Paige Pearce decided that one more chance to represent Team USA would be hard to turn down.
The 20-year-old professional archer from California could have chosen to attend another tournament, but instead chose to set a record.
Pearce, who has competed in four previous World Archery Youth Championships (WAYC), qualified for her record fifth tournament and will return to Yankton – where she has shot a number of times.
“Everybody was saying,’ You should go, nobody’s ever done five,’” Pearce said in a phone interview this week. “It’s an awesome opportunity.”
And not one any other archer in the world has experienced as many times as she has. The combination of her age and fortunate timing with the event’s history has allowed her to qualify – and shoot – in four previous events.
Pearce was 14 years old when she competed in the 2008 WAYC in Turkey, but because the biennial format was changed a year later, she also represented Team USA in Ogden, Utah in 2009.
The age divisions were then modified between 2009 and the 2011 WAYC in Poland, meaning the Cadet division would be ages 15-17 and Juniors division 18-20.
Pearce then qualified for the 2011 tournament and the 2013 WAYC in China, and did the same again earlier this year – meaning she would own the record for a fifth appearance.
Out of all those international locations, Turkey is the one that stands out the most, Pearce said.
“Tournament wise, I remember, being shocked by how many people were there,” she said.
Not only has Pearce qualified that many times, she’s helped Team USA capture four team gold medals, and also won the individual gold in 2009.
The pursuit of team and individual glory in the WAYC can present what Pearce calls a ‘different dynamic.’ Why? The tournament has individual elimination days, where you could be competing against an archer from your country, but then the next day you could both be chasing the team title.
“Then you get there and you’re trying to beat them, but you still want them to shoot well,” Pearce said.
This year’s event, for example, has a qualification round for recurve and compound on Tuesday, followed by individual eliminations on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a mixed team and individual elimination day, while Saturday and Sunday are the finals.
“It’s a very different dynamic,” Pearce said. “That’s the biggest difference, and it’s something you can’t prepare for. It’s a different mindset.”
Pearce is one of 23 archers to represent Team USA, across eight divisions – she will compete in the Compound Junior Women division along with Emily Fischer and Danielle Reynolds.
Even getting to the point where she could qualify was a challenge in itself, Pearce said, because of this country’s quality depth in the sport.
“I have a feeling that in some of those other countries, maybe the top eight isn’t as close,” Pearce said. “With us, you could win or lose to anyone in the eight on any given day.”
Although the United States has been one of the top countries internationally in compound shooting, a number of other countries like Mexico, Colombia, Russia and Korea have stepped up their game, Pearce said.
“Each time I’ve gone, it’s gotten progressively harder,” she said. “Some of those other countries have put more effort into their compound teams.”
As the United States gets ready to pursue another team gold, its 24 archers do have the advantage of competing in their home country, Pearce said, which means less travel and less jet lag.
“Traveling overseas takes a lot out of you and it takes you a while to recover,” she said.
The other side of that coin, conversely, would be that Team USA archers would have a greater following and would have more pressure on their shoulders by competing in their home country.
“I remember being more nervous when we were shooting in Ogden,” Pearce said. “At our matches, more people showed up to watch. We were looking in the stands and could recognize people.
“People want you to win that much more because it’s your home country.”
Among her teammates, Pearce has an even greater edge on the rest of the field. She has been traveling to Yankton for various tournaments since she was eight years old – dating back to when the sport was just starting to take off in Yankton.
“It’s a really cool thing to see the whole town getting excited for archery,” Pearce said.
She was actually in Yankton earlier this year for the First Dakota Classic and even then said she saw how much the community has increased its support for archery.
“To have that (Easton Yankton Archery) complex go in there was huge, and there’s a local archery shop, and people have so many places they can go shoot,” Pearce said.
Plus, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Yankton has a number of youth archery classes and clubs.
“There are so many kids,” Pearce said, laughing.
“To see the number of kids come out and want to shoot, that’s the next generation,” she added. “I wish, kind of like the town of Yankton has grown, that our country would grow like that and that fast.”
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