The ACUI Clay Target Championships has experienced a steady growth in participation over the years. This year's leap included the addition of ten new teams, one of whom is Bethel University.
Fielding a team of 16, I thought Bethel had been competing for years and was surprised to learn that this was their first time at ACUI.
"This is our first year as a team," Head Shooting Coach Lance Rider said, when I asked why they never came out before.
After only one year, Bethel looks like they're on their way to becoming a top-notch program with a Silver finish in International Trap and several shooters finding a place towards the top in other events – very impressive.
Rider and Assistant Shooting Coach Bub Edwards (on the left and right respectively) were able to draw from their experience in shooting sports when it came to building the school's rifle team from scratch.
"We're both high school coaches so we went out and recruited from our pools," Rider said. "A few of our shooters had already committed to other colleges when we approached them. These are guys we'd known for years who started out at 14 or 15 in [the Scholastic Clay Target Program]."
"We only had four weeks of practice due to the weather," Edwards told me. "We practiced a little in the fall but mostly these past four weeks."
Bethel is located in McKenzie, TN. Like much of the country, they experienced tremendous snowfall this winter which can wreck havoc on outdoor sports; especially ones that can't be done indoors.
On going up against big teams who have a lot of experience at ACUI like Lindenwood, Missouri and Texas A&M, Edwards said "You have to just go out there and do it – you've got to start somewhere."
The other schools making their first appearance this year are Baylor University, Eastern Wyoming College, Metro State College of Denver, Missouri State University, Murray State, Pikes Peak Community College, Pratt Community College, Texas State University-San Marcos and the University of Kentucky.