Davis headed to Junior Olympics in precision air rifle

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By Keith Sparks

Liberty Hill is known, in part, for its athletic success in sports like football, basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, and soccer, but there’s another lesser-known competition in which a Panther is making waves.

Liberty Hill Junior High eighth-grader Grace Davis is headed to the Junior Olympics for a competition called precision air rifle, which will take place April 12-14.

Precision air rifle competitors are required to aim and shoot pellets out of an air rifle at a miniscule target 10 meters away, competing against dozens of others who are trying to get closer to the target.

Aiming at a target the size of a needlepoint, there is little room for error. After 60 shots over an hour and a half, the eight shooters with the best score, based on the closest shots to the target, move on to the final round.

In January, Davis and a handful of her friends competed in a Junior Olympic qualifier at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and Davis performed well enough to qualify for the Junior Olympics in April. Having only competed in precision air rifle for two years, Davis’ success took a lot of people by surprise.

“It’s kind of weird, because I haven’t been doing this event for very long,” Davis said. “Kind of out of nowhere, I made a big amount of progress in a short amount of time. It was kind of crazy.”

Davis started competing in precision air rifle in sixth grade, but has been shooting since she was in third grade by way of 4-H Shooting Sports competitions. Davis and her friends became so skilled so quickly, however, that they were forced to move on from 4-H to find a more competitive league, after which they stumbled upon USA Shooting.

“4-H isn’t very serious, so as my skills started progressing and I started getting better, me and my friends started looking for other challenges,” Davis said. “At that point, it was just kind of me and my group of friends competing against each other. My friend’s dad found USA Shooting, and they have separate competitions that are more serious and are against a lot more competition that you can go places with, travel further, and are broader and have a wider spectrum. Me and all my friends started doing that together.”

Now, Davis and her friends are among the most precise shooters in the country at their age. Davis will be joined at the Junior Olympics by a handful of friends from Burnet who started shooting competitively around the same time she did, so Central Texas will be well-represented in 2019.

Davis said she isn’t too concerned with what place she’ll get at the Junior Olympics, but her primary goal is to remain calm and collected while focusing on how she can improve from one shot to the next.

“I haven’t really thought about it yet, but I know there’s a lot of competitions, so I’m not really looking for a specific placement,” Davis said. “I’m looking more at the process, making sure I’m doing everything right, maintaining my composure, and not freaking out.”

With such little room for error, Davis said it’s easy to get distracted by keeping score in her head and dwelling on the mistakes she’s made on previous shots. Her mindset heading into the Junior Olympics is to instead focus only on the shot at hand.

“A lot of times, after I take a shot, I’ll look over and if it’s not exactly what I want it to be, I start thinking about how it’s going to affect my score,” Davis said, “because if you shoot an eight or a nine, that can bring you down three places, because there’s really not much room for error. I’ll start counting up my score in my head, and it’s not good to think about, because I can’t change what I’ve already done. I have a hard time focusing on my next shot. I can’t change my last one or my last 20, but I can change my next one.”

Between now and April 12, Davis has committed to practicing every day in order to build good habits before what is arguably the most important competition of her life thus far.

“I can practice whenever I want; it’s flexible, but my goal is to take 80 shots per day – 80 good, quality shots to get myself in the habit,” she said.

Regardless of what happens at the Junior Olympics, Davis is yet another Panther putting Liberty Hill on the map by competing at the highest level.

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