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CORTINA, Italy - The World Archery Field Championships team event is unique and thrilling. One recurve, one compound and one barebow archer from each country compete together, each shooting one arrow at four different targets per match.
The U.S. had won the men's team event in every installment since 2012 and the reigning 2016 champions, Brady Ellison, Steve Anderson and John Demmer III rejoined forces in Italy to defend their title. In preliminary matches, the team was on fire, with barebow teammate Demmer even outscoring Olympic medalist Ellison on several matches and compound archer Anderson cleaning straight 6s in the semis to lead the team to the gold final. The barebow shooter in a field team round can often make or break the team, as they tend to have the most variability in performance. With three incredibly solid shooters, USA outscored Slovenia 61-59 in the quarterfinals and then home team, Italy, 65-62, picking up steam to face Germany in the final.
Entering the finals venue, the targets were set on a steep ski slope with about a 30-degree cut so sharp the targets were braced from the front instead of the back. All three U.S. archers opened with low fours, putting them two points back. Picking up points on the second target with Ellison's 6, the score went 27-25 in the U.S.'s favor. Germany picked up one point at the next bale, to bring the score to 41-40.
Headed into the final target at these challenging slopes, there was a lot of conversation between teammates. With the recurve and compound archers set at 60 meters, the cut was extreme. Germany put up nine points, so USA just needed to match that to win. Two points short in response, USA took the silver in a final 49-47 decision.
Mark Schlaudraff, who was part of the 2016 world champion junior men's team, joined forces with Connor Sears and Joseph Scarboro to repeat the U.S. win. Qualfiied 2nd the team had a bye into the semifinals where they crushed a 59-50 win over Slovenia to face the top ranked home team from Italy for gold.
Sears led with the first 6 on the finals field of any compound archer in the last match of the day, but with a miss from Schlaudraff, USA opened down 10-11 to a loud home crowd cheering for Italy. Target two, it was Scarboro who missed, having set his sight for the wrong distance, but Schlaudraff came back with a perfect six, coupled with Sears' five let Italy only pick up another two points to bring the score to 24-21.
With the close bunny target and the far, steep cut target left, the archers knew the game was nowhere near over. With a strong 15, USA picked up two points to a 37-36 tally headed into the most game-changing target of the course. A six for Sears left the compound archer and team fired up, Scarboro scored a two, and Schlaudraff became the second barebow archer of the day to hit the target in the scoring rings to post a 45 total. The pressure was on for Italy, needing nine points to win. As Italy's barebow archer missed his final arrow, the USA clinched the win and world champion title, having held strong through an intimidating field. The crowd erupted in screaming cheers as the boys jumped together in a grand celebration.
"That was like nothing I've ever shot before," commented Scarboro. "My heart was pounding through my chest."
Sears agreed: "Pure excitement, I loved every moment of it."
For Schlaudraff, the back to back win is particularly meaningful: "It's quite exciting; I came here for one reason, to enjoy myself and shoot what I knew I was capable of. I had a rough start but pulled through. It was very nerve wracking but fun." On being one of just two archers to score on the final target, Schlaudraff shared that the senior men gave them advice before they entered the match: "Demmer told me to shoot it for the right distance, have a strong shot and trust yourself. When I stepped up, I thought about adding, but listened to his advice and made sure my form was on point, heart rate low and I got off a good shot."
Sears also drilled the only six on that tricky target and his reaction was triumphant: "I walked up there, was confident about my cut, let it rip, hit dead center, and to be the only one to hit the six all day gave me confidence about hitting it again tomorrow in my gold match."
Ranked 4th, the compound junior women climbed from a strong 44-35 quarterfinal win over Romania to face Italy in the semifinals. Falling short 42-49, the U.S. team took on Great Britain for bronze. Recurve archer Faith Cook was on an unstoppable run individually yesterday, and joined with reigning compound champion Sophia Strachan, and barebow archer Laura Hughes, who will shoot for individual gold tomorrow, the team opened the bronze final with a five point margin, 13-8. Never looking back, the team picked up more and more points on each target to steamroll a 49-40 medal victory.
"It was really exciting because everyone from the U.S. was behind us and cheering really, really loud," commendted Cook. "Once we got bronze and knew we secured it, it was just about keeping them on the target and Laura and Sophia did great. Rod [Menzer] was an amazing coach and it was an awesome experience just being able to be here and do it."
Competition resumes tomorrow with individual medal matches, where USA is on target for major wins. A live stream of the matches will be available at www.archery.tv. Complete results from the competition can be found here. Follow USA Archery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more from the event.
Photo: World Archery
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