Left to right: Vinemont Archery Coach Davey Friedrich, Savannah Mann and Head Coach Doug Webb pose for a photo on Monday, April 23, 2018. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)
VINEMONT – The 2018 National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) Alabama State Championship Tournament saw hundreds of young archers from around the state compete and perform well, but perhaps none of them had as special a day as Vinemont Middle School’s Savannah Mann. On top of her team finishing in second place, the seventh-grader finished first out of the 527 girls who competed, defeating Ashville High School 11th-grader Sara Payne in a sudden death shoot-off.
Mann scored an impressive 23 tens, 293 total points, and was named the 2018 Alabama Archery in the Schools Middle School Female Gold Medalist.
Monday morning, Mann re-lived and gave her perspective of the event from the moment she learned about the shoot-off to the moment she realized what she had just pulled off.
“They came to coach and they said they needed Savannah Mann for the shoot-off for the top scores and at that point I was like, ‘Oh, Lord.’ I thought I was going to freak out and not do well at all and so I got out there and the other girl was really nice so that made me feel a little better,” Mann said. “We got to 15 (meters) and I did the practice round and I felt pretty good, but I was shaking. I got done shooting and I realized it was over and I walked up there, and I shot a 50, which is the best score you can get, and I was like ‘Oh my goodness, I just did this.’ It was exciting, but it was nerve-racking at the same time. I can’t remember everything that was going on, but I remember when I got done shooting I looked over at my team and they were cheering me on so that was really encouraging. I was standing out there during the shoot-off and I was just asking God to let this arrow go to the ten, if it doesn’t that’s ok but I really need this to go well. Honestly, it was God there with me that day and if he wasn’t there I don’t think I would’ve been able to do what I did.”
Vinemont Middle School Archery Head Coach Doug Webb couldn’t believe what unfolded in front of him that day either. He reminisced about slowly realizing during the competition that it would be a special day for one of his athletes.
“I walked by her after round one and asked how it went and she said pretty good, she shot a 50, which is a perfect score, obviously. I didn’t see her shoot the second round and I walked back by and asked how it was going and she said pretty good, another 50. It was kind of like dealing with a pitcher who’s throwing a no-hitter, you know, you just stay away from them. I walked back by again later and she shot a 48 or a 49 and I started doing the math and told (Coach) Davey (Friedrich), ‘Savannah is about to shoot 290-plus.’ When we got done she already knew; it’s not hard to count seven dropped arrows you know,” Webb joked.
“Some kids you have a tough time keeping their score, but I walked back by and she said 293 and I thought ‘Oh wow.’ We got done and they came over to me and said they need Savannah Mann, so I said OK and she grinned and said, ‘She needs her bow.’ So, I thought she was in a shoot-off for the middle school title and I went over and got her, and she was getting a little nervous and then I realized this is for the whole thing, the state championship. I didn’t let Savannah know that of course, but it didn’t take long for her to figure out when this 11th grader walks over and shakes her hand. She goes up there and shoots a straight perfect score from 15 meters. We always talk about the yellow ring; just shoot for the yellow ring, don’t worry about the rest of the target, and I walked down there when it was over, and she just looked up at me and grinned and said ‘Coach, I shot yellow ring,” and I said, ‘Yeah, you did,’” smiled Webb.
Mann won a brand-new bow to go along with her gold medal and it’s given her an idea for what to do with the old one.
“My sister really wants to get into archery so I’m going to give her my old bow that I’m using right now and I’m going to use the new bow for shooting next year,” Mann said. “We’ve practiced a little bit, but we haven’t done anything big because we’ve been focused on what I was doing to get better, but during the summer she’s going to practice a lot more, so she can get better.”
Believe it or not, this is Mann’s first year to compete, and at the start of the year she was skeptical that she would be able to get the hang of it. Webb had to persuade her to try out and she was pleasantly surprised by the results.
“We were practicing before we tried out for the team and I wasn’t going to try out because my bow was broken and so I sat up in the bleachers and they told me to get on down there and I used a new bow,” Mann said. “I told him I didn’t think I was going to make the team and that I wasn’t good at this and then he went over the team with some other people and they came to me and they told me I made the team, and I just thought, ‘What!’ Then we got into PE and he told me I made the team and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was really surprised honestly.”
Webb has known Savannah and her family since she was very young, so he had a feeling the sport would be a good fit for her. The said the hardest time he’s had coaching her this year was convincing her to try out for the team.
“She’s a perfectionist and puts a lot of pressure on herself and I told her she’d be great at this and she kept saying no that she wouldn’t be good at it and I just told her that if she sticks with it, she would be really good at this,” Webb said. “I’ve known her since she was 5 years old, so I know what kind of kid she is. She’s very respectful, she’s one of those kids that whatever you tell her to do she’s going to do it, she doesn’t ask questions she’ll just do it. That’s a reflection obviously on the way she’s being raised, and she’s extremely conscientious with grades and everything, so I thought she was perfect for this because, number one, this sport has a lot of mental aspects to it and she’s really dependable. I honestly think she only missed one practice in the whole season because she had strep throat.”
Mann has a lot of years left on the range, but right now she’s focused on the National Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky May 10.
“I’m excited to see what our team can do,” Mann said. “to show what we can do and that we’re capable of being there.”
Webb has coached a lot of athletes in several different sports; he said Mann’s performance that day in Montgomery stands out among the rest for him.
“I’ve coached basketball and baseball and saw kids do a lot of really incredible things over the years, but I’m going to have to say honestly that’s the most impressive display of guts and clutch that I’ve ever seen,” he said proudly.
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