Before he started competing in preliminary week at this year’s Grand American, Florida’s 15-year old Andrew Loitz had already captured several memorable moments and three stunning accomplishments from the AIM Grand Championships. He had shot his first-ever 100 straight in the 200 singles race, put up a very respectable 95 from the 25-yard line, and had outright won the doubles with a lone 99. Andrew also earned runnerup in the AIM all-around, losing by just one bird to his new Aussie friend Mitch Iles.
Andrew kept up his rock star performance at the Grand, starting with another flawless score that brought him his very first Grand American trophy as sub-junior winner of the Sterling Cut Glass Singles. In the Gipson-Ricketts Handicap he put up a 97, his best ’caps score to date, which placed him second in his category and punched him back a yard to 26. He then had his first-ever 100 straight in doubles in the Caesar Guerini event and took the sub-junior award, only to out-do himself the following week with another perfect century in the Doubles Championship, which earned him the sub-junior crown. By the end of the two weeks, Andrew had amassed a total of nine wins, including top sub-junior honors in the All Around with 390. “The targets set at the Grand were probably the best I have ever shot,” he declared.
Andrew shot his Beretta 682 Sporting for singles and doubles during both tournaments, and while he normally uses Rio ammo, he shot Federal shells (plastic for singles, papers for doubles) while competing in Sparta. He used his Ljutic with Winchester Super Handicap 7. 5 loads for his entire handicap shooting. When Andrew wasn’t busy collecting his trophies, he spent a great deal of time enjoying the vendor’s buildings, in particular, the Perazzi building. “I’m seriously eyeing an MX 2000,” he said.
Andrew doesn’t consider himself a “natural” at trapshooting, but his outstanding ATA record, coupled with his notable DNA, indicates otherwise. Being the grandson of the late Illinois champion Robert Loitz and the son of Joseph Loitz, Florida Trapshooters Association’s current president and frequent trophy winner, Andrew has undoubtedly inherited some exceptional trapshooting genes. He also recently inherited his grandfather’s fixed, full-choked Ljutic, which he shot magnificently throughout the 2013 shooting year. His final win of the season, a 98 in the Kolar Handicap Championship at the Cardinal Classic, gained him the coveted 27-yard status. Not bad for a 15-year old with only four years of ATA shooting!
But Andrew’s first experience in trap was neither successful nor fun. His dad took him to his club, Markham Park T&S, located near their home in Coral Springs, for its hugely popular Monday night youth program. His father brought him to the line with an 870 pump, and Andrew recalled, “I was only 10 years old, really little, and it really hurt. I think I cried!” He instantly gave up but returned a year later, somewhat bigger and more determined, and tried it again. By his third visit in as many weeks, he was hooked.
He described how trapshooting opened up a whole new world of possibilities to him. Perthes Disease, a condition in children characterized by a temporary loss of blood supply to the hip, had stunted the growth in Andrew’s left leg, leaving it two inches shorter than his right, which made it impossible for him to participate in sports that required running. But trapshooting was possible, and he loved it! “I wasn’t one of those ‘jump-start’ shooters,” he commented. “I really had to work at it, and I did. I started practicing every Monday night while my dad was coaching new shooters on another field. He’d monitor my progress, but I never really had him stand behind me, unless I had a problem. I often had a field alone, and one of the range officers, Tony, would pull for me occasionally. He was great at being able to tell me if I was doing something wrong.”
Andrew practiced at most twice a week and concentrated very seriously on his handicap. His training focus finally paid off handsomely by 2011, the year that 13-year old Andrew reached the 24-yard line and achieved his first 50 straight in doubles when squadded with his grandfather at the Illinois State Shoot. “I ended up with a 97 in the Doubles Championship and took home the non-resident runnerup high-over-all trophy. My granddad was ecstatic!” Andrew remembered. As he began tasting real success, Andrew started paying more attention to his home-state competitors. It turned out they were not only some of the ATA’s top young shooters, they were also his friends, including Matthew Vega, Matthew McBride, Justin King, Zach Taylor and Tate Turner.
Andrew admits that his friends’ victories continually motivate him to improve. “I always want to come out of a tournament winning at least one thing,” he expressed. As for his doubles, his favorite event, he’s got a rather unique incentive: his father’s successes. “I always wanted to be better than him in doubles. Dad was a great, great doubles shooter when he was younger, and with his coaching I’ve now surpassed what he did back then.” (Note: Dad’s doubles skills are still quite admirable; his 2013 average was .9202. Andrew’s was .9483).
Andrew believes that the trapshooters of his dad’s generation and beyond have been a tremendous source for his accelerated personal growth off the trapfield. “Being friends with the adults at Markham T&S, I matured a lot faster. Trapshooters are probably the nicest people on the face of the earth!” he exclaimed. Andrew’s quite proud to be part of that group and is paying it forward now by helping other kids at his club shoot better. “It takes a special amount of skill to teach a beginner. My dad really has that. I think I’m better at refining existing shooters,” he explained.
While father and son share a passion for developing other shooters, Andrew also credits his dad for passing down his great sense of humor, which has helped him diffuse some bad shooting moments. “Sometimes when I’ve shot 99s (in singles), after missing that one target I’d find myself laughing as I put the gun down,” he stated. Andrew figures he’s probably shot more than 60 of these so far in his ATA career. “At the Silver Dollar, as well as some other clubs in Florida, there is a designation for shooting a 99—it’s called ‘Shooting a Loitz!’ ” he said. Now that Andrew has blasted two perfect centuries in both singles and doubles, it’s time to rename that jinx!
Andrew feels he has a lot more focus on and confidence in his shooting than his studies, except for math and creative writing, his two favorite subjects. The 10th grader is also more introverted in his academic life than in his shooting life. “When I’m shooting, I’m a completely different person. I think I’m a lot funnier and more outgoing—and I have more control of everything.” To help maintain this control, he has read a few mental training books. His current favorite is “Zen Bow, Zen Arrow,” written by an acclaimed Japanese archery master.
However, perhaps the greatest enlightenment that Andrew has received came from his dad, who told him not to focus on breaking a hundred, but to focus solely on powdering the target. “He said to me, ‘see it completely explode. Just to see a piece break off is not that amazing.’ ” That advice makes Andrew look hard at every single bird and prevents his mind from wandering. His preference to be lead-off for singles and handicap also supports his mental game. Andrew believes that having the procedural responsibility for his squad takes his mind off his shooting. Only in doubles does he prefer to start on Post 2, as it allows him to see the first bird’s exit point on each station before it’s his turn to powder it!
Now that Andrew’s got the doubles leg of his Grand Slam, his “99 curse” has been lifted, and he’s positioned at the back fence, poised to complete his triple crown. He’s also demonstrated the confidence and talent to win the Grand Doubles Championship, a goal that’s supreme on his wish list. With any luck, he’ll do it next year in Sparta, when he’s 16 years old. But Andrew isn’t counting on luck. “Anyone can have a good day. Luck is a factor, sometimes. But usually if you run just on luck, you will fall,” he remarked. Andrew plans to heed the wise counsel he offers other young shooters who aspire to win like him: “Make every target count, even in practice. If you miss, make that count. Understand why you missed it and compensate for it. Make sure you know your strengths and weaknesses—and turn your weaknesses into your strengths.”
By Barbara Sheldon for Trap & Field
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((C) Copyright 10/08/2013, Trap & Field Magazine/Division of Servaas, Inc..