After Princeton’s high school team finished their final shooting session at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, on Saturday Apr. 1, at least 80 competitors spread across 29 other schools still remained, so they had to sit and wait in anticipation for the final result of the state tournament meet.
“We knew we were doing good, but we still knew there was a chance we could be beaten,” Princeton archery coach Gail Whitcomb said. “We sat there waiting and when they called out the third-place points I was like ‘ok we could be second or first’ then when they called second-place I was like ‘oh crap, [did we not finish in the top three].”
But moments later the Tigers were announced as the top performing high school team in the state of Minnesota. They scored 3399 points, 13 better than second-placed Grand Rapids.
“I can’t tell you the flood of relief,” Whitcomb said. “The kids seriously worked so hard and I am overwhelmingly proud of them.”
“It was a really cool feeling,” Princeton junior Gabby Donais said.
Donais was one of the high Princeton’s top scorers with 291 points. She finished second in the female division and earned a $1,000 scholarship.
“You work so hard all year long and to have it pay off was great.” Donais said.
Anna Whitcomb finished just behind her in fifth with a score of 289 and a $1,000 scholarship of her own for being a top-five finisher.
Jaron Williams also impressed, finishing fourth among the high school boys with 292 points. Eighth-graders Geoffrey Skeim and Nathan Wright contributed greatly with scores of 288 and 285. And that is just the tip of the iceberg as the entire team worked together to provide the best 12 scores in the division.
“It brought are team closer together, knowing that we all chipped in,” Donais said.
The middle-schoolers worked together for a first place effort, too. They beat 24 schools, including Jackson Middle School by four points and Foley by eight points, to earn the crown with a score of 3309. That final score, told by a former tournament president to Whitcomb, was one of the top middle school efforts in the tournament’s history.
“It was a bonus, like, ‘wow we really did do this,” Whitcomb said.
Hope Williams and Merissa Whitcomb were the leaders of the historic effort with 287-point performances, good for second and third in the girls’ division. Hayden Barnes finished seventh among the boys at 284.
The Elementary team also took third out of 14 teams, led by Jude Horton, who took third in the boys’ division with a score of 280. Ava Noehre accumulated 277 points for second in the girls’ division.
The middle school and high school teams will head down to nationals and compete together to try and combine for a top-ten finish and defend their 2016 title as Minnesota’s top-performing team in Louisville, Kentucky. It will be a very different habitat than their Minnesota home.
“You can’t prepare them for it. There’s like 100, 200 bales in a range and 800 to 1,000 people shooting at one time,” Whitcomb said, “and Minnesota keeps their shooting environment pretty sterile with low noise, no talking. You go to nationals and [the fans] got their horns blaring and cheerleaders and whistles and craziness. Unless you’ve been there you really just have to take it all in the first year.
Only 6-to-8 team members will be newcomers to the Kentucky Expo Center on May 11, since Princeton has competed as a team in the last three national tournaments. Donais and the other veterans know how to prepare for the event they, otherwise couldn’t simulate.
“We set up together and we’re at the same bales, so if anyone needs any help we’re there,” she said.
She’s ready to guide every Tiger to the bullseye, yet again.
The rest of Princeton’s top-12:
High school: Abbie Peterson and Liberty Williams (283); Lacee Broding, Alyssa Cook and Sam Deglman (279); Veronica Marx (276); Taylor Fish (275).
Middle School: Enmarie Wolfstellar (281); Taryn Noehre (280); Ben Kelzer and Sam Weiner (277); Olivia Lundeen (274); Jesse Kusper (270); Jessica Adams (269;) Emily Kutzler and Isabelle Davis (265).