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Hunhoff Hits National Target

Nearly 18 months ago, Kendra Hunhoff took up archery for fun.

“I started with the summer beginning class to get introduced to the sport,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about archery.”

A few weeks later, the Yankton teenager was competing in National Field Archery Association (NFAA) tournaments. She quickly ascended up the national ranks, eventually winning runner-up honors at the NFAA Indoor National Tournament.

This year, she was right on target by winning her division of the national tournament - and she's not even in high school yet.

The 14-year-old Hunhoff, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart School in Yankton, shows the maturity and poise of someone much older. The self-assurance has paid off handsomely, as she has already established herself as one of the nation's top archers.

She hit the bull's-eye by recently winning the national NFAA indoor meet in the youth female freestyle limited recurve/longbow division. The competition drew hundreds of professional and amateur archers to the Downtown Convention Center in Louisville, Ky.

“Last year, I was happy just to be at nationals. I had been shooting for only six months,” she said. “When I got to the nationals, I didn't know what to think. My coach (Eric Tollefson) had told me that I was good enough to get first place, but when I got second (at the national meet), I was still surprised.”

Hunhoff's competitiveness kicked in, as she wasn't satisfied with a runner-up finish. She felt a sense of unfinished business.

“I knew that I wanted to get back to the national meet and finish first the next year,” she said, achieving the goal.

Hunhoff holds the ability to qualify for the Olympic Games, said Tollefson, who formerly worked with U.S. National Head Coach Kisik Lee.

“Kendra definitely has what it takes to be in the Olympics, but there is tough competition for the women's Olympics team in 2016,” Tollefson said. “The 2020 Summer Games are a more realistic goal for her.”

Hunhoff's recent NFAA national indoor championship has provided a major boost toward those aspirations, Tollefson said. Besides the national tournaments, Hunhoff's other major meets include a Las Vegas contest with several hundred competitors.

While in Las Vegas, Hunhoff learned a valuable lesson in preparedness and overcoming adversity, Tollefson said. While practicing, she had a slight mishap and her equipment fell apart. However, she had brought along extra equipment.

“Some Olympic archers bring entire duplicate sets so they have a range of back-up bows,” the coach said.

Such incidents are all part of the learning curve, Tollefson said.

“It's so important to have that travel experience. You learn to shoot away from home. There are stresses when you're not in a comfortable environment,” Tollefson said.

“Kendra just happens to have all these great qualities. A year ago, she hadn't shot many tournaments before qualifying for nationals. The national tournament was a good experience for her, and it was good preparation for future outings.”

At this year's national tourney, Hunhoff competed using the five-ring scoring system. She shot targets at 20 yards using an Olympic recurve style of bow. She shot one round a day for two days, with 60 arrows per round.

Each round lasted about 2 1/2 hours, requiring intense concentration. One miss could have meant the archer didn't make the cut in competition.

“If I'm on the line (taking my shots at the target), there is a lot of positive energy,” she said. “This is what you live for. When you are in competition, you're in a zone.”

Competitors must possess both physical and mental stamina, Tollefson said.

“(Archers) tend to tighten up during tournament week, so they need to be athletic. They need to be in peak condition during the tournament. Many archers follow a marathon training schedule,” he said. “Besides her archery, Kendra is also on the swim team. She works her cardio and upper body strength, which really helps her draw the bow.”

Hunhoff's overall fitness will prove crucial during competition, Tollefson said.

“When Olympic athletes are on the (shooting) line, they may find their heartbeat rate go up to 180 beats per minute. It just happens because of the intense competition and all the adrenaline,” he said. “You may have 400 archers in a single room at the same time. It's loud and chaotic. But if you're in strong cardio condition, you can lower your heart level. You can overcome it with your conditioning.”

At the national indoor tournament, contestants competed against the entire field rather than a one-on-one format. Hunhoff remained aware not only of her own score but that of her main rivals.

“Should she be keeping track of her competition? Maybe, maybe not. But she believes she's better off knowing,” Tollefson said.

Hunhoff thinks she was better off with an awareness of her status at each phase of the national tournament.

“It didn't affect me knowing the competition's standings,” she said. “I know what I can do, and I was happy with my scoring.”

While a keen competitor, Hunhoff sees the tournaments as a tremendous opportunity to meet and support other young archers.

“With all the big tournaments, I'm making new friends,” she said. “I'm also meeting with the coaches.”

Hunhoff has also met top Olympic and Paralympic archers, providing her with powerful role models. “Especially with the Paralympic athletes, you are inspired to do better,” she said.

Hunhoff believes she has been provided with a solid foundation for a promising archery future. She noted her family's support, her instructors' guidance, the camaraderie with other archers and the outstanding, expanded NFAA Easton Yankton Archery complex.

Hunhoff currently practices about three hours a day, four days a week. She may need to step up her schedule as she moves up to each new level.

Hunhoff plans to compete in the Florida Gator Cup later this year. She also hopes to compete in the U.S. Archery national tournament in Ohio this summer. Down the line, she has her eye on the Junior Dream Team and U.S. Olympic trials.

She currently competes in the youth category but will move up to the division for young adults next year, Tollefson said. She can remain in the NFAA until she turns 18, and she can compete in USA Archery until she turns 20, he said.

Competing against the nation's best requires a tremendous amount of dedication and sacrifice, he added.

“It becomes all-consuming in your pursuit to get to that level,” he said. “The hardest thing for Kendra is to give up other things for all those practice hours. It's a really difficult decision at her age. She wants to do everything she can at this age, especially in a small community. But you have kids all over the country who are doing just that, and some are even younger.”

Hunhoff hopes she serves as a role model for other young archers. She encourages them to reach for lofty goals.

“I tell them, ‘Try it. Go for it,'” she said.