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Friday, March 5, 2010
Updated: March 8, 11:03 AM ET
Holly Stover: On target

By Christopher Parish

Holly Stover
Holly Stover, naturally, loves the archery event in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on Wii.

Holly Stover doesn't play many video games, but there is one that the Brighton (Brighton, Mich.) senior particularly loves. Stover will sometimes get together with friends and play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, a Wii game featuring the classic video game characters competing in various Olympic events.

It's no surprise Stover's favorite event in the game is archery. After all, she is considered one of the nation's top young archers. She is a member of the U.S. Archery Association Junior Dream Team, trains with the U.S. National Archery Team and won the 2009 National Archery Association Indoor Nationals. She also won the junior division of the 2009 U.S. World Indoor Team Trials, which qualified her for the World Championships in Poland.

Add it all up, and it doesn't seem like Stover is someone you'd want to square off against in the video game version of a sport she dominates.

But here's the thing -- Stover doesn't usually win in the game.

"I'm not that great at it," she admits. "My friends give me a hard time when they beat me, too."

When it comes to the live version of archery, though, Stover doesn't lose very often. In fact, she's twice been asked to join the residency program at the U.S. Olympic Training facility in Chula Vista, Calif. Both times, after consulting with her parents, she respectfully declined.

"We wanted to make sure she had a chance to experience all that high school had to offer, both the educational and social aspect," says Holly's father, John.

Stover manages both areas just fine. In addition to being a strong student, she plays clarinet in Brighton's marching band. She's also in a youth group at her church and finds time for swing dancing and horseback riding. And that's all in addition to four hours of archery practice per day, at least four days per week.

While she has become the most accomplished archer in her family, she was by no means the first. Her brothers Kyle, 24, and Garrett, 21, developed an interest in the sport as kids after visiting the family's second home in the Upper Peninsula. As with most siblings, once one started something the next was eager to follow. So Holly couldn't wait to try archery for herself. When she was just 5 years old, her brothers' coach offered her a bow and set her up five feet away from a target that was four feet in diameter.

Holly Stover
After winning the U.S. World Indoor Team Trials junior event last year, Stover finished 25th at Worlds.

"There was no way I could miss it," she says.

Her love of firing arrows developed quickly, which is more than she could say for watching her brothers.

"I can't stand watching other people shoot," she says. "I think that was part of the reason why I started. I'd rather shoot than sit and watch a competition."

By the time she was 6, Stover was competing on her own and doing pretty well.

"Our summer vacations were mostly to different archery tournaments around the country," John says. "Holly just kept progressing, and she was moving up the U.S. rankings."

Once she started getting noticed for her ability, Stover started looking at archery in a different way.

"I decided I could really see myself going to the Olympics," she says. "Once I realized I had a chance, that was really motivational. That's what really got me started."

Stover worked diligently to fine-tune her skills, and she got a little help along the way from a popular nursery rhyme. At a training camp in California, Stover and a friend decided to match up their mental cues on proper form with a song. After some deliberation, Stover chose "I'm a Little Teapot." Their coach loved it. Stover still hums the song to herself any time she needs to get back to basics with her technique.

These days, Stover gets one-on-one training from Lori Cieslinski, a member of the U.S. National Team who finished sixth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008. Additionally, Stover gets tips once a week from U.S. Junior National Team coach Laval D. Falks. He is based in Tennessee, so Stover uses a webcam to connect with him via Skype.

The extra coaching has helped her immensely. After winning the U.S. World Indoor Team Trials junior event last year to earn a spot on the U.S. National Indoor squad, Stover went on to place 25th at the World Championships.

"It was an eye-opening experience," she says.

Archery may not have a huge following here in the States, but when Stover walked into the packed indoor stadium in Rzeszow, Poland, she was stunned.

"I never imagined an archery competition could get that big," she says. "It was really overwhelming."

Stover doesn't get rattled easily, though. High-pressure situations are when she shoots the best.

"I don't really get worked up," she says. "I've done this before. I'll get some nerves, but it's more adrenaline and excitement."

That calm demeanor will serve her well come 2012, when Stover has a shot to earn a spot on the Olympic Team. There's a chance she could even go head-to-head against Cieslinski at the Trials.

"I think 2012 is very possible (for Holly)," Cieslinski says. "She has enough of a drive to want to do it."

In the meantime, Stover is hoping for a third invitation to the residency program -- and she doesn't plan on turning it down now that high school is nearly complete.

"It's a very realistic goal for her to meet, and once she gets out there she would be under the direct supervision of (U.S. National Team coach) Kisik Lee," her dad says. "She would have everything in place to achieve her goal, if not for 2012 then 2016."

That gives Stover plenty of time to keep practicing with the real bows and arrows. Mario and Sonic will have to wait.