Kiski Area’s Hill earns state title in fast-growing sport of trap shooting

Friday, June 9, 2023 | 7:23 PM

Taygen Hill didn’t have to look too far for influence and inspiration in the world of clay target shooting.

“My great uncle, Joe, was big into skeet and shooting clays, and I watched what he did,” said Hill, a rising senior at Kiski Area. “But I’ve been hunting for a while now, and I’ve liked being around guns. I thought I would give trap shooting a try, and I developed quite a love for it.”

From those early beginnings, Hill has honed her skills to where she is one of the top young trap shooters in Pennsylvania.

Last Sunday, Hill joined other members of the Kiski Area trap shooting club team at the Pennsylvania State High School Clay Target League Championships in Elysburg, Pa., and she stood tall with the best score out off 33 in an elite field in the Girls Varsity Division.

“It is a great feeling to know I am a state champion,” Hill said. “I knew when I shot my last round I had done really well, but it didn’t hit me until I went up to the awards ceremony, and there had to have been at least 500 people standing in that building. All the black-and-blue shoulders, shooting in the pouring rain, and walking out cold, and all the snow we’ve had to shoot in, this makes all that practice worth it.”

The goal in trap shooting is to hit small clay targets, also known as “pigeons” or “birds,” using a 12-gauge shotgun as the targets are ejected from a source, known as a “house,” and move away from the shooter.

At the state competition, each shooter completed four rounds with 25 targets in each round. A score is determined by how many targets are hit out of the 100-target total.

Trap differs from skeet shooting in that the goal of skeet is to hit two targets that are crossing one another in the shooter’s field of view.

“I tried skeet, and I was not very good at it, so I just stuck with trap and tried getting better and better with that,” Hill said.

Hill tied Hempfield’s Peyton Hall at the top with 96 targets hit out of the 100 released. A reverse-run tiebreaker, the longest run from the last target of the final round counting backward until a target is missed, was used to determine the winner.

Hall missed her final target, and Hill had a perfect final round and also hit the final five targets of her third round for a reverse-run of 30.

“Taygen just has that God-given ability,” Kiski Area trap shooting club coach Jeff Cortileso said. “She really works at being the best and has that mentality to want to be the best. There was a lot of wind on that hill at states, and she just came through like a trooper. She was hitting the mark. She’s come a long way in that if she misses a bird, she immediately knows what she did wrong, and she learns from it.

“I wish she would’ve gone to states last year, too, because I think she would have at least won a medal.”

Hill came in averaging better than 22 targets hit in rounds throughout the spring. She improved as the competition wore on, hitting 23 of 25 in the first round and 24 in the second and third rounds before her perfect fourth round.

Hill said strong hand-eye coordination is key to raising one’s shooting skill. Patience, focus, and staying calm also factor into the total package.

“As soon as you call for that bird, you have to stay calm, pay attention and stay dialed in to where the bird is going to come out on the house,” she said. “Once you get on the line, and they start calling birds, they fly a little different than they do at your home club. It might be shaky at first, but after you go through those first couple of birds, it’s back to that muscle memory. You have to go in with an open mind and see where it will take you.”

The Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA) is the primary governing body of American trap shooting and is one of the largest shooting sports organizations in the world.

Trap shooting traces its roots to the 1800s and was developed as practice for bird hunting.

Kiski Area’s trap shooting club has grown from 15 to 20 shooters at its start four years ago to 42 members this spring.

Nineteen club members entered the state tournament for individual competition at the varsity, junior varsity or novice level based on averages scores throughout rounds shot at Western Pennsylvania Sportsmen’s Club in Murrysville.

A few others, including Hill, branch off for additional practice at the Vandergrift Sportsmen’s Association club location in Washington Township.

In all, 540 competitors attended the state shoot. Rising junior Ty Connor shot 96 out of 100 to tie for 13th in the Varsity Boys Division. He and Hill also tied for 13th overall out of all 540 shooters.

Others who fared well for Kiski Area included sophomore Evan Ridenour (T-20th, JV male), junior Larissa Martz (eighth, novice female), and eighth graders Luke Schultheis (12th, novice male), and Travis Bowser (T-14th, novice male).

The Cavaliers also fielded a group in the co-ed team competition. The five-person squad, led by Hill and Connor’s 96s, finished 13th with 455 team points. Connellsville was runner-up (477), Central Valley was eighth (463), and Hempfield took 11th (457).

Also representing Kiski Area at the state competition were senior Ryan Ridenour; juniors Joe Galo, Cody Kuehn, Tyler Patterson, Johnathan Toy, and Conor Wolfgang; sophomore Adam Large; freshmen Addison Andree, Lukas Cyphert, Logan Domiano, Ty Perrin, and Audrey Wolfgang; and eighth grader Cole Wolfgang.

“Trap shooting is a sport that is unconventional, but it is one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” Cortileso said. “More colleges are becoming involved with trap teams, and there are scholarships available for these kids. The program has grown.

“John Peterman and the athletic department has backed us, and now we have a lettering program. This year, we had 11 qualify for a letter. It’s exciting to see how much bigger this can grow.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at

More High School Rifle

Penn-Trafford senior wins WPIAL rifle championship
Butler edges Trinity to claim 5th WPIAL team rifle championship
Penn-Trafford rifle team ready to defend title
Penn-Trafford senior Carlee Valenta signs with UTEP rifle team
Bethel Park sophomore earns high marks at WPIAL rifle championships