The Clay Shooting Club, Auburn’s newest club sport, caught fire and made waves at nationals during its inaugural season.
Clay shooting consists of three main events: trap, skeet and sporting. In trap, shooters try to hit clay targets launched from a single machine or house that throws targets away from the shooters. Skeet, on the other hand, has two houses which launch targets in a sideways path that intersects in front of the shooter. While sporting clays take shooters on a complex course with many different launch points, the idea is to mimic hunting.
Auburn University didn’t have a team up until Spring of 2018 when Club President Riley Cuccinelli set foot on campus.
“I grew up shooting trap with my dad,” Cuccinelli said. “I never really shot competitively, but when I got to Auburn I wanted to compete.”
Upon her arrival she immediately went to sign up for the clay shooting team, but to Cuccinelli’s dismay there was no such team to be found.
“I was shocked to find that we didn’t have a team, while Bama has a well-established program,” Cuccinelli said. “People had tried to make teams in the past but couldn’t get around certain obstacles.”
The biggest obstacle was insurance. Auburn Club Sports wouldn’t cover shooting sports because they were considered high-risk. Cuccinelli said she saw no way around the insurance wall, and registered the clay shooting team as student organization, with the hope of one day being a club.
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On March 24, 2018, they were approved, and now all she had to do was find some teammates.
“I hung fliers all over the Haley Center, advertising the new clay shooting team,” Cuccinelli said. “We only needed 10 shooters, so we started collecting a group of people.”
Then, the unthinkable happened: Cuccinelli’s hard work paid off. The team went from the Office of Student Involvement to the Auburn Recreation and Wellness Center and was rebranded as a club sport.
“Having that push from someone who has some pull from the University made all the difference,” Cuccinelli said.
She said the rec center found a different insurance carrier for the team, which cut down on the astronomical expenses.
“When the club started, we had upwards of 50 people at one point,” said Funding Officer Patrick Oliver. “We capped it at 30 when we decided to be competitive, so now we have tryouts.”
Oliver has been with the team since its start and enjoyed every minute of it.
“The competitions are my favorite part," Oliver said. "You get to travel, compete and interact with shooters from other schools."
The shooting team’s last competition was nationals, which were held in San Antonio, Texas, from March 28 to April 1. They competed against 89 other schools and more than 1,000 shooters. The Tigers entered the tournament and shocked several more-established programs.
“We entered the competition as a D-IV school because it was our first year," Cuccinelli said. "We beat more than 50 percent of the D-IIIs and D-IVs, 7 percent of D-IIs and 12 percent of D-I schools."
Steven Bailey, sophomore in environmental design, said that shooting is all mental.
“It’s all about not thinking too hard and reacting quickly,” Bailey said. “You have to let the gun take over essentially.”
He found it best to not get bogged down on his misses, otherwise he couldn’t focus enough to pull the trigger.
After one year of competition the Auburn Clay Shooting Club found a rival in Division IV champion Connor State. Though it has been a light-hearted rivalry, there is definitely a competitive aspect.
“We see them at every competition, and they always seem to do a little better than us,” Oliver said. “We just try to pit ourselves against them.”
The Tigers meet for mandatory practice every Saturday morning at Dixie Trap and Gun Club in Matthews, Alabama. The team didn’t mind the weekly routine. For the shooters getting up early and shooting was just a great way to start the weekend.
“Even a bad day at shooting beats a good day anywhere else in my opinion,” Oliver said.
Range owner and pseudo coach Bill Parson let the team use his range at a discount and provided them with free practice shells. He and his wife cooked the team dinner after every practice.
“This is a fantastic group of kids,” Parson said. “I’ve grown very close to them. It’s like I’ve gone from having one child to having 31.”
Parson said his favorite part of working with the team is watching them grow as people and shooters.
The club’s successful inaugural season inspired hope for what’s to come in the future and strengthen the team’s mentality.
With Cuccinelli at the helm the team has set its sights on beating its rival Connor State and then moving onto The University of Alabama.
“There is quite a bit of camaraderie,” Bailey said. “We’re having a great time competing and connecting.”
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