Being a world champion amateur archer isn’t good enough for 14-year-old Haylee Nesbitt; her goal is to make it to the professional ranks.
“The goal is to try and get to pro,” Nesbitt said. “I’ve been growing a lot in the sport so I’m going to keep doing that. I’ve been trying to give the sponsors as much credit as possible because they’ve helped a ton.”
Nesbitt took a huge step towards that goal when she won the Archery Shooters Association Classic Pro/Am Aug. 4-5.
After claiming the day one lead with a score of 206, Nesbitt was trying to hold off eventual Shooter of the Year Jordan Dearman to earn her first Women’s Open B tournament.
Jack Wallace is a professional archer and Nesbitt’s coach. He had a few words of wisdom for her going into the tournament.
“She was a little concerned and nervous on day two and she wanted to know about what to do different,” Wallace said. “Well that was easy, nothing. I said, ‘you aren’t going to do anything different.’”
Wallace went over strategy with her before the final day and on the last target, Nesbitt was just one shot away from victory.
“The last target I needed a 12 and I was really nervous going into it,” she said. “But I was like, ‘We can’t lose this tournament. If we lose it, it’s simply going to be because someone outworked me.’”
Nesbitt hit the shot and ended the final day with a score of 200 for a total score of 406, just enough to hold off Dearman, who put together a 214-point second day and finished with a score of 405.
“It felt good because a lot of people told me I was never going to beat her and I was never going to be as good as her,” she said.
After a season of struggles and growing pains, Nesbitt took home the trophy in the biggest event of the year.
Her dad and some of her friends were in the crowd to congratulate her after she delivered the final shot.
“We were all hugging and I was on the verge of tears,” Haylee Nesbitt said. “It was really exciting to me because I knew I struggled so much in it and I made myself not look like the shooter I knew I was.”
Nesbitt has only been shooting for three years but already has an impressive resume.
By her side for the entire journey has been her father, Rusty Nesbitt.
“I’ve seen her go from really lacking confidence to being way more outgoing,” Rusty Nesbitt said. “It’s the best thing she’s ever done for herself. There’s nothing she feels like she can’t do now.”
Along with her most recent victory, the Georgetown High School ninth-grader holds 12 South Carolina state records. She is also a two-time South Carolina Shooter of the Year and the 2017 ASA Middle School Female World Champion.
After dominating in the middle school divisions, Nesbitt said she was ready for more challenging events and she moved up to the the adult Women’s Open B division of the ASA.
“The thing for me was, once you were doing pretty good with the kids, they didn’t challenge you to get better,” she said. “So I wanted to go shoot with the women and really give myself a challenge. A lot of people didn’t understand that. It’s not that I went into the class thinking I was going to get beat. I went into the class thinking I could win.”
During the season, Nesbitt began taking lessons from Wallace, who finished third in the Shooter of the Year standings in the ASA men’s professional division.
“She already had a pretty good shot and pretty good form,” Wallace said. “The big thing that was going to take her to the next level was going to be her game plan and her strategy. I was impressed she moved up in the ranks way faster than she needed to.”
Wallace said he helped Nesbitt form a game plan and helped her adjust to some equipment changes.
That helped her compete better in the women’s division, he said.
“She stepped up into more of a pro-shooter type of set up. Between that and the right game plan and right strategy, it made it easier for her to get the job done,” Wallace said.
Early on in the 2018 season, Nesbitt said she struggled with what shooters call “target panic,” where the shooter can’t properly line up the arrow with a target. Because of this, Nesbitt struggled the first two tournaments and blew her chances at the Shooter of the Year title.
The water pump in her father’s truck broke after the first day of competition in Decatur, Alabama and they had to rush to fix it so Nesbitt could participate the second day. She said the struggles gave her a new perspective on competition.
“I understood the privilege of pressure,” Nesbitt said. “If you are in a pressure situation, that means you are doing something good. Once I understood that it got a little easier for me.”
She also received a lot of support from the friends she’s made during competitions.
“Those are some of the best people you will ever meet,” Nesbitt said. “They are so sweet and will give you the shirt off their back. The thing about archery is, if you go through something mental, everyone has gone through it, so everyone can help you with it. All you have to do is ask.”
Nesbitt said she practices for two to three hours every day of the week. She uses life-like recreations of different animals as her targets, just like in competitions.
Two deer stand by the fence line on the side of the house and a turkey is in the shed. She also has a javelina and a panther.
She said there are times, often at night, where she and her dad are fooled by the targets.
Rusty Nesbitt said he was startled by the panther one night and Haley will sometimes look twice to make sure the deer aren’t moving.
Occasionally drivers will slow down to observe what they think are live animals. Several times friends ask her why the deer stand so still. “Go pet it,” she often responds.
When she isn’t honing her archery skills, Haley said she is watching NASCAR and taking in all types of racing events.
The name Chase Elliott, Nesbitt’s favorite NASCAR driver, was written on her arrows on the second day of the Classic Pro/AM.
When they are on the road, Nesbitt and her father look for races to attend, most often dirt track races.
During a trip to Alabama, Nesbitt had the opportunity to ride around Talladega Motor Speedway in Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr.'s number 43 race car.