State clay target: Connor Johnson's perfect shooting leads South Prairie to championship
Johnson's 100 tied Williston's Clay Ceynar for tops in the state at the North Dakota High School Clay Target League state tournament on Monday in Horace.
HORACE — Connor Johnson’s perfect 100 led the way for the South Prairie High School Royals in the 2022 North Dakota State Clay Target League state tournament at The Shooting Park.
Johnson tied Clay Ceynar of Williston High School in the 3A division. Of the more than 1,200 athletes to compete in the tournament, the pair were the only players to hit all of their targets.
Johnson, a sophomore, was speechless after securing the perfect score.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Johnson. “A lot of hard work went into it. It feels good to see it all pay off.”
Johnson led the state in season averages in 2021 and 2022. He took second in the tournament last year, but shot his way to the top spot this season.
“You’re happy for a kid that goes out and performs,” said Royals head coach Wayne Stanley of Johnson’s performance. “Knowing that this is the only day that they can shoot that (a 100).”
Practice throughout the week helped Johnson mentally prepare for the tournament. As a returning junior next season, he said he’s going to “practice, practice, practice” in the off season in hopes of continuing his success.
As a team, the Royals won the 3A division, with their five shooters scoring a 490, and average of 98 per shooter. The team won the tournament last season and will return to the national tournament for the second year in a row.
“It’s crazy they just don’t know how good they are,” said Stanley. “Throwing up a 490 that’s a pretty incredible average with the 98s.”
South Prairie found tournament success despite having a relatively young team.
“We’ve got about 70 kids that shoot for us and 38 are at the varsity level,” said Stanley. “With a sixth-grader, and tons of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. So it’s pretty breathtaking at times to watch.”
The Royals will travel to the USA High School Clay Target League national tournament July 6-10 in Mason, Michigan. South Prairie will take 20 athletes along for the tournament, and will run two squads.
The team will look to have more success in this year’s tournament. Last season, the team finished 10th overall, although not performing as well as they had hoped, Stanley said.
"We were 20 birds below our average,” said Stanley. “It was disappointing that we took 10th.”
The Royals have had successful individuals on the national stage before. Tate Novodvorsky took sixth in the 2020 tournament, he was 12th in 2021 and Jorn Brose was 13th last year.
South Prairie’s successful program is key to recruiting new students to participate on the team. The clay target team is the biggest sport at the school, said Stanley.
“A school that’s only got 130 kids in high school and I’ve got 70 out for the trap team.”
The sport is becoming increasingly popular all across North Dakota, including in Fargo. Davies head coach Ryan Younggren said he’s seen his team’s numbers rise since the addition of the team in 2016.
“I think the first year I had 25 and the next year I had 34, and then it’s gone up to the 40s and 50s, Younggren said.”
Davies finished in eighth in this year's tournament, shooting a 441. Younggren has been the head coach of the Eagles since the team’s beginning and he said that he’s excited for the future of the sport at Davies and in Fargo.
“I had 50 kids go out this year,” said Younggren. “And I think I could increase those numbers. There’s a lot of excitement around it and the kids really enjoy it.”