ATASCADERO — Following her historic run through the indoor season in early 2020, local archer Isabella Otter competed in the outdoor archery circuit. She performed so well that she officially earned herself a spot on the USA Archery Team.
When The Atascadero News and The Paso Robles Press last reported on Otter, she was coming off a completely dominant indoor season that saw the Atascadero High School junior reel off two state championships, a sectional championship, and a national championship all in the span of three short months.
Following her record-setting indoor season, Otter was surprised in May with sponsorship and a new bow from one of the world’s top companies, Precision Shooting Equipment (PSE), just in time to train for the outdoor season.
Riding a tidal wave of confidence and with new equipment in hand, the now Greyhounds senior set her sights a little higher and entered the second half of 2020, aiming for a spot on the USA Archery Team.
With her goals set, Otter put in the work and preparation needed to achieve her dreams. First and foremost, she calibrated her new bow, which took nearly four months. She also wanted to approach this season a little differently than in years past.
“I transitioned from a lot of physical training into mental training,” Otter told The Atascadero News. “Because they are such a talented group of girls, you know the skill is there, and you know that you have the skill, so really it comes down to your mental game. Who can keep their head in the right place in high-pressure situations.”
For the next couple of months, while waiting for her bow, Otter focused on developing mental toughness and the ability to stay calm and relaxed during tense situations hoping that it would help later in the season when she needed it most.
“Everyone has their own method of doing it,” she said. “I meditate; my mom is a life coach, so she has tactics and tools that I learn from her. I read a lot of books from other competitors and talk with them to see what their process is like.”
In September, after four months of waiting, Otter’s bow was perfectly calibrated thanks to help from her coaches and generous sponsors like PSE, AAE, Truball, Bee Stingers, and the people at Central Coast Archery.
For the next month, Otter dialed it in, shooting at least 72 arrows each day and heading out to small competitions to prepare for the gauntlet she was about to run.
Entering the season, the AHS senior thought she would have to enter and perform well at three of the four USAT tournaments, but after COVID-19 caused a cancellation in Arizona, she realized that her national championship performance would count in its place. Suddenly, the impossible mission moved to just improbable.
In early October, Otter made the trip to Chula Vista for the SoCal Cup. A strong opening round carried her into the eliminations, where she made it into the quarter-finals and was outshot.
With points from her national title and the SoCal Cup, Otter knew she needed a great weekend in Florida at the Gator Cup in November to achieve her ultimate goal.
To make the USAT, archers must rank in the top five of their age group, gender group, and bow style. Otter’s class, called the Compound Cadets, is for girls ages 15 to 17 that shoot with a compound bow. To make the team and officially don the red, white and blue, she would need to finish in the top five of over 100 qualified competitors.
The Gator Cup was held the weekend of Nov. 7 in Newberry, Fla. Standing 50 meters away from her target as she warmed up on Friday, Otter realized this weekend was going to put her mental strength to the test.
Not only did she have to deal with nerves and the everyday stresses of a big competition but also with tropical storm Eta that was rolling into Florida that weekend, bringing lots of wind with it.
Even with the wind, Otter rolled through the qualifying rounds and advanced to the first stage of eliminations, where adversity finally struck.
“Just as I release, this giant gust of wind comes up and adjusts my release and makes my arm fly open, and I shoot just outside the five-ring,” Otter said.
Her shot earned her zero points and put her behind her competitor with just two rounds to go. The Atascadero superstar focused on what she needed to do, shot herself back into the competition and advanced to the next round.
Otter rode the bounce-back win into the next round and again advanced, this time by just a single point, and punched her ticket onto the USAT.
The announcement did not come immediately. Following the Florida tournament, Otter and her family returned home, and for the next three days, she checked her phone every 30 minutes dying with anticipation.
“I had it bookmarked so I could go right to it. Tuesday (Nov. 10), I refreshed it after coming home from cross country practice, and I froze. I couldn’t move,” she said recalling when she saw her name.
Unfortunately, the Compound Bow is not currently an Olympic sport, but it becomes more and more of a possibility as each year passes.
“Really, I just get to wear USA on my back during competitions, which is the coolest thing,” Otter said. “It is totally fantastic, and I am over the moon about it, but there is obviously a lot more to be learned.”
While many may have struggled through 2020, Otter excelled, and while she isn’t quite sure what her future holds, she knows that archery will likely be a part of it. However, finishing school is her primary objective before worrying about turning to the professional ranks.
For anyone interested in archery or meeting perhaps a future Olympian, Otter works at Central Coast Archery on Saturdays and encourages anyone to come in that wants to learn to shoot.