One of the main events on the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) schedule has undergone some changes.

And archers like Rodger Willett Jr. are excited by the modifications.

Among the changes to the First Dakota Classic are the time of the year (it moved from April into June) and the schedule (it expanded from two days to three days), but the biggest change has to do with the tournament format.

Put simply, the weekend culminates with head-to-head brackets on Sunday.

“I got excited,” Willett Jr., a professional archer from Virginia, said Friday – the first day of the weekend tournament at the Easton Yankton Archery Complex.

“It’s going to add a whole other level of excitement to the shoot,” he added.

Since its creation, the First Dakota Classic has typically attracted some of the country’s top professional archers. It stands as the third and final leg of the 3 Star Tour, which includes the Vegas Shoot (in January) and the NFAA Indoor Nationals (in March).

By transitioning into a head-to-head format, the First Dakota Classic can closely mirror formats typically seen in international – for example – competitions. It’s a win-win for everyone, according to NFAA president Bruce Cull.

“For the NFAA, this was a good exposure for our regular shooters, so they can see it and participate in it,” he said Friday. “It used to be that you were shooting against everyone, now you’re shooting against one person.

“I think they’ll really enjoy it.”

Following their qualification rounds Friday or today (Saturday), archers in each division will be ranked by score and placed into brackets for Sunday.

Archers who don’t make the cut for the final head-to-head matches will compete in a ‘Second Chance’ tournament, to be held outside at the Olympic field ranges behind the Easton complex.

Either way, the format ensures that the intensity will pick up by Sunday, according to Willett Jr.

“The qualifying is just hanging out with your buddies, but when you get down to head-to-head, you know it’s do or die,” he said.

Especially with the realization that anyone can be beaten in a one-match showdown.

“If you lose one match, your whole weekend is over,” Willett Jr. said. “It puts a lot of pressure on you, but to me, it just adds to the fun. I love the high-pressure situations, especially if it’s even.”

And that’s the idea. To give everyone a shot.

Rather than have all archers in a specific division face the rest of the field, they will be broken into flights based on their scores.

“You’re not competing against the top scores, you’re competing against scores around you,” said Brittany Salonen, the NFAA Marketing and Events Director – she played a key role in organizing the new foramt.

Naturally, with any change to a tournament or an event, there’s some nervous anxiety. That’s no different with the First Dakota Classic, Salonen said.

“They’re all anxiously waiting to see how we break them apart and who they’ll shoot against,” she said.

New to the tournament this year is live scoring and live video, which allow archers to see updated scoring and fans to watch the action. Both options are available on the NFAA website (

For those actually competing, it’s an important addition, according to Salonen. In past years, certain archers may shoot at 7 a.m. and others may shoot at noon, which meant archers wouldn’t really know where they stood in the scoring.

“At least in head-to-head, you know how you’re doing,” Salonen said. “It’s more exciting that way.”

By moving the tournament from April into June, NFAA officials are hoping that more archers are able to travel to South Dakota, according to Cull. In past years, for example, weather has prevented travel – one year there was a big snowstorm the weekend of the First Dakota Classic.

“Our goal is to build this tournament so that it’s the one they all want to go to,” Cull said.

Word of mouth will be critical to help grow those numbers, according to Willett Jr.

“We lost some shooters this weekend to another tournament, but I think after this weekend when people go home and tell their friends how much fun it was, I think the numbers will really rise,” he said.

And the hope is that the bracket format becomes a popular mainstay, according to Cull.

“Head-to-head brackets are used in this country for a lot of sports,” he said. “Archery just doesn’t have a lot of it, but this was more internationally based.”

For example, Willett Jr. said he shoots in head-to-head matches at various World Cup and World Archery tournaments.

“We do this a lot, where we qualify one day and have head-to-head matches all the way down to the gold medal match,” he said. “It adds a lot more excitement.”

And for spectators as well, according to Salonen.

“I’m hoping that it evokes some emotion from people; that you can see the competitive nature of people,” she said. “That’s what I’m hoping to see.”

There are four qualification rounds today (Saturday): 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. There will then be a $10,000 shoot-off (for all archers) following the 4 p.m. round.

Action continues Sunday with indoor and outdoor eliminations beginning at 7 a.m.

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

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