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Shooter's touch

WHITE CITY — Cole Costanti leans deftly into his shotgun as the barrel swings toward his left as he tracks the spinning orange disc that's flying at an odd arc.

The disc doesn't get far. One shot by Costanti shatters the clay target, just like he did 97 percent of the time during the first Oregon High School Clay Target League regular season in May, when he shot at his home course and compared results with other competitors online.

"That shooting is no different from any other competition," says Costanti, a South Medford High School senior-to-be. "It was all pretty laid back."

That won't be the case Saturday in Hillsboro, where Costanti will be standing in a clay-target station next to the other young guns he's competed against so far via the Internet. Live competition, live fire.

"I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about that," he says. "It's the first time for all of us. It's all new. I really don't know what to expect."

None of the competitors in Oregon's inaugural high-school league shoot will have much to compare Saturday to as they collectively set state high-school history with the first state championship in which the shooting sports are brought into the varsity realm.

Costanti and six fellow members of a hybrid team consisting of Cascade Christian and South Medford shotgunners will shoot on behalf of Cascade Christian in the event that for the first time brings the top shooters from 14 Oregon high schools that participated in this spring's first season.

They are expected to make quite a presence there, after having swept their five-school conference during the May season.

Chase Costanti led all 193 shooters statewide this year with a season average of 24.6 broken clay targets out of every 25-target set. Teammate Matthew Dunnigan had the same average but lost out to the elder Costanti in a tie-breaker.

Those two took first- and second-place honors in their five-team conference, with Cole Costanti taking third. Rounding out the top 10 local men's finishers was Mason Bailey in sixth place and Steven Ledendecker in ninth place.

Teammate Bailey Goble, a South Medford senior-to-be, was the top female shooter with a 21.3-target average, a full 2.5 targets ahead of the second-place finisher in the conference.

Goble, who has shot competitively since age 10, says getting in a competitive groove in the shooting sports is much like other competitions.

"Shooting's 95-percent mental," says Goble, who won't shoot in the championships because of a scheduling conflict. "So it's good to have good people behind me for support."

Mel Weeks, the team's coach, says he was thrilled to see his charges fare well in their first season together.

"We have some kids who have shot competitively before, like Chase, Cole and Bailey," Weeks says. "They've been doing this a while. So we knew we'd do well. But win the conference outright? Not really, but I knew we'd compete." 

The Cascade Christian team includes six students from that school and eight from South Medford High School who collectively make up the only such team in the Rogue Valley in a league primarily filled by schools from the Willamette Valley and Northeast Oregon.

The South Medford kids shoot under the Cascade Christian name under a league rule that allows shooters to join outside teams if their school does not have a team. The Costantis tried and failed to get a team at South Medford this past year and plan to try again next season.

The local team shot Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Medford Gun Club off Vilas Road, with each member shooting at two sets of 25 clay pigeons each day. The best two scores were taken and averaged for the week.

Each team shoots on their own each week, and they post their individual and team scores online. Individual and team scores were ranked. The cyber-shoots continued the next four weeks, and all 193 shooters are invited to Saturday's state championships.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Cole Costanti of South Medford High School takes aim Tuesday while practicing at the Medford Gun Club. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]