The new Holly Grove Christian School archery program took a state title within its first year of existence.
The Holly Grove archery team knew there was a target on its back coming into the season.
Multiple state, national and world championships made the Eagles one of the best archery squads in the nation, using their skills with a bow and faith in God to defeat nearly every team in their path.
But when it came time to compete, Holly Grove didn’t worry about the target other teams had placed on them. Instead, the Eagles only cared about the targets staring them down from across the shooting line.
Competing in six categories, Holly Grove won five Maryland NASP state championships on Saturday, March 16, coming from the elementary, middle and high school divisions. Each group shot in the bullseye and 3-D competition.
In bullseye, the high school team led the way with 3,238 total points — 50 points more than second place and six-time champions Clear Spring High School. Middle and elementary school each put up 3,194 and 2,842 points, respectively.
In 3-D, high school (1,621 points) and middle school (1,592 points) each won first place, and elementary (1,359) was awarded second.
While elementary and middle school had won a state championship in the past, the victory marked the first time in Holly Grove’s history a high school squad claimed the top spot.
“It was definitely an unforgettable experience,” said Nick McClister who scored a 280 out of 300 in the bullseye. “It shocked me when I added up my scores on the line and figured out that’s what I got. I didn’t really have a way to express it — I was just so happy.”
McClister, a junior, placed first in high school and third overall in the male division. His performance also earned a $750 scholarship he said will certainly help with his future as college looms on the horizon.
Teammate Charles Horner also performed well, tallying a 276 on the bullseye. Knowing he needed a strong showing to keep Holly Grove in the driver’s seat, the sophomore relied on his experience and calm demeanor to secure a high score.
“We pushed way harder (this year) because we wanted it,” Horner said. “Practice and form really help if you do it a lot. If you can get your form down right, you’ll do good.”
Archers Miranda Makuchal and Abby Webster also helped in the high school team’s overall performance, each tallying more than 270 points. Makuchal shot a personal best of 288.
A Christian school, Holly Grove often looks to prayer and Scripture to help find confidence and courage heading into a competition. Despite the wide range in age throughout the divisions, the Eagles call themselves a family and use friendship to feel more at ease when it comes time to shoot.
One of the team’s favorite scriptures is Philippians 4:13 which reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Printed on the back of the Eagles’ shirts, the verse gives Holly Grove the encouragement needed to succeed.
“Without God, this was totally impossible,” Makuchal said. “We had a feeling we could do it, but at the same time, we’re competing against an entire state. It was a lot of pressure, but at the same time it’s super exciting.”
A member of the Holly Grove archery team competes at the Maryland NASP state championship on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Photo: Submitted Image: NASP/ IBO 3D Challenge)
The victory marked the final opportunity for Makuchal and four other seniors to win a state title.
Coaching Holly Grove since the program’s beginning, Bruce Bowden couldn’t hold back tears when the high school division was announced as champions.
Last year, the Eagles high school team came 72 points away from winning the top prize. Throughout the current season, Bowden put added emphasis on the bullseye category, wanting the group to finally get over the hump.
Along with scriptures, the head coach preached diligence, hoping it would drive the archers to never give up and push forward until they achieve their goals.
And at states, the hard work finally paid off.
“Every victory is wonderful to me, but this was probably the sweetest because this was the only one we had never clinched before,” Bowden said. “I think that drove them to be the best archers they could be.”
Webster, a freshman, said winning a state championship her first season on the high school level will help her overall development and skills with a bow.
Growing up in an area that specializes in hunting, fishing and many other outdoor activities, Webster said joining the archery team provided an opportunity to meet new people and learn a unique sport.
“I just keep practicing, listen to my coach and say my verses,” she said. “We rely on (God) and know He’ll get us through this no matter what happens.”
With another five titles on the resume, Holly Grove now shifts its focus to the national stage where the team will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, in hopes of calling themselves the best in the nation. The competition is scheduled for May.
Having won nationals before, the Eagles return an experienced lineup, riding even more momentum coming off their state championship.
But Bowden still anticipates intense training to ensure his archers are ready to go for the come competition.
With their skills and faith, the Holly Grove archers are confident they’ll once again hit their target.
“When we’re at the shooting line getting ready to shoot, we know this is not impossible,” Makuchal said. “We have God on our side. We just need to rely on Him and do our best, because no matter what happens, we’re glorifying Him.”