STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Briley Sralla places the butt of her Feinwerkbau Evolution air rifle against her right cheek, tucks it up against her shoulder, and peers through the sight at a target 33 feet away. The canvas shooting jacket, pants, and gear she wears act as an exoskeleton, supporting her body and “locking” her in position.
The 11-year-old is not hunting or plinking for fun; she’s training for a position on the U.S. Junior Olympic team.
Her first shot at her dream was in April at the National Junior Olympic Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A student at Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in Johnson City this past year, Briley was the youngest female competing in a field of 607 for a spot on the team.
She finished 190th with a two-day total of 1,161 points, far from the top eight that made the team but setting a new personal record by scoring 585 points on the first day.
“There was a little bit more pressure,” she said. “There were college kids and coaches at the match. It made me focus more. After practice on the first day, I felt more comfortable with the range.”
Briley is undeterred, and it definitely won’t be her last shot. She is one of the rising stars in the sport, qualifying for the championships after scoring a 550 at the state of Texas competition sanctioned by USA Shooting at Texas Christian University on January 12-13.
The daughter of Krissy and Tim Sralla began shooting alongside her dad when she was 3. At 5, Briley spied a pink .22-caliber rifle in a gun store. She promptly put in on her list for Santa.
Krissy, who didn’t know where her daughter had spotted the pink firearm, recalled asking Briley if she’d be OK with a rifle that wasn’t pink — just in case Santa couldn’t find it.
Santa, Briley informed her, would know right where to go to get the rifle she wanted. Needless to say, Santa delivered a pink .22 on that Christmas Eve.
Briley has certainly upgraded since kindergarten. She now competes with a professional’s .22-caliber rifle and the Feinwerkbau. The size of the Srallas’ property allows Briley to practice outside at home. Inside, she sets up a 33-foot range for her air rifle in the family’s large living room.
Target practice and competitions are only part of her training. Sralla also studies yoga, which teaches her proper breathing, correct balance, and how to hold a position for a long period of time. One of her favorite ways to train is to stand with her rifle in one place as she watches TV. That exercise helps her “find her position.”
Some of her skill-building tricks are more typical of an 11-year-old girl than a professional marksman. To ensure that one off-target shot doesn’t turn into two, she thinks of the family’s Corgi dogs, Baxter and Bess.
“The dogs are fluffy and cute and they make me smile,” she said. “They take my mind off a bad shot.”
Briley’s sharpshooter talents caught the attention of one of the sport’s greats: Lones Wigger Jr., winner of two gold medals and a silver medal as a member of the 1964 and 1972 U.S. Olympic teams.
Briley was 8 when the family first met Wigger at a competition. He introduced himself and asked if the youngster was “shooting a real gun?”
He got his answer as he watched Briley compete. Along with an impressive score, Wigger noticed the way she held her firearm, how she found her shooting position, and how she handled the small things that made her a serious athlete.
After the competition, Wigger came up to the Srallas with a big grin on his face.
“She’s going to go places,” he said. “She’s going to do things. She has great form.”
Where Briley wants to go is Texas Christian University to compete on the women’s rifle team, the 2019 national champion. Until then, she plans to continue competing at tournaments across the country.
Briley, who is a member of the Texas Hill Country shooting club in Blanco County, loves the sport.
“It’s just fun,” she said. “It’s more fun than all the other sports I’ve tried.”
She has other interests, including gymnastics and student council; however, her heart is in competitive shooting. It’s given her confidence and helped her grow as a person, her parents said.
“She’s comfortable talking to adults,” Krissy said. “When she’s around her shooting friends, it’s so heartwarming. She’s a giggling kid who’s hanging out in their environment.”
Except that when Briley peers down the barrel of her rifle, she becomes a trained athlete who can outshoot most of them.