If Year 1 proved anything, it's that the Carrollton High School precision air rifle squad was on target toward bigger and better things.

After all, finishing seventh in the state to cap off the inaugural season left head coach Mike Lewis and his Trojan top guns hungry to get back on the big stage and fire their way to the top.

And so far in the 2017-18 campaign, Carrollton hasn't disappointed upon making its mark as one of the elite programs across the state.

Fresh off an Area 7 championship, the Trojans are now gearing up for the stretch run of the season, beginning with hosting Statesboro in a sectional competition on Friday, March 16, at the Ag Center before moving on to the semifinals and eventually the GHSA Riflery State Championship, which will be held at Fort Benning on April 28.

"I think we're going into this in a very good position with a lot of confidence," Lewis said. "We get to host (sectionals), which is a big plus. Statesboro is going to have to drive five hours on a bus and then come out here and compete, and that's not a bonus by any stretch of the imagination."

Carrollton is led by a solid nucleus of shooters, including sophomore standout Morgan Frank, who finished as the No. 1 shooter in Area 7 this season.

Frank, who finished fifth individually at state last year as a freshman, said while the individual recognition is very rewarding, she's excited about what the team can accomplish leading up to the state finale.

"I have a feeling that we're going to do really good. This team's been improving a lot with the help of all of our coaches and our school. If it wasn't for our school, we wouldn't be here," Frank said.

Sophomore Ben Bradley is also confident in the team's chances to build on its season-high score of 1,149, which is 10 points higher than last year's state performance.

"Things are going to go well. I have no doubt in my mind," Bradley said. "This is a gift that God has given me and a gift that God has given the team and we're definitely going to go somewhere. We train hard and we put everything into this that we have. We definitely want to break 1,160 as a team so we can have a confident shot at first place."

The Trojans were already returning a strong core in Frank, Bradley, Taylor Berry and Thomas Harris, but the addition of junior Collin Grubbs could be what puts them over the top.

Grubbs was technically part of the team last year, but he could not compete due to a transfer ruling. But now that he's in the fold as one of the top guns, he wants to help lift the program to new heights.

"It's fantastic. I always want to look at the bright side of things and say that it was good to be able to view the matches last year to know what I was getting prepared to do, but honestly I'm very happy I'm able to join the team and help Carrollton get up the leaderboard," Grubbs said.

Lewis praised his team for its work ethic not only under his watch, but for the efforts several of his shooters take to hone their skills beyond the GHSA circuit by training at such venues as CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park and other competitions on their own.

In doing so, Grubbs recently qualified for the National Junior Olympic Championships, which will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in April where he'll have the chance to advance to the World Championships in South Korea later this year.

"It's pretty amazing. I wasn't really expecting it. I'm looking forward to it. I hope in the next qualifying for it, not only myself but other teammates will be able to go, too," Grubbs said.

Expectations for the Carrollton program as a whole are also hitting new marks.

Lewis recalled when the team first broke the 1,000-point barrier last year and how it was relatively easy to gain points to the final measure of 1,139 at state.

But having already nailed a season-high of 1,149 this year, the bar is much higher and adding points is much more difficult when the margin for error is so small. The state record, for comparison, is 1,168 set by East Coweta in 2016.

"Now when they're shooting at this elite level, one or two points is really hard to squeeze out," Lewis said. "That state record beat a state record that had been in place for years, too. To the best of my knowledge right now, based on season averages, we're No. 4 (in the state). I hope we come out of the state championships in the top three. We've shot well enough to be No. 1. If everybody shoots to their potential, we'll be up there."

As the program continues to make gains and becomes a household name across the state, Lewis said there's no group of student-athletes that he'd rather have on his side.

"Every single one of those kids are outstanding scholars. They all have 'A' averages and I think five of them have a 4.0 average," Lewis said. "To me, that speaks highly of the school and the program. This is a sport for kids of a different nature, I guess you could say. They're incredibly intelligent and very active in the school. They all earn scholar-athletes and those bars are easy for them to make. This is just a great organizational group. They're great kids, they're great scholars, they're great athletes. They focus and they always do the best they can. I'm just proud of them."

And now with the stretch run in its sights, Carrollton is focused on making its mark at the top.

"To be state champions is one of our goals, but to go and just do our best. Really, no matter the outcome, as long as we go in a team and come out a team," Frank said.

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