By Ladonna Paedae Rodriguez
Photos Courtesy of the Family

The headline might read, “Father takes eight year old daughter to a local clay-shoot and a whole new world opens to her.” Of course, the next line should read, “Parents had no idea of how dramatically their lives would change as well.”

The father is Matt Elliott, of Lake Placid, and Molly is his daughter. What began as simply a fun father-daughter day out giving clay shooting a try, became an exciting, all-consuming, rewarding and demanding sport in which Molly, now sixteen years old, excels nationally. Molly and Matt attended the local shoot, then soon after, she joined the Young Guns of Quail Creek shooting club in Okeechobee. Mr. Elliott was so dedicated to the young Elliott’s newfound hobby that he then created the local Ridge Clays shooting club. Within two short years, Molly, who was then just ten years of age, entered and won a local clay-shooting event, competing against boys and girls her age and younger. The fire was lit. 

Fast-forward to present day, and Molly Elliott is making a name for herself in the world of competitive clay shooting. Her whirlwind schedule would make most catch their breath. In early June, Molly competed in Hillsdale, Michigan, participating in her favorite discipline, International Bunker Trap. This discipline has fifteen machines, and the competitor moves to the next station after each shot taken. The target is projected from unknown angles in front of the shooter, traveling at 68 mph. In the qualifying event, Molly won a silver medal. Overall, she finished in the top six out of eighty and was the youngest of the top scorers. This competition was to qualify for the National Junior Shooting Olympics team, of which the top three finishers qualified. 

In late June, Molly, accompanied by her coach, Scott Layer, and her parents, Matt and Sharla Elliott, traveled to Italy to compete in an invitation-only shoot of the same discipline at the renowned UmbriaVerde shooting club. Molly competed in a mixed team event. In the main event she shot well enough to rank in the top eight. Molly remarked that the skills demonstrated by competitors in Italy were “next level.” Among those competing at the meet was Michael Diamond, a well-known Australian shooter. He has competed in several Olympics and won every Bunker Trap competition in which he participated. Molly considers him one of her role models. Molly did manage to fit in a little sightseeing with her parents in Italy, and she knows how very fortunate she is to have these experiences at such a young age. 

July took Molly and family to Ohio for the year’s final meet, where again she competed in team and individual International Bunker Trap, as well as Skeet, Trap and Sporting Clays. Molly earned the title of “Women’s Varsity National Champion” in International Bunker Trap. Skeet involves shooting at clay targets which are mechanically flung from two fixed stations into the air at high speed and at a variety of angles. In the two-day competition of Skeet, she scored an impressive 186 out of 200. 

“I love a good challenge, and Bunker Trap clay-shooting is very challenging,” said Molly. It seems that she thrives on fast-paced challenges. With no idea from what direction the airborne clay targets will appear at any time, she progresses through five different stations, laser- focused on the combined fifteen traps at which she takes aim quite effectively. The challenges that Molly faces with gusto have enabled her to be a national champion each year, in one discipline or another, since she started going to SCTP nationals at age eight. Her “aim” is now focused on making it to the Olympics when she is 21. Having this confidence and this goal at a mere 16 years old is remarkable. 

Molly’s shotgun of choice is the Krieghoff 12-gauge. This type is the most popular choice for clay target shooting, offering the most power and versatility. She appreciates its “consistency and reputation and the way that it fits me.” The consummate professional, Molly is sure to clean and prep her shotgun after every shoot, ensuring that it is win-worthy for the next competition. 

Scoring in Molly’s preferred clay-shooting discipline varies depending on whether she participates at a “junior” level of competition, for which the perfect score is 125 points, or if it is an “open to all ages” event, where the perfect score is 250. Molly was pleased that she maintained her average score when recently competing against all ages. Again, quite remarkable. 

The support of her mom and dad does not go unappreciated by the young rising star: “They both help with everything. I’ve never had to struggle. They are always willing to do whatever it takes,” noted Molly. Indeed, both Matt and Sharla Elliott are very devoted to helping Molly succeed, traveling across the country for events, rearranging schedules, making sure she gets plenty of practice time and schooling while on the road, as they also juggle business needs back home in Lake Placid. Molly’s grandparents, Donald and Debra Elliott, also of Lake Placid, attend as many events throughout the country as possible to support their granddaughter as well. 

Molly said that she and her grandfather Donald practice shooting sporting clays, and that “he’s actually a good shot.” 

When reflecting on this road she is traveling and this passion of hers, a remarkably mature Molly stated, “I realize how far I have come, and that while there are people who are better at shooting than me, I am determined to go far, and to do so I have to keep working at it.” 

While Molly is fully dedicated to this passion for now, she has plans to attend college to study medicine or law in the near future. Molly’s advice for other kids and teens hoping to pursue a similar dream: “Don’t give up when it gets hard. There were a lot of circumstances when I wanted to completely quit and thought I wouldn’t get better, but with dedication and practice you’ll get there!” 

So how does Molly keep her energy up, her confidence high, her nerves at bay, and her focus on getting better and better? She finds a quiet place, puts her earbuds in, and listens to the words of Lainey Wilson’s country song, “Atta Girl.”