At age 12, Aly Heisler was harvesting her first pheasant with her father. He was a good teacher, previously a competitive shooter.
One day, Aly saw a flier for trap team tryouts at her high school.
“I asked my dad what he thought, and he said it would be like hunting birds, only with targets,” Heisler said of her father, Mike Heisler of Omaha.
Aly found her passion, first competing for Omaha Marian and then, after her family moved, for Elkhorn South.
At about the time Heisler was learning to shoot with her father, Bret Erickson was competing in his fourth and final Olympics on the U.S. trap team. He was a member of the 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008 U.S. teams, proving to be one of the best trap shooters in the world.
Now the two will team up, Erickson as coach and Heisler as a student athlete on Midland University’s first varsity trap team. Heisler signed her letter of intent earlier this month.
Erickson jumped at the chance to coach near his hometown of Bennington and in a state rich with talent. Like any first-year coach, Erickson is busy, chasing recruits for the new team.
“I hit the ground running, trying to get the program started,” Erickson said.
This year will be tough for Erickson, who previously coached shotgun sports at the Olympic Training Center. After recruiting 20 to 30 athletes for his team, he will have to change his coaching style to fit his new students.
“It was a job for my students in Colorado (at the Olympic team training facility). Here it is about getting an education,” Erickson said.
Heisler said she is excited to join the team, especially with a world-class coach, while she studies nursing at Midland.
“It’s amazing. Having a great coach means I’ll be the best shooter I can possibly be,” Heisler said.
Midland will become the first college level varsity trap team in Nebraska and the third university in the country to add trap shooting as a varsity sport. Most organized trap teams at the college level are clubs and responsible for their own expenses. As a recognized varsity sport, teams can offer scholarships and sponsor students at intercollegiate competitions.
“Most kids are trying to do this all on their own,” Erickson said.
UNO and UNL have club trap teams.
Heisler will be competing in her final Nebraska high school state trap meet this week.
“I’m practicing every day for the meet,” Heisler said. “It’s important that I perform well.”
Almost 2,300 students will compete at the 44th annual Cornhusker Trap Shoot, hosted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Doniphan, Neb., Thursday through Saturday. The event, the largest school trap competition in the nation, has been steadily growing — more than 10 percent in the last year alone.
Erickson will be at the competition looking for recruits.
“Every kid in the state will be there. It’s a huge market and I need to let them know we have a program,” Erickson said.
He has one goal.
“We want to win the national championship,” Erickson said.
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