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High school shooting star takes aim in big tournament

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- America's best high school sharpshooters are gathering this week for intense competition, an important prelude to their national championship in March. Out of the many thousands participating in Junior ROTC rifle programs across the country, a couple dozen precision marksmen have qualified for each of four super regionals -- the Service Championships. One of them is this week's Fox 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.

It happens almost every time Jessica Vold draws a bead on the minuscule center of one of the very small targets 10 meters away from her and pulls the trigger. Over and over this superb sharpshooter, the class of the Army Junior ROTC rifle team at Leavenworth High School, will hit dead center or much of it.

"Consistency is the key," said Jessica about successful target shooting.

Consistency in what she eats, how much she sleeps, how she prepares her air rifle and other equipment, everything. And Jessica's steeley-eyed focus is a wonder to behold, clearing her mind of all distractions as she peers through a tiny scope and takes the same shot the same way time and time again, whether prone, kneeling or standing.

"A breath, a movement, internal body shake, it can make all the difference," said Jessica. And on the rare occasions when she's off the mark.

"Throw it away," said Jessica. "Take your mind off it. Because you can't take back the shot. It's an opportunity you can't take back. So once the shot is done, the shot's done. You have to move on."

Jessica had some natural shooting talent when she first joined the rifle team as a sophomore but her Army JROTC instructor, Retired Master Sergeant Tim Danuser, says Jessica's many hours of consistent practice week in and week out have made her a champion marksman.

"I'd say her tenacity, her dedication, her extreme competitive nature within herself," says Danuser. "She gets that look in her eye and it's like, 'let's just watch perfection shoot.'"

Now Jessica's precision shooting has gotten her to her biggest competition yet. She's qualified for the JROTC Service Air Rifle Championship. She'll shoot in Phoenix, AZ this weekend in one of the four super regionals to earn her way to the nationals in Ohio next month.

"Do you have it in you?" asked a visiting reporter.

"Yes. Yes. Yeah, I do. I believe. I'm excited," said Jessica.

Jessica is hitting bull's-eyes in more than marksmanship. She has loaded up her life with high level involvement and accomplishments, many of them centering on leadership and community and school service. Jessica also distinguishes herself in the classroom and as a successful athlete. So it's all the more remarkable that she has been able to devote the time needed to become so good with her air rifle.

"The total citizen, the total package," said Danuser. "The respect. The pride. The dedication. The discipline. In everything she does."

"I think the intense competition is what keeps me at it because I like competition," said Jessica. "I'm very competitive in all that I do." And driven to improve, to try to achieve perfection, with every shot.

Right after Jessica returns from this weekend's big marksmanship tournament, she'll head to Wichita State University for another major competition. She's been named a Top 10 Finalist for WSU's Distinguished Scholar Invitational. She'll compete for a $52,000 Harry Gore Memorial academic and leadership scholarship, one of the largest offered by Kansas universities and colleges.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.