Today, 343 of the country’s best target archers will gather at the Easton Newberry Sports Complex in Newberry, Florida, to compete in the Gator Cup, the second of four USAT Qualifier Series events for earning points toward national rankings.
The Qualifier Series selects the United States Archery Team (USAT) in four groups: Cadets (approximately 15 to 17 in age), Juniors (approximately 18 to 20), Seniors (adults) and Para (archers with disabilities).
Therefore, the “race” for national team qualifications will be ON this weekend. Performances at the Arizona Cup in April also have a bearing on national rankings thus far, but it’s early in the season and it remains anyone’s game.
Rankings don’t just select the national team. They also determine who qualifies for World Cup teams, which recurve archers get money for training, and who earns athlete health insurance. That’s serious pressure! Imagine going to a tournament and not only hoping to earn a paycheck, but also hoping to qualify for a World Cup AND keep your health insurance.
We predict big things this weekend from rising stars as well as veterans. We’re just over a year away from the World Championships and the beginning of the Rio 2016 Olympic Trials, so everyone’s training hard and getting fired up.
For what it’s worth – and it’s really anyone’s game out there – here are our finals picks:
Jake Kaminski holds home-court advantage, and will have the support of his wife, Amanda, who’s also a coach and fellow archer. We think he’ll face fellow Olympic medalists Brady Ellison, Vic Wunderle and Crispin Duenas in the finals.
We expect a battle between Michelle Gilbert, Jennifer Hardy, LaNola Pritchard and Mackenzie Brown. With Miranda Leek retired and Khatuna Lorig recovering from an injury, newcomers could move up in the rankings.
We’re sending a strong team to the Archery World Cup in Medellin next week, and we think they’ll finish in the finals at the Gator Cup. Look for Reo Wilde, Bridger Deaton, Rodger Willett Jr. and Braden Gellenthien to shoot their best this weekend – but also watch for Paralympic medalist Matt Stutzman to potentially shake up the podium.
This is the toughest group to call because of its serious talent. We predict Erika Jones and Jamie Van Natta will be the strongest medal contenders, but five other archers could reach the podium. We think Carli Cochran and Crystal Gauvin are due for wins this weekend, too.
For the recurve cadet women, Eliana Claps could steal the show. Ryan Oliver is showing amazing potential for his age, and he’s our pick for the recurve cadet men. We’re watching Dillon McGeorge for the compound cadet men, and local standout Hala Skelton for the compound cadet women.
Watch out for Hunter Barthels and Hunter Jackson in the compound junior men’s and women’s categories, respectively. Both archers are rock solid, with lots of tournament experience. Dillon McMenamy is our pick for the recurve junior men, and we think Paige Hill is a strong bet for the recurve junior women.