KENMORE — The setting is unremarkable. A large field of uneven terrain with an uphill slope. And hardly serene, given the resounding gunshots from the nearby firing range.
But on this grassy acreage in south Snohomish County, champions are made.
At the Kenmore Gun Range, on a plot of land dedicated to archery, coach Michael Wichser of Monroe is training some of the nation’s most skilled archers. Of his approximately 30 students, six are members of the United States national team program for seniors (21 and up), juniors (18-20) and cadets (15-17). Five are age-group national champions from 2011 or 2012. And three are in Chula Vista, Calif., this week for the U.S. Olympic archery team trials.
“We’ve been a very successful group,” acknowledged the 57-year-old Wichser, who was named USA Archery’s Developmental Coach of the Year for 2011.
This is not recreational archery for any and all. Wichser is selective about his students, and he accepts only those with evident talent and an obvious passion for the sport.
The emphasis, he said, is on excellence.
“My goal and focus is that I love having national champions and I love having national team members,” said Wichser, the co-owner of a construction company and a largely volunteer coach. “I enjoy seeing people succeed.”
Likewise, he keeps his numbers manageable because otherwise “the education is washed out,” he said. “At this level, one-on-one coaching is important because the student gets most of your time.”
Wichser, who coaches only recurve (a type of bow), is in Chula Vista this week for the Olympic trials with three of his archers — 26-year-old Erin Mickleberry of Bothell; Jeff Anderson, 29, of Bothell; and Madison Eich, 16, of Brier.
In addition, Wichser works with 19-year-old Shannon Ostling of Snohomish, who was the nation’s No. 1-ranked female junior in 2011.
Eich, who attends Mountlake Terrace High School and plays on the varsity volleyball team, has been shooting for about five years. She progressed rapidly from success in local tournaments to success in national events, and earlier this year placed third in both the Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) Indoor and U.S. National Outdoor tournaments in the cadet division.
In addition, Eich gets to skip school this week to attend the Olympic trials, having qualified as one of the top 16 women in the nation.
For Eich, the appeal of archery is that “it’s very individualized and very calming. When I shoot at a target, I relax and don’t think about anything else. I have it all to myself, so when I come out here I enjoy it.”
Ostling, meanwhile, took up the sport about six years ago. A homeschool student through high school, she is a freshman at the University of Washington and expects to study either engineering or medicine. But she still finds time to practice archery five days a week, usually for three hours a day.
The sport’s most difficult aspect, Ostling said, “is not thinking too much. You have to focus on a rhythm where you’re not trying to break it down into each piece individually. It’s like when you’re running, and you’re not thinking about this foot up, this foot down.”
To succeed in archery, Wichser said, a shooter “cannot be controlling the shot every time. At some point the sub-conscious has to take over. So that’s part of the work of the coach, to try to get them to let the shot happen.
“When they want to hit the middle (of the target) every time, they start trying to control the shot. And my job is to keep them from doing that.”
Wichser grew up in north Seattle and learned archery as a student at Shoreline Community College in the early 1970s. He was good enough to compete at two U.S. Olympic trials in the 1980s, but later took his love of the sport into coaching where his success led him to receive last year’s USA Archery Coach of the Year award.
“Coaches who inspire their students are the cornerstone of our athlete development pipeline,” said USA Archery chief executive officer Denise Parker in a statement. “We’re excited to see the strong talent and depth (Wichser) is creating that are coming out of his program.”
“Mike takes children who have never shot a bow before and gets them to believe and dream that they can make a national team, be a national champion, and even make an Olympic team,” added Carl Brattain, past president of the Kenmore Gun Range, in the same statement. “He gets children to believe and have confidence in themselves, and if they fail, to pick themselves up, building character and making them stronger.”
The award is gratifying, Wichser said, “but that’s not what I do this for. It’s a nice honor, but it’s really me getting an award for what the children have achieved.
“Sure, I’ve helped them along the way. And I work hard at it. I’m not going to take anything away from the time I put in and what I do for the kids. But they’re the ones who are going out and performing, not me. I just get to guide them.”