McAuley High is known as a basketball powerhouse, but the school’s best shooter – a 6-footer, no less – has landed an athletic scholarship in a far more obscure sport.

Sarah Schnupp, an 18-year-old senior, signed a letter of intent Wednesday to attend the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, one of the few colleges in the nation to compete in riflery.

“I’m very excited at the opportunity,” said Schnupp, who lives in Gorham and started shooting competitively in seventh grade through a 4-H program. She has since won multiple state titles, made three trips to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and currently ranks 44th among all U.S. women in three-position smallbore rifle and 75th in air rifle.

“That’s pretty good for a kid from Maine,” said her father, Joe Schnupp, a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy. “There are not a lot of kids in Maine who shoot (competitively). It’s a fun sport, great for the kids and a good way for them to learn control and self-discipline.”

Indeed, Sarah Schnupp is believed to be one of only two Mainers to earn college athletic scholarships in competitive shooting, a sport offered at the varsity level by only 33 NCAA schools. The other scholarship shooter is Brandon Bryer of Scarborough, who recently completed his freshman year at Morehead State in Kentucky.

“It’s not a full boat,” Joe Schnupp said of his daughter’s partial scholarship, “but it’s a healthy portion.”

LESSER-KNOWN OLYMPIC SPORT

Both Schnupp and Bryer honed their craft under the watchful eye of Don Leonard, a 70-year-old former Marine from South Portland who coaches a junior team at the Scarborough Fish & Game Association. Another former member of Leonard’s junior team at the Scarborough shooting range is Lydia Odlin of Scarborough, a member of the club team at Georgia Southern University.

University of the Sciences is one of four Division II schools that offer riflery as a varsity sport. There are 23 programs in Division I and six in Division III. Because teams generally consist of less than a dozen members, only 199 men and 189 women competed collegiately in 2014, according to the most recent statistics compiled by scholarshipstats.com.

Even so, shooting has been part of every Summer Olympics – with the exception of 1904 and 1928 – since the modern Games began in 1896. The United States has sent a team of at least 20 shooters to each of the past eight Games, but television viewers are unlikely to see this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Television has a thing about not wanting to have guns on it,” said Leonard, who noted that biathlon – which combines Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship – seems to get more coverage. “So there’s very little in reference to juniors marking a path or a career to go to college.”

Five Maine high schools – Gardiner, Maine Central Institute, Brewer, Bangor and Cony of Augusta – have varsity shooting programs, said Julian Beal, who in March directed the 47th annual Maine Junior Four-Position State Championship, held at the Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club. The four different shooting positions are standing, kneeling, prone and seated.

Sarah Schnupp bested a field of 13 to claim the girls’ state title. Her younger brother, Patrick, a 15-year-old sophomore at Cheverus High School, did likewise over a field of 37 boys. There is a third Schnupp, Erin, 14, an eighth-grader at St. Brigid School in Portland, who also shoots competitively.

“I’m seeing more girls here,” said Beal, who has been running junior programs in Maine for 42 years. “People start learning there is an Olympic sport out there and kids can get scholarships in shooting. It’s a safe environment that gets them using firearms in a positive way.”

SHOOTING ‘A HAPPY PLACE FOR ME’

Sarah Schnupp also was co-captain of the McAuley swim team and is a member of the National Honor Society. She chose University of the Sciences because it has an occupational therapy program that will allow her to earn a doctorate in six years.

After the signing ceremony Wednesday, Schnupp invited teachers and anyone else who was curious about her sport to the Fish & Game Association shooting range to show them what she does and perhaps clear up common misconceptions.

“I have never hunted,” she said. “That is definitely not my forte. I do precision rifle and pistol with stationary targets.”

At the range, under the supervision of Leonard and several range safety officials, Schnupp unpacked her considerable gear (stored in a wheeled duffle bag large enough for a hockey goalie) and four gun cases. She shoots an air rifle and a smallbore (or .22-caliber) rifle, both made in Germany and costing around $5,000 each. She also shoots a Benelli .22-caliber pistol and a Hammerli air pistol. They run a few thousand apiece.

When shooting rifle, as she will in college, Schnupp first climbs into custom-fitted clothing that includes flat boots (to prevent heel-to-toe rocking), sweater (to muffle pulse), stiff pants and jacket (for support) along with a fingerless glove for her left hand (the barrel rests on the back of her knuckles, with fingers curled inward), lime-green earplugs and special glasses with electrical tape over half the left lens so she won’t have to squint in order to sight the target with only her right eye.

“There’s different equipment for each of the disciplines,” she said. “There’s some overlap, but it’s a lot of gear.”

Elsewhere on the range, shotguns aimed at sporting targets popped and birds and crickets chirped in the afternoon breeze. Beneath the wooden roof of Schnupp’s range, however, all was still as she zeroed in on her target.

“I’m very passionate about shooting,” she said. “It’s a happy place for me. I’m able to get inside my own head, zone out the rest of the world, forget about all the stresses of the day and just get into the zone.”