, three titles and a U.S. sweep was quite the haul for America’s Shooting Team as they enjoyed an absolutely banner day in Skeet at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) Junior World Cup from Suhl, Germany. 

USA Shooting’s campaign rallying cry through 2020 is #RaiseTheFlag and nowhere has that been more prominent since it launched April 24 than on the Suhl skeet range Thursday.  The U.S. flag was raised early and often for USA’s junior shotgun program throughout the Junior World Cup, nine times in all in fact, including three of the four individual gold medals. Add to that impressiveness the six Junior World Championship medals earned in Italy recently, including two gold.

Austen Smith and Conner Prince led today’s festivities, turning Lonestar talk to Dualstar triumph as the Texas natives earned gold medals in both Women’s and Men’s Skeet. But that wasn’t all there was to talk about as Smith helped ushered in a U.S. medal sweep and a team title while Prince helped bring home a team silver medal as well.

Today began with Smith (Keller, Texas) tying the Open Women’s World Record with a qualifying score of 123/125. Equally game, like always, were her shooting mates of Sam Simonton (Gainesville, Georgia) and Katie Jacob (Rochester, Michigan), who qualified for the Final as well following scores of 114 and 119, respectively. Smith’s record score tied that of her teammate Simonton, which she set earlier this season in a World Cup event in Acapulco, Mexico.

How dominant were they in Qualification? Let’s just say these three U.S. women won the team title by a massive 20 points over their Chinese foes, and their combined score of 356 also equaled the Open World Record that Simonton was a part of during the recent World Championships that also featured 2017 World Champion Dania Vizzi and six-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode.  It was also one point higher than the last skeet medal sweep for Team USA, that featured Rhode, Caitlin Connor and Amber English at last year's World Championships.

Once in the Final, the inevitable happened for three of skeet’s rising stars, a three-way battle for Suhl skeet supremacy.  Thru the first 20 targets, Smith and Simonton had two misses each with Jacob at three. Over the next 20 shots, Smith would miss five times while Simonton and Jacob just missed once each, so Simonton was on top at this point with 37/40, while Jacob was 36/40 and Smith was 33/40. Jacob missed three of the next four targets, which ultimately forced her elimination as the bronze medalist in the tight contest, tying with Smith after 50 shots with a 43 while Simonton was still in front with a 45. Ties are broken by bib order (top qualification score) until the final two-spots in the ISSF Final and since Smith had the top Qualification score, she would advance.

Down two going into the final 10 shots, Smith focused in and hit nine targets to Simonton’s seven targets which set up a dramatic shoot-off duel between the two rising forces. Both would connect on their first pair before Simonton missed a target on the next pair to decide the epic match with Smith winning World Cup gold and Simonton taking the silver.  Despite the final ranking, it proved to be a match in which all three Americans were deserving of the top spot at some point during the Final.

This isn’t the first time the three of them shared the podium, and it won’t likely be the last.  They combined forces like this at the 2017 World Championships, with Jacob earning the world title, Smith grabbing the silver medal, and Simonton walking away with the bronze medal.

The 17-year-old Smith wraps up a hot couple of weeks in which she also won her first national open title, won a Junior World Championship Mixed Team title with Alex Ahlin, earned a Junior World Championship Team bronze medal with Jacob and Jasmine Otis, and finished eighth at the Junior World Championships individually.

The 19-year-old Simonton continues her impressive year competing in the both Open and Junior divisions after setting the World Record, earning both National Junior Titles, winning World Championships Team gold, and finishing 13th individually at World Championships.

Jacob has been a steady force in the junior ranks and she left her mark in her final year before moving to the Open ranks. She just finished runner-up at the Junior World Championships and she won this event twice in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017.  Last month, she was the bronze medalist in the Open division of USA Shooting’s National Championships and finished second to Simonton at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships.

PRINCE CHARMING IN SKEET

Charming for us but certainly not for the opponents facing him today was Conner Prince (Burleson, Texas).  A face so fresh onto the skeet scene the ISSF didn’t even have his picture on their website.  They’ll have plenty now as he ascended to the top step of the podium in Men’s Skeet with a dominating Finals performance. Missing just four targets out of 60 left his Finals foes in the dust as he claimed the gold medal by nine shots over China’s Liangliang Wu.  His 56 in the Final was two away from the Junior World Record.  After a third miss on the 14th pair, Prince would faulter just one other time over his final 16 pairs.

The 19-year-old Prince tied two others for top score in Qualification with a score of 120/125 and would settle for bib No. 3 after a shoot-off, which could have been significant had Prince not blown everyone away in the Final.  Among the Finalists was Junior World Championship bronze medalist David McNeilfrom Great Britain who would wind up fourth, with his countrymen George Harrison earning the bronze medal.

Prince is coached by former skeet standout Dustin Perry, the 2015 Pan American Games silver medalist who finished fourth for 2012 Olympic Team consideration as a junior. Asked what his proudest moment to date was, today’s result from his pupil or his competition days, he had this to say, “Definitely seeing Conner succeed, but he is not done. He is a great kid with a bright future and his accomplishments will only become greater. He is the hardest working young man I know.” 

Perry went on to discuss Prince’s mental approach to the game that seemed flawless Thursday. 

“Conner has always had the ability, which is why I urged him to start shooting international skeet. His biggest drawback had always been his mental game. And in the last year, he has become more confident and now seems to thrive in competition as opposed to before when he seemed be a slight bit fearful of it. Vincent [Hancock] also has helped Conner out as well. I believe Conner has taken coaching from both of us and formed his own way of shooting.”

Alex Ahlin (Bamburg, South Carolina) came up one target short of a possible Finals spot, shooting a 116.  Ben Keller (Johnstown, Colorado) shot a 113 to place 24th. Their combined efforts netted them a silver-medal finish in the team results, one target off the pace of Team Finland.

RIFLE/PISTOL ACTION

In other action Thursday, Morgan Kreb (Colorado Springs, Colorado) was high finisher in Women’s Three-Position Rifle featuring 99 competitors, putting forth a 25th-place finish after a score of 1160.  With identical scores of 1146, Katie Zaun (Buffalo, North Dakota) and Sarah Osborn (Hampton, Virginia) finished 58th and 59th.

Men’s Air Pistol was also contested with Paul Kang (Los Angeles, California) recording the highest finish, placing 54th with a score of 560.  With identical scores of 557, Kyler Swisher (Palmyra, Pennsylvania) and Sam Gens (Andover, Massachusetts) finished 65th and 66th.

The Junior World Cup concludes Friday with matches in Men’s Three-Position Rifle and Air Pistol Mixed Team.

WATCH IT NOW OR AGAIN: PRINCE CROWNEDSKEET SWEEP

JR WORLD CUP RESULTS: http://bit.ly/2JONe4e

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