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After repeating as national champion, Freeburg trap shooter is headed to Notre Dame

Belleville News-Democrat logoBelleville News-Democrat 7/25/2020 By Dean Criddle, Belleville News-Democrat

Grace Marlen still remembers the first few times her dad, Nate Marlen, put a gun in her hands as an introduction to the sport of trap shooting.

Still two years away from being a teenager at the time, Grace Marlen first had to build up the strength to hold the gun.

“I really didn’t think I’d be able to shoot well. When I first started around 11, I had trouble holding my gun for extended periods of time.,’’ Marlen said. “I would shoot a 70/100 and be ecstatic.”

A recent graduate of Freeburg High School, Marlen, 17, has seen both her own expectations and performance levels increase drastically in the past six years.

Competing as a member of Team Henges of St. Louis, Marlen successfully defended her national championship in the 200 target singles trap Ladies division at the Scholastic Clay Target Program Nationals in Marengo, Ohio.

Marlen made history at the Cardinal Shooting Center by shooting a perfect 200-for-200 then defeating two male shooters in shoot-off to become the first female in history to earn the high overall total in the American Trap Class. She was less than perfect in defense of her title, missing two of the 200 clay targets.

The high overall ladies shooter in singles trap and handicap (190 of 200), Marlen also placed second in doubles with a 181 of 200 performance. She was also the high overall lady shooter for both singles and handicap trap for all categories (rookie, intermediate, Jr. varsity, Varsity, Collegiate).

Marlen was denied a chance to win a second straight overall title when three male shooters had 199 of 200 scores.

“I am happy with my performance this year. I shot good and although I didn’t match my exact score last year, I’m still happy with the results,’’ Marlen said. “I do think (competing last year) helped me prepare. I didn’t feel too much pressure.

“When practicing I used the same mental strategies as last year. At the varsity level I feel that the sport is 10% physical and 90% mental. I’ve noticed my scores are much better when I get more sleep and put my phone down the morning of the competition.’’

Marlen is currently using two Browning Citori model shotguns in competition.

The beginning

Nate Marlen has been the main force behind his daughter’s success.

A former national collegiate trap shooting placewinner while competing for the University of Illinois club team, Marlen beams with pride when speaking of his only child’s success at a sport which has meant to him.

“Grace is the competitive shooter that I never had the chance to be when I was her age due to lack of opportunity and resources,’’ Marlen said. “Due to Covid-19, shooting ranges in Illinois and Missouri were closed most of the season. But Grace improved in handicap, doubles, sporting clays and skeet shooting.

“I may have done a lot of the driving, bought a lot of shotgun shells, paid for a lot of targets and helped with her shooting basics, but Grace, her coaches, teammates, parents club at Team Henges and MDC Range deserve the credit.’’

Marlen finished at the top of her graduating class at Freeburg, with a 5.2 grade-point average.

In August she will enroll at Notre Dame where she will major in business. She also considered Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Alabama.

“I chose Notre Dame because of its excellent academics and atmosphere. Their alumni network is outstanding and campus is very well taken care of. The competitive sports and sense of community there was unmatched in my opinion. They did provide me with a scholarship and I’m thankful for that,’’ Marlen said.

‘Unfortunately, Notre Dame does not have a shooting team; however I could join a club outside of campus if I choose to do so in my free time.’’

Marlen said shooting learning the sport from her dad has created av tight bond between the two.

“My dad and I definitely bonded through shooting. I’m his only child and although we have different interests for the most part, this is a way we were brought together,” she said..” He provided me with the resources I needed to get started and flourish in the sport. Having supportive parents definitely helps.

“I give the credit to my coaches and parents for keeping me in the sport and urging me to practice harder to become better especially during those first few years. ...’’

Marlen said she unsure if she will continue to shoot as an adult, but she does encourage other young people to become involved in shooting.

“Shooting has taught me consistency and discipline. Even when I was exhausted, I pushed through and extra round or two of practice, because I knew it would pay off in the long run. ...” she said. “I would strongly encourage any interested youth to try this sport. It’s a sport not limited by gender or age — I’ve seen middle schoolers out shoot high schoolers.

“In general, the different people you’ll meet through this sport are super helpful and always willing to be there.”

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