ST. PAUL - Emily Yang was a seventh-grader with nothing to do but wait while her mom finished her work day as a school counselor. Then a classmate suggested archery.
"It was really scary," she said, recalling her first arrows lobbing toward the target.
Four years later, Yang is a state champion, having outscored 236 high school girls - not to mention all 246 boys - Saturday in Bemidji, Minn.
Her St. Paul district school, Open World Learning Community, is the only St. Paul or Minneapolis school that has an archery team.
Principal David Gundale said Yang is OWL's first state champ in any sport. She's also the first Hmong-American student to win Minnesota's National Archery in Schools Program state archery title and possibly the first student of color, he said.
"The schools that dominate this sport, of course ... have big hunting traditions," Gundale said.
Like many archers, Yang acknowledges a particular pop culture influence. Her favorite book is "The Hunger Games," whose female protagonist is a deadly archer, and she has a mockingjay sticker from the movie on her bow.
"That sounded really interesting in the book," she said.
Archery since has become a major part of her life.
Yang writes fiction for fun and her main character carries a bow and arrows.
She won a bow in an essay contest during eighth grade and set up a target in her Woodbury basement that same year. She practices with her team three days a week and two more days at home.
Yang was named her team's hardest worker her first two years of high school, and she now mentors two archers as co-captain. She has also earned school academic honors.
"Emily's great not just as an archer but ... she's just a really quality person as well," coach Tom Totushek said.
Still, with a personal best of 288, Yang wouldn't have made a list of favorites entering the state tournament. The average top overall score the previous five years was 296.
"I thought I'd shoot well, help the team points," she said.
After a four-hour drive, Yang took her stance at 11:30 a.m. and hit the center ring with 23 of 30 arrows from 10 and 15 meters. She thought she had some eights but upon closer inspection, the other seven arrows each hit the gold section for nine points.
"I was really excited I met my goal of being all in the gold. That's a first for me," she said. "That was very shocking, very unexpected."
Her score of 293 put her in position to medal but she'd have to wait several hours to find out. Some of the state's best archers were shooting later in the day because they also compete in the 3-D target event.
"I kept checking every hour and it was still up there, still up there. I got really anxious toward that last flight," Yang said.
The score held up as no one else topped 290.
"In practice she has been extremely consistent and this year she peaked at state," her coach said.
Boys and girls compete with the same equipment and shoot from the same distances, but winners are crowned for each gender.
Totushek said boys outscore girls by about three points on average but there's little difference among the best archers. Yang is the third girl in the last nine years to put up the top overall score the state event.
"It meant a lot" to outscore everyone, Yang said.
Next, she takes on the rest of the country. The national competition is in May in Louisville, Ky.