ELIZABETH IN COMPETITION and with her bow.
ELIZABETH IN COMPETITION and with her bow.
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Not many 14-year-olds spend their February school break participating in national archery competitions.

From Feb. 23-25, Elizabeth Smith of St. Pius X School in Loudonville competed in the U.S. National Indoor Championships and the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) National Indoor Championship in Fiskdale, Mass.

The tournaments are separate events held at the same venue over a three-day weekend. Participants are scored according to the U.S. region where they live.

"I was excited," Elizabeth said of the Indoor Nationals, although she mostly enjoyed "just talking and having a good time" with her team.

Elizabeth is currently competing in the 2018 USAT Qualifier Series, hoping to qualify for the USA Youth Archery Team. The JOAD Indoor Nationals was the first of four tournaments in the USAT series in which Elizabeth will compete this year.

"It's a goal I have to make the U.S. team," Elizabeth said.

At St. Pius, Elizabeth is in the eighth grade. In archery, she's becoming a cadet (age 15-17 bracket) this year, which means she'll compete against older archers. But she's not worried. Though she's not yet in high school, Elizabeth is ready to take the archery world by storm.

High scores
"I know that I can compare myself to older girls," she said. "I can compare myself to 17-year-olds and I know I can compete against them, and my scores show that."

For the northeast region, Elizabeth placed second in the JOAD Indoor tournament and sixth in the U.S. Indoor Nationals. Scores from the JOAD and US Indoor Nationals dictating her placement overall in the country have not yet been announced.

It's not the first time Elizabeth has finished competitions in the top 10. Last year, when competing as a cub (age 12-14 bracket), she got first place in both the New England Indoor Championships and the Machimoodus Outdoor Tournament.

Once, during a competition in Indianapolis, she had to shoot against girls on the USA Junior Dream Team.

"I was shooting against this girl who was really good, but I got to move on, and I was in the top eight in the country," Elizabeth recalled. "I went to my dad and said, 'Dad, I'm top eight in the whole country!' It was an incredible moment."

Starting out
When Elizabeth was nine, her cousin, Chelsea, gave her a bow. She picked up the sport naturally and was able to shoot well, even as a beginner.

Her father, Jim, initially taught her until he saw how fast her her skill level was rising.

"It blew me away," he said.

Elizabeth started taking archery lessons at Flying Arrow Sports in East Greenbush at age nine. She still practices there three days a week. Flying Arrow, she says, helped her "learn basics of how to act during a tournament, and form" when shooting.

When shooting outdoors, she explained, archers have to take into consideration factors like sunlight and adjusting shots based on the wind speed and direction. She also learned to feel when she was holding the bow too tight and to focus on expanding her back muscles when shooting.

A family friend suggested Elizabeth try practicing at Hall's Arrow, an indoor archery range in Hartford, Conn. In November 2016, after just three months there, Elizabeth was invited to join the Hall's Arrow JOAD team.

"We treat each other as family," Elizabeth said of the team. "It helps to have the team there to support you" during tournaments.

Commitment
These days, Elizabeth and her father make the two-hour drive from their home in Rensselaer to Connecticut every Saturday for lessons and team practice.

It's a long day, but Elizabeth says that working with the team has helped her to practice and to focus on her mental game when competing.

The mental factor in archery is extremely important, she noted: "It's a single-person sport. You have to have good mental game. Just the slightest thing affects it."

Last April, the Hall's Arrow team went to see a sports psychologist, someone who works with athletes struggling to overcome psychological barriers that may hinder their performance. Elizabeth found the session helpful. She started seeing a sports psychologist on her own.

"She helps me with breathing and visualization," Elizabeth explained. "She helps me visualize myself shooting, and says to go through the shot process."

Elizabeth said she often focuses on her breathing during adoration of the Eucharist at St. Pius School. Doing that, she said, helps her focus on her faith when competing, since breathing and prayer blend together. Her family also attends St. Pius X parish.

In competitions, Elizabeth shoots with a Hoyt Contender compound bow, a modern bow that uses a leveling system -- usually cables and pulleys -- to bend. Right now, only recurve archery is allowed in the Olympic Games; however, World Archery recently announced that compound bows will be allowed in the 2019 Pan American Games.

More to come
Outside of archery, Elizabeth is preparing to transition from St. Pius to high school. Emma Willard in Troy is her top choice.

Elizabeth is also a beekeeper. Awarded a scholarship by the Southern Adirondack Bee Association, she was outfitted with a beehive, bees and beekeeping gear, and was required to attend five classes on beekeeping.

"It's a lot of fun. It's very different, but it's a lot like ant farming," she said.

Elizabeth's next tournament in the USAT Qualifier Series will be the Gator Cup May 11-13 in Newberry, Fla. The tournament will be held outdoors; but, no matter the conditions, Elizabeth will be ready.

"Sometimes my confidence can get down a bit, but I'd never tell myself to stop," she said.