80% Mental, 20% Physical: Archers journey to conquer state title

On a Friday afternoon in early March, Camila Beltran-Felix 25 is practicing her “holding,” one of the 11 steps to shooting success. Beltran-Felix was working on her form to prepare for the upcoming archery tournament. (Photo courtesy of Isabella Ballesteros)
On a Friday afternoon in early March, Camila Beltran-Felix ’25 is practicing her “holding,” one of the 11 steps to shooting success. Beltran-Felix was working on her form to prepare for the upcoming archery tournament. (Photo courtesy of Isabella Ballesteros)

It’s 8:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning. There’s a slight breeze, the sound of boots on rocks and an encapsulating Arizona sunrise. On March 2 at Ben Avery Fita Range, the Xavier archery team stepped onto the range and shot for gold. 

Isabella Beninato ’24, team captain, took 1st in Bullseye with a score of 282 and 2nd in 3D, with a score of 279. Gabriella Conti ‘24 took 2nd in Bullseye with a score of 281. Madeline Taylor ‘25 and Nallely Tapia ‘24 took 4th in 3D. 

Archers stand on 10 and 15 meter lines for Bullseye (paper target) and shoot 6 ends in total, 3 ends at 10 and 3 ends at 15. An “end” consists of three or six arrows shot in a succession by an archer, which are scored, then pulled. 

For 3D,  archers stand on a 10 meter line, while moving to the right of a life-sized animal for 6 ends. These animals differ in size. The smaller the animal, the more difficult the target becomes. However, the jump in distance goes from Turkey (10 meters) to Ram (15 meters). 

However, the biggest victory of all was taking home 1st in both Bullseye and 3D. As a team, Xavier archery took their first state title.

On Saturday, March 2 the Xavier archery competition and development teams pose in between flights of Bullseye and 3D. Xavier archery took home its first state championship. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Gerchar)

Archery is divided into two seasons: Fall and Spring. During the fall season, archers learn how to use a bow (no previous experience necessary), score arrows, and use the 11 steps to shooting successfully. These 11 steps are stance, nock, draw hand set, bow hand set, pre-draw, draw to load, anchor, transfer to hold, expand/aim, release, and follow through/reflect. Throughout the spring season, the coaches decide who will be placed on the competition team or the development team as they prepare for state. 

Head Coach Kelsey Gerchar instituted 6 a.m. practices this year. They were held Wednesday mornings from January through March. During these morning workouts, the Xavier competition team would incorporate weights, cardio, core, engage their backs and practice shooting a full-end for both Bullseye and 3D, shooting their bands 60 times. 

Beninato and Taylor assert that the motto for winning state was, “80% mental, 20% physical.” 

Archery requires upper body strength, stability and good posture. Archery is also a mental endeavor. It requires focus, controlled breathing and a steady hand to hit the target. 

Conti and Beninato both recall that the morning workouts helped them become physically stronger because oftentimes they would get tired halfway through a tournament. Taylor says, “The workouts have definitely been a big help. Not only do they help us build endurance and stay consistent when on the line, but they also instill a sense of teamwork and they bind the team together.”

On Wednesday February 7, Madeline Taylor, Isabella Beninato and Gabriella Conti wear their medals from previous wins. During their 6 a.m. morning practice, the archers focused heavily on physical strength by shooting at 15 meters to prepare for nationals. (Photo courtesy of Isabella Ballesteros)

Although the archers focused on becoming physically stronger, they focused on training mentally. Conti says, “When you’re shooting, and you make a mistake, fixating on it will only make you shoot worse. That’s why it’s really important to develop confidence as opposed to just physical strength.”

Beninato agrees saying, “In terms of physical form it is really difficult to master, but once you get it, your scores will improve greatly. However, form cannot be executed to its fullest potential without a strong mental game. You may have the form, but if you don’t have the mentality to stay calm under pressure or gain your bearings in conditions like wind, your knowledge of form becomes useless.”  

“When I shoot, I usually sing a song in my head. This helps me focus on the lyrics instead of stressing about shooting. Usually during tournaments I try to stay in the same mental state on and off the line by not talking about my scores either,” Conti said. 

Through all of the early morning and late Friday practices Xavier’s archery team dominated state mentally and physically. The team is off to Sandy, Utah competing for a national victory on April 26. 

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