Carli Cochran stood poised, her compound bow drawn, harnessing concentration on a rainy afternoon in late January. In a moment of subtle elegance, she unleashed an arrow at the nickel-sized bull's-eye of a target 18 meters away, a shot punctuated with a resonating thunk at the indoor range of Lancaster Archery Supply.

"In a lot of sports," she said, "you don't need that focus - as you do in archery - for a couple seconds to shoot a shot.

"I've definitely learned a lot in that couple seconds."

What began as a bonding experience with her father turned into a hobby at age 14. The hobby turned into a competitive niche. Now, after harnessing that focus for 60-100 arrows a day, six days a week, and shooting tournaments on the local, regional, national and international stages, Cochran, 19, ranks among the best compound archers in the world.

A member of the Junior United States Archery Team for three years, Cochran has competed across the U.S., as well as in Poland, Puerto Rico and Columbia. She qualified for this year's World Archery Indoor Championships - Feb. 5-9 in Las Vegas - with the second-highest score among junior girls (1,152) in the Jan. 8 qualifier at King of Prussia.

In a tune-up before the indoor world championships, Cochran joined some of the nation's pre-eminent archers at last weekend's Lancaster Classic, held at Lancaster Archery Supply. She finished eighth in the 29-member women's unlimited division. After finishing ninth in qualifying, she defeated Christie Colin - a professional - in the first elimination round and lost to eventual champion Erika Anschutz, the No. 1 female archer in the world.

The head-to-head rounds of the 2010 Lancaster Classic gave Cochran's focus its first wave of big-stage pressure.

"They set up two lines," she said, "and they set up chairs halfway down the range, and everyone was staring, and this whole place was all crowded. There were about 200, 300 people in here, watching."

Cochran finished sixth in the tournament and applied what she learned from the experience to the national and international levels.

"You learn about (handling pressure) pretty early," Cochran said. "The more tournaments you shoot, the better you're going to get at it."

She set herself apart pretty early, too.

"Early on," said Rob Kaufhold, Lancaster Archery Supply's president, "you could see (Cochran's) determination and the mental toughness. You could tell she was different because of her attitude and her focus."

As she developed, Cochran altered her stance countless times. She learned to eat healthy before tournaments and put together a workout routine to practice twice a week. In five years, she changed bows twice - sponsored professionals upgrade bows each year - and augmented her current weapon with a longer stabilizer, the rod-like instrument designed to steady aim and reduce shock.

The equipment and approach changed as Cochran entered tournament after tournament. So did the competition.

"Helping teach a kid to shoot is one thing when you can get them to shoot well," said Peter Scudner, a USA Archery regional youth coach. "But the level of precision that's needed to compete at the level that Carli's at is just a whole step above because it's so precise. She has to be able to repeat and execute the shot almost perfectly every time over a long period of time."

Last year, Cochran took her precision and her focus outdoors, winning the junior compound female division at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Target Championship.

Without the factors such as wind and rain to challenge her steady shot, the indoor competitions offer Cochran a more psychological test for stability.

"Indoors is a whole different game," Cochran said. "You're standing right next to the person (you're competing against). So close."

And for Cochran, standing next to some of the sport's best at the Lancaster Classic gave her the right kind of tuneup for the World Indoor Championships.

"The better people you practice with," she said, "the better you're going to get because you raise your expectations to their level."

The World Indoor Championships represent the highest level of competition for Cochran. Olympic archery events only feature the recurve, a more traditional kind of bow, not the compound bow, a stiffer type with strings attached to pulleys.

"I think I'll stick with compound for now," said Cochran who has practiced with the recurve. "Until I master that, I wouldn't want to move on to anything else."

Cochran has moved on in a world outside of archery. She graduated from Lampeter-Strasburg in 2010 and studies criminal justice at HACC's Lancaster campus. She plans to pursue a bachelor's degree.

Meanwhile, with international competitions on the horizon and potential sponsors keeping close watch, Cochran continues her routine at the range at Lancaster Archery Supply, learning more and more as she channels her focus, one arrow at a time.

"If I shoot well," she said, "I might as well just keep shooting."

tgross@lnpnews.com