Opposing teams used to be happy seeing Mason County come to archery tournaments because when the Royals walked in, they knew their team wasn’t going to finish last.
Landen Bowling’s first place finish led the Mason County boys’ archery team to the KHSAA Region 7 title on Saturday at Harrison County, while three girls’ earned a spot at the state tournament.
“I think this weekend went a long way in getting rid of that perception,” said Mason County coach Bridget White. “The other teams shot before us – we were delayed in getting there because of the weather. I saw their scores. My dream Saturday when we went was to inch past one of them [Pendleton County or Harrison County]. You have to place second to go to state. One got a 1930 and the other got a 1928. I thought, ‘We only have one point between. This is insane.’
“We got first and exceeded my expectations. The other teams were really great because we finally made it and are doing well,” added White. “We’re being accepted into that group now that we’re a competitor.”
The Royals finished behind Pendleton County and Harrison County at last year’s tournament, missing out on a chance to send the entire team to state, but still managed to land individual qualifiers.
On Saturday, they edged both schools with a 1931 to claim the Region 7 title. Harrison County finished behind Mason County by a single point.
“If one person would have had a little bit of an off day, we wouldn’t be there. It took every score to be there,” said White. “Landen taking the overall top score really helped, but if anybody shot one spot lower the whole thing would have been different.”
Bowling’s 291, including 22 10s, was the best mark by any boy at the tournament. It was an improvement from a 282 at the same tournament last year, where he finished fifth-best among boys and earned an individual berth at the state tournament, finishing 143rd out of 311 boys with a 277.
“I usually don’t do as good in practice as I do in tournaments,” said Bowling. “The pressure that’s put on me kind of steps up my game.”
Last year’s state tournament score wasn’t revealing of how he could shoot. Bowling, who also was on the baseball team, went in to pitch the night before the state archery tournament during a game with Montgomery County. He took a line drive to the elbow, had to go to urgent care and ended up in a sling, but still found a way to compete the next day.
The sophomore wasn’t even able to compete at the beginning of this season after suffering a different baseball injury to his elbow, which required surgery to have a screw placed to repair a growth plate.
He returned in late December and it didn’t take long to get back to his old form – and better. Bowling was the top individual boy at the KY NASP Region 8 Tournament in February with a 292, firing one more 10 than at Saturday’s tournament. He’ll shoot at the NASP State Tournament at the end of the moth at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
“When I started off when I came back, I obviously wasn’t shooting as good as I was toward end of last year. I had two practices a week and Bridget is a very good coach and was standing by me the whole practice, telling me what I needed to do to get back to what I was doing last year.”
No other Royal finished in the top five, but a slew of solid scores in the top 20 helped edge the Thorobreds. Jacob Brown finished eighth (278), Elijah Throckmorton was ninth (277), Nathan Jones was 11th (275), Anthony Ventura was 15th (272), Alden Lawson was 18th (269) and Andrew Jones was 19th (269).
White credits some of the improvements of the whole team to a pin program that was implemented. The archers receive pins for reaching certain scores – 250, 270, 290 and 300. She’s seen several hit the 270 mark, but only Bowling has reached 290.
“It’s kind of like stepping stones – who’s going to be the next one to get it? They’re happy they’re really close, but get frustrated when they miss it by one pin and think they should have had it,” said White.
The improvement has come on the girls’ side as well. There are separate state tournaments for boys and girls this year, but even though the Lady Royals landed behind Harrison County and Pendleton County for a chance to send the team to state, they still had three individuals qualify – an improvement from one last season.
DeAnna Roberts qualified for the second time, finishing 12th with a 272. Anastasia Williams finished ninth with a 277 and Shaelee Bess was 10th with a 276 to claim the three individual spots from Region 7.
“I was hoping for it. I do not know that I quite expected it,” said White. “All three shot their personal best.”
With improvements across the program, Mason County will look to keep making strides when they head to the KHSAA State Tournament on April 26.
“We’re very hopeful this is sign of things to come for Mason County. We’re going to keep coaching them in the same manner because they’re really taking to it and enjoying themselves,” said White. “Hopefully this is the first of many trophies to bring back to Mason County.”