Julia Irvin

Garden Spot's Julia Irvin shoots during the 2014 L-L rifle championships. Irvin, a co-captain for the 1-1 Spartans this season, finished the regular season with a 99.7 average. She'll be honored as L-L Marksman of the Year on Saturday, when the league holds its individual championships at 9 a.m. at Conestoga Valley High School.

There's no masking the pride in Alan Houck's voice when the head coach starts talking about his Garden Spot High School rifle team.

"They're such good kids," Houck said. "You can't believe the work they put in and the concentration it takes to compete in our sport.

"They're laying down in their shooting positions and trying to put a pellet into a target area the size of a pencil eraser from 33 feet. That's basically what it comes down to: A bull's-eye smaller than the eraser. It takes someone special to do that."

The Spartans did it better than anyone else during the Lancaster-Lebanon League rifle season, finishing atop the standings of seven co-ed teams for the first time since 1977 with a school-best 11-1 record.

After a 1-9 mark in 2010, Garden Spot improved to six, seven, eight and nine victories the next four seasons prior to this year's breakthrough.

"I told the kids the past couple years we had been the bridesmaid," Houck said. "It was time to be the bride and they rose to the challenge."

In team vs. team matches, each competitor shoots 10 scoring targets worth 10 points each. A perfect score for an individual would be 100. Up to 10 athletes from each team compete, but only the top five scores are added together to figure the team total.

In Garden Spot's final regular-season match last Thursday, the Spartans posted a perfect team score of 500, something that had only been accomplished three previous times since the league began keeping online records in 2003-04.

"It was just an amazing day," said senior co-captain Samantha Walsh. "We secured the league title, shot a 500 and set the school record for wins. It's hard to describe just how happy we were."

Only a 497-495 loss to visiting Ephrata on Feb. 3 spoiled Garden Spot's perfect season.

Senior Julia Irvin, the Spartans' other co-captain, finished the season with a 99.7 average. She will be honored as L-L Marksman of the Year on Saturday, when the league holds its individual championships at 9 a.m. at Conestoga Valley High School.

"Half of the team was made up of freshmen," Irvin said, "but we had a strong attitude and desire to succeed this season.

"Once we got through our first few matches and saw how dedicated the newcomers were, I could tell something special was going to happen. There was just a great energy about our group."

Irvin, Jeremy Hershey, Brad Shirk, Willoh Robbins and Erin Diehl all shot perfect 100s in the 500-489 road win against Elizabethtown which sealed Garden Spot's championship.

Manheim Township finished second in the standings with a 10-2 record, followed by Ephrata at 8-4.

"As a league, we're very proud of our achievements," Houck said. "Whether it's Garden Spot, Manheim Central, Wilson or any of our teams, people ought to know this is a varsity L-L League sport. The kids work and practice just as much as athletes in other sports do, so it's nice for them to get some recognition."

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