SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. --  Two years ago, Katie Paltz shocked herself and everyone else who saw what she did at the Lake Island Rifle & Pistol Club in Carteret.

“My dad (Art, a member of the Lake Island Rifle & Pistol Club) brought me there when I was a sophomore and I really didn’t know what to expect,’’ said Paltz, now a senior at Union Catholic. “I really surprised myself and did way better than anyone thought. When the coaches saw my target, they couldn’t believe it. It was my first time (shooting a smallbore rifle) and they asked me where I learned how to do this? They didn’t expect that from someone who just started.’’

Paltz had a natural gift and she was immediately hooked.

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“I loved it right away,’’ said Paltz, who lives in Edison. “It was so exciting, and it’s something I just kind of fell into it.’’

Since that first day on the range, Paltz has risen through the ranks very quickly and has become one of the top Junior (under 18) rifle shooters in the country with both the air rifle and smallbore rifle.

Last month, Paltz registered her best score ever when she won the standing air rifle at a Junior Olympic qualifying competition at the Lake Island Rifle & Pistol Club. Paltz finished with a score of 587, just 13 away from a perfect score of 600 (you get 60 shots with a maximum of 10 points per shot for a bullseye).

Paltz’s victory was the seventh state title in her career already, and automatically qualified her for the Junior Olympic National Championships, which is scheduled for this April at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

This is the second straight year that Paltz has qualified for the Junior Olympic National Championships. Last year, she made it to Junior Olympics Championships in the smallbore-three position.

“My nerves got to me a little bit last year,’’ said Paltz. “The distances and the environment were different. It got in my head a little. I’m looking forward to doing a lot better this time.’’

Paltz has devoted a lot of time and has made a lot of sacrifices to improve her shooting skills.

She gave up cheerleading after her sophomore year so she could practice more, she competes

in a Smallbore Rifle League at West Point on Sunday’s, and Paltz practices at least four days a week after school at the Lake Island Rifle & Pistol Club

“It’s very time consuming, but I love doing it and want to keep improving,’’ said Paltz. "I like the way it improves my self confidence and the way it makes me hold myself. It has given me a lot of patience and just makes me feel good.’’

Paltz, who wants to major in Chemical Engineering, took an official visit to the University of Akron in Ohio this past weekend. The Akron rifle team is currently ranked No. 13 in the nation.

“I never thought I’d rise up like this and get to a point where this would be in my future, but now seeing what I can do is very exciting and I’m looking forward to doing this in college and beyond,'' said Paltz. "It’s something you can do as long as your eyes will last.’’