Wednesday, January 24, 2018
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Mounts sign D-1 commitments

When avid sportsman Dan Potts suggested his teenage daughters Alexa and Karly try out for the Ephrata High School rifle team, the twins didn’t exactly jump at the chance.

“They went kicking and screaming and thought this was the biggest redneck sport known to man,” Dan Potts said. “I told them to give it a try for a week, and if they didn’t like it, they could quit.

“That was three years ago,” he continued. “They found out they had some real talent. Alexa ended up being the No. 3 varsity shooter on the team her freshman year. Things just took off from there.”

Last Thursday night, the Clay Township residents signed national letters of intent to compete on scholarship at Morehead State University in Kentucky beginning with the 2016-17 season. Four current members of the program are also from Pennsylvania.

The Potts twins took so quickly to their sport — which utilizes both air rifle and smallbore .22 caliber guns — they sought out higher levels of competition and coaching. Palmyra Sportsmen’s Association in Lebanon County provided both, and success followed, culminating with scholarship offers from an Eagles program ranked No. 17 in the latest college rifle poll.

Ephrata's Karly Potts, left and twin sister Alexa sign their National Letters of Intent to attend Morehead State, where both will compete in rifle. Photo credit © Dave Sottile — LNP

“I’m really excited about this opportunity because Karly and I only started here (at PSA) a year and a half ago,” Alexa Potts said. “I never would have thought we would have progressed this quickly.

“We made an official visit to Morehead, met the team and it seems like a really good group of people. It’s a good fit for us there.”

Dan Potts and his family make the 40-minute drive from the Ephrata area to Palmyra two to three times per week so Alexa and Karly can work under the tutelage of PSA’s Erin Gestl, a successful coach with a national reputation for developing young shooters.

By the time he started working with the sisters, they had already been shooting two seasons for Ephrata High School in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The L-L athletes shoot from a prone position, but collegiate and national-level shooters also compete in kneeling and standing positions.

“They had to catch up a little bit,” Gestl said. “We got them into other positions with air rifle and had them in the state championships about four or five weeks later. The (PSA) team did well and qualified for nations, so they went along to nationals in air rifle in June 2014. So in three months they went from not knowing the position at all to competing at nationals.

“They have improved very rapidly. They’re older and more mature than a 13-year-old, so you can speak at a higher level to them and they’re very coachable.”

Alexa stopped competing for her high school team after two seasons to concentrate on her PSA squad, the equivalent of playing elite-level travel soccer. Karly remains with the Ephrata program and starred for the Mounts in 2014-15, earning L-L all-star status by averaging 99.2 (out of 100). Her senior season begins next month.

“It’s more for fun,” Karly said. “I’m not necessarily growing as much in it, but I can help the other players on the team and help the coach. There’s a lot of kids who want to shoot and there’s only one coach trying to do it all.”

Asked which of the two sisters was better, Karly was diplomatic.

“Every match we’re definitely comparing scores,” she said. “I think Alexa’s a bit stronger in air rifle and I’m a bit stronger in small bore. It’s nice that we have different strengths. We’re pretty competitive. I think that’s what keeps us going.”

Alexa said the individual nature of the sport is what holds her interest the most.

“I like working towards goals by myself and shooting by myself,” Alexa said, “and then your score goes together with others for a team score, so you compete against other teams as well as yourself.”

Of course, it’s all a great surprise to many who don’t know in which sport the sisters compete.

“If one of our teachers finds out what we do, they’re usually in shock,” Karly said. “They’ll say, ‘I never saw that one coming.’”

The more success the sisters have, the less anonymous they’ll remain, especially with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as an ultimate goal.

“Coach (Alan Joseph) at Morehead was a really good fit for our girls, and he’s had Olympic athletes come out of his program before,” Dan Potts said. “If they make the Olympics a goal for themselves, I think they could reach it, but it’s just a matter of how hard they want to work to get there.”

Shooting stars

Here are some fast facts about collegiate rifle competition:

• The NCAA has 33 member schools with rifle teams broken down into 23 at the Division I level, four in Division II and six in Division III.

• The only school in Pennsylvania with a varsity team is Philadelphia’s University of the Sciences, which competes in Division II.

• There are three men’s teams, 11 women’s teams and 25 mixed/co-ed teams. The number of teams exceeds the number of schools because four schools have two teams and one school has three teams.

• With so relatively few teams, the NCAA holds one national championship meet each year, which is open to teams from all three divisions. West Virginia University has won the last three consecutive team titles.

• Competitors shoot both air rifle (with a .177 caliber pellet) and smallbore (with a .22 caliber cartridge). Air rifle uses compressed air and is fired from a distance of about 33 feet. Athletes take 60 shots, all from a standing position. Smallbore is shot at a distance of 50 feet. Competitors take 60 shots in all: 20 from a kneeling position, 20 prone and 20 standing.

Also committing to Division 1 schools early for the Mounts:

Nate Fassnacht signed to continue his baseball career at George Washington University.

Grace Sensenig and Ally Ludwig will continue their field hockey careers at Indiana University and the University of Richmond, respectively.

Ephrata High School will celebrate the signings of these five athletes, plus any others who make their decisions, during a ceremony set to take place at the high school on February 3.