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The Madras High School trap shooting team, led by longtime coach Kevin Tollefson, is one of the best teams in the state.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - The Madras High School trap shooting team will be shooting for the stars later this month, with representatives at both the OSHSCTL state finals and at the 4-H nationals in Nebraska. Back row from left: Coach Kevin Tollefson, Logan Lee, Mason Lee, James Lange, Seth Feigner; Front row from left: Joshua Gregory, Vanya Crumrine, Lucas Hurd; Not pictured: Eazson Jacobs.

School may be out for the summer, but one sports team from Madras High School is still gunning for a state championship.

The Madras Trap Club is heading to the Oregon State High School Clay Target League finals later this month, with a chance to bring home a state title. The OSHSCTL state championship will be held June 25-26 in Hillsboro, where the MHS team will compete against some of the best shooters in the state.

Just by looking at the standings, it's clear that the Madras shooters are among that group of Oregon's top marksmen. The team just won its conference by a wide margin, boasting the top two shooters overall in addition to the league's best female shooter.

With the rest of the team coming along as well, coach Kevin Tollefson believes that his team is a contender on the state and even national level.

'They can shoot with anybody'

"Something I always wondered when I started this program is, 'How do my kids compete compared against other kids?'" noted Tollefson, who started the team about 10 years ago. "We started doing some local shoots, and I realized that they do all right. Then, we went to the state level, and they still do all right."

"Now, even at the national level, these kids can shoot with anybody," continued Tollefson, who doubles as chapter president for the non-profit Madras Rod & Gun Club, where the team practices. "You give them the proper amount of training and funding, and they can shoot with anybody."

That development has not happened overnight, of course.

While the team is technically affiliated with the high school, the program begins much earlier than that for most of the shooters. The Tollefsons, Kevin and Carol, also run the shooting program through Jefferson County 4-H — and that has become a feeder team of sorts for the high school roster.

Despite being a very expensive activity — one box of ammo and a round of shooting at the Madras Rod & Gun Club will run you about $15 — shotgun sports are a fast-growing industry at the high school level. In order to help pay for that, the team has received grant money from MidwayUSA and Friends of the NRA, as well as other self-run fundraisers and private donations. The team is not an official activity offered through the high school, but the team struck a deal with the 509-J school district to use the MHS name and logo to represent the school in the sport.

Thanks to those funds, the shooters can do what they do best — shoot. And thanks to all those extra repetitions over a number of years, the Madras Trap Club is full of kids with experience and confidence.

One example of an athlete on that path is James Lange, who just finished up his sophomore year at Madras High School. Lange started shooting nearly a decade ago as part of the 4-H club at his dad's suggestion, and eventually, he graduated up to the high school level. Now, he's one of the top shooters in the state.

"James is an example of one of my kids who has been shooting with us for eight or nine years," Tollefson said of Lange, who made the OSHSCTL 2022 All-State Team after tying for the second-best season average in all of Oregon. "The part of the sport I love is working with kids and watching them grow and develop."

Over five weeks this season, Lange hit an average of 24.30 clay targets — or "birds" — in a round of 25, for an accuracy rate of better than 97 percent. He was joined on the All-State Team by Logan Lee, who just graduated from MHS earlier this month after finishing his senior year. Lee tied for fifth statewide with an average score of 24.10. While Lange and Lee were the top two shooters in their conference overall, Vanya Crumrine — the only girl on the MHS team — was the top female shooter in the league with an average of 22.40.

"It feels pretty good," said Lee of his high placement in the statewide field. "I don't know how many kids are shooting in Oregon, but it feels good to be in the top five of that."

With three shooters performing at such a high level, team success was soon to follow.

The Madras team had the best team score in the conference in four of the five competition weeks, with the one exception being when MHS placed second to Crook County — another team that Tollefson helps coach. Otherwise, Madras ran away with the league title, finishing with 1,109 cumulative points to just 988 for CCHS. North Medford was the only other team in shouting distance, taking third place with 951 points.

It's all about getting in the zone

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - James Lange, who will be a junior at Madras High School next year, tied for the second-best season average in the state. Lange was joined in the statewide top five by teammate Logan Lee, who graduated from MHS earlier this month. Both Lange and Lee had average scores over 24 out of a possible 25.Those triumphs, says Tollefson, are in large part due to the team's mastery of three key aspects of the sport: the mechanical, the visual and the mental.

"When these shooters are first starting to learn," he explained, "they're learning their mechanics — all the way from their foot placement, the way they mount their gun, the way they follow and track the bird, all of that — to then the visual, how well they see the bird."

Early on, it's all about learning the process of shooting at a moving target. Once those physical aspects of the game come along through months and years of practice, though, the burden then shifts squarely to the shooter's mind — both conscious and subconscious.

Shooters must rely on years of repetition to build muscle memory, and they must find a way to stay calm and collected during competition in order to access that memory. The path looks different for each person, but every athlete is trying to get to the same place — "the zone."

"When you get to the point where you've got your mechanics and you can trust your visual, when you really know what you can do it, it truly boils down to 'see the bird, shoot the bird,'" explains Tollefson. "Your subconscious mind takes over. That's 'the zone' that you're trying to get in. It's hard to do at times."

The zone, where athletes go on autopilot and let their well-sculpted talent take the wheel, is the holiest of holy lands when it comes to sports. All sorts of factors can prevent passage to the zone, whether that's self-induced pressure or fear, external factors such as weather, or even something as simple as a bad night of sleep or a missed breakfast.

But when a person does get there, the results can be extraordinary.

Take Lange for example. He gets to the zone by blocking out everything else around him — and then turning on his internal soundtrack.

"There's usually some sort of music playing in my head," Lange explained. "I'm usually just zoning out or staring down at the ground — I never pay attention to who shoots in front of me. Say they miss a bird. Then, I might think, 'Oh no, I might miss this bird.' Or I might get too cocky."

As for Lee, he takes a more conscious approach to reaching the zone. For him, it's more of a guided tour where he plays both the narrator and the traveler. Lee engages in self-talk to keep himself geared toward the task at hand, while also reminding himself not to overdo it.

"I'm just talking myself through what I want to do," said Lee of his process. "Reminding myself what I want to do, what I need to be doing, and just go from there. Especially when I'm shooting competitively, I try not to think too much, because then it gets in my head and that's a bad thing."

Though they take different routes to get there, both Lange and Lee arrived in the same place — not just in the zone, but on the All-State Team and in the top five of the state rankings. Now, they'll see if they can qualify for nationals via the state finals.

From the high desert to Grand Island

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Vanya Crumrine, who will be a senior at Madras High School next year, will not be making the trip to the state finals this month. Instead, Crumrine will be competing at 4-H Nationals in Grand Island, Nebraska.Meanwhile, Vanya Crumrine will not be competing at state.

Don't worry, though. She has a good excuse.

Crumrine was the state's top qualifier for the 4-H national championships, so instead of Hillsboro, she will be headed to Grand Island, Nebraska, later this month. Because shooters can only compete at the 4-H nationals once, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Crumrine, who will be a senior at Madras High School next year.

"I'm just hoping to perform my best," said Crumrine of her outlook for 4-H nationals.

"It'll certainly be a crazy amount of pressure," she continued. "I'm going to a foreign area — I've never been to Nebraska — and we're driving there, so I'm going to be exhausted. I'm shooting with people I barely know. It'll be humid — I'm not used to humid. I'm from the desert."

Regardless of those potential negatives, the soon-to-be senior is, in fact, looking forward to the competition with marked positivity.

"I'm excited," Crumrine clarified. "Even if I don't shoot that great, I'll be proud that I'm there. It's an honor to go. It's like getting a bighorn sheep tag. You can only do it once, ever, in your high school career."

As for how she ended up on the team, Crumrine's journey to 4-H nationals began during a turkey shoot with her family. She recalled that Tollefson was there at range that day, providing helpful tips and pointers even before she was on the team. So, when her grandfather told her that Tollefson just so happened to coach a youth team, Crumrine jumped at the chance.

"It's a lot of fun," she said of competitive shooting. "I care less about winning — it's more satisfactory to meet your goals. For me, it's a constant battle of knowing I can do more 25-straights than I have done. It's just a work in progress to that point, and it's just a mental state at this point. It's 100 percent mental."

'Quit it. Go shoot the bird.'

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Kevin Tollefson drew high praise from his athletes thanks to his expertise and support as coach of the team. Tollefson has been running the team out of the Madras Rod & Gun Club for about 10 years now.While these major events — the Oregon state shoot and 4-H nationals — are going on at the same time, everyone will have Tollefson's lessons in the back of their minds to help calm them. Lange, Lee and Crumrine all praised Tollefson as an exceptional teacher and coach, and each one counts him among the main reasons for their success.

"Our coach — we are very lucky to have him," Crumrine said of Tollefson. "Kevin is a rarity among trap shooting coaches. Though we're a very small team, we're very strong because of him. He's really good about reminding you about your process and setting you up for each individual shot."

"My coach is probably one of the best coaches I've ever had, in any sport," said Lee. "He's just honest, and he's always there to help you and willing to put in the extra effort. He's always there for you for whatever you need from him."

"Kevin's been the best coach ever," echoed Lange. "He takes the time to get to know you and figure out what your best spot is, and what you need to work on. It's great."

Tollefson doesn't coach for the glory or even because he loves the sport, but rather because he wants to make an impact on kids' lives and help them grow into better adults. The testimonies given by his athletes are proof positive that he is hitting the target 25 out of 25 times.

With Madras High School being represented on multiple fronts later this month, the Madras Trap Club is not only boosting the profile of the school — it's also increasingly providing an avenue for students to keep shooting in college, even on scholarship.

Tollefson notes that his own son, Elias, now competes for Lindenwood University after going through the shooting programs in Madras. The younger Tollefson was a crack shot for the MHS team in recent years, and he just finished 34th in the country at college nationals back in April.

"My own boy wasn't necessarily good at any other stick-and-ball sports, but he's latched onto this," Kevin Tollefson said of Elias. "It has given him confidence in life. He's coming out of his shell, and it's huge that way. A game-changer, to be quite honest."

Whether shooters like Lange, Lee and Crumrine will follow in those footsteps remains to be seen, but that door is open now — a door that didn't exist just a few years ago.

Those decisions can be made later, though. In the meantime, these Madras shooters will try to find their way back to the zone at their respective year-end tournaments.

For each of them, the calming voice of Tollefson will be helping to guide them there — and perhaps knock them back on track, if need be.

"You can see it when they're getting too mechanical," says Tollefson, noting the warning signs of when his shooters are veering off the path to success.

"You just tell them, 'Quit it. Go shoot the bird.'"

***

For those interested in joining or sponsoring the Madras Trap Club, please contact Carol Tollefson via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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