In order to increase awareness of the sport and provide information to youth seeking to continue their marksmanship careers in college and beyond, the CMP regularly highlights some of the nation’s current collegiate rifle programs. Stay tuned this week as we feature the coach and athletes from the University of Tennessee at Martin Rifle Team!
Q&A with Athletes and Coaches: University of Tennessee at Martin
Throughout its history in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC), the University of Tennessee at Martin has amassed nearly 90 all-time postseason victories, including more than 30 All-OVC air rifle honors, 24 honors Small caliber All-OVC and over 30 OVCs combined. All new air rifle and small bore honors. The team has also cultivated six overall entrants to the NCAA Championships, two OVC Air Rifle MVP athletes, and six OVC Freshman of the Year.
Before the Skyhawks came under current head coach MJ Vowell, the team was led by coach Bob Beard for over 30 years. Beard is the longest-serving member of the UT Martin athletic department and was inducted into the UT Martin Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2014. During his time as a coach, Beard won five OVC Coach of the Year titles. A member of the United States National Guard Shooting Team for 12 years and a Hall of Fame rifle athlete at Murray State University, Beard now serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the UT Martin Skyhawks.
College Coach Questions
Name: M. J. Vowell
Native city: Louisville, Kentucky
Were you an athlete before training? I was a member of the UT Martin team from 1985-1988 under Coach Bob Beard; assigned to US Army International Marksmanship Rifle Section 1991-1993; she participated in the women’s team for the National Matches at Camp Perry each summer and a total of four Counsel Internationale du Sport Miltaire (CISM) games. I have a BS in Natural Resource Management (UT Martin 1988) and various military school and professional accreditations. Retired from the US Army in 2014.
Favorite reason to train? The opportunity to “give back” to a program that provided me with many opportunities.
What is a day like as your athlete? We get up EARLY and practice even before school starts. I started this a few years ago, and it has worked well for the student-athlete (once they get used to the schedule). I make their minds “fresh” before the academic day overwhelms them. At the end of the season, I always review the early practice schedule with the team and they still prefer it. Once practice is over, the rest of the day belongs to them and they focus on academics.
What is your biggest challenge as a coach? Translate mental focus to a practice or game. I was an athlete so I can remember what “good” felt like. It’s not always easy to put that into words.
Advice for young people wanting to compete in college and for college athletes and seniors graduating from college? Participate in as many games as you can to get your name out there and find a manager, even if you have to make video calls sometimes. Contact college coaches early and visit their campus.
Graduating College Students: Apply the lessons learned as a college athlete (leadership, patience, problem solving, service to others, etc.) to your future professional and personal life.
Any additional comments/story/advice you’d like to add? Enjoy being in the moment, whether preparing to be a college athlete, a recent college graduate, or seeking personal and professional excellence. Best wishes for your future success!
#1 College Athlete Questions
Name: raquel sprague
Hometown/Youth Team: DuBois, Pennsylvania. I competed for my high school as well as our club team, DuBois Rifle and Pistol Club.
What is your specialty? My major is Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Veterinary Technology. I plan to continue my education to get my license and become a vet tech. My favorite class I’ve ever taken was animal anatomy and physiology.
Other than rifle, are you part of any other organizations or clubs? I am involved in the UTM Veterinary Sciences club.
How old were you when you got involved in the rifle? I was 10 years old when my father made me take the NRA safety course and I eventually started competing in small local competitions.
Favorite rifle and scenario? I prefer to shoot small bore, and my favorite shooting position is prone.
What do you do outside of the rifle to train and improve? Outside of the rifle, I often refer to Raymond Prior’s “Bullseye Mind” to reflect and train my mind to mentally become a better athlete. Before a game, I always play Sudoku to concentrate.
Future plans/goals for the rifle and life? I plan to keep shooting. I’d like to go back to Camp Perry for the outdoor small-bore nationals and shoot alongside my dad and sister. As for my career, I plan to work at an animal hospital and eventually get my vet tech license.
College Athlete #2 Questions
Name: nickname rates
Hometown/Youth Team: I am from Springboro, Ohio. I would meet up with some other young people at a local shooting range where a couple of former athletes and trainers would help us train.
What is your specialty? My specialty is Business Administration. I want to be able to run my own business but also have a degree that would allow me to work for different types of companies if I wanted to. My favorite classes have been economics and a supply chain management class.
Other than rifle, are you part of any other organizations or clubs? I am one of our team representatives on the student-athlete advisory committee.
How old were you when you got involved in the rifle? I was around 15 years old when I started shooting small bore, but before that I was involved in other shooting sports.
Favorite rifle and setting? I look forward to the BB rifle more than the small bore because it’s less stressful.
What do you do outside of the rifle to train and improve? Outside of the rifle, I watch my caffeine intake and plan to get a good night’s sleep before I shoot. I also make sure to eat and drink before shooting.
Future plans/goals for the rifle and life? By the end of my collegiate rifle career, I would like to make it to the NCAA championship as an individual in at least one rifle. I would also like to compete in some high power matches after college to continue to be involved in shooting sports.
Any additional comments/story/advice you’d like to add? If you want to shoot in college, I recommend you attend the Junior Small Bore and Air Rifle Camp at Camp Perry. I went twice and I consider it a big step to get to where I am now.
College Athlete #3 Questions
Name: joseph kovach
Hometown/Youth Team: Bedford, Pennsylvania. Shoot for the Everett High School Rifle Team.
What is your specialty? I’m a civil engineering student. I chose this major because I want to get involved in the transportation aspect of civil engineering and work for a major railroad. My favorite class currently would have to be trigonometry.
Other than rifle, are you part of any other organizations or clubs? I am a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.
How old were you when you got involved in the rifle? I was 13 years old in eighth grade when I started shooting.
Favorite rifle and setting? My favorite is the .22 because I like being able to change positions. My favorite position would be standing.
What do you do outside of the rifle to train and improve? I watch what I eat, especially when it comes to foods that are high in sugar, and I generally avoid sugary drinks like soda.
Future plans/goals for the rifle and life? My goal with the rifle is to improve each year and achieve a personal best at least once a year. My goals for life are to graduate from university and work for a major railway as an engineer.
College Athlete #4 Questions
Name: alayna walter
Hometown/Youth Team: Avella, Pennsylvania; Frazier simplex
What is your specialty? My specialty is agricultural engineering. I chose this major because I love agriculture and math! My favorite class is any agriculture class, especially ones that allow the class to be outdoors.
How old were you when you got involved in the rifle? I was eight or nine years old when I was introduced to competitive rifle shooting.
Favorite rifle and setting? My favorite rifle is the .22, and standing is my favorite position.
What do you do outside of the rifle to train and improve? Outside of the rifle, I train a few days a week and try to meditate throughout the week and before games or practice.
Future plans/goals for the rifle and life? My plan for this year is to be in the 580 for small bore rifles consistently and in the 590 for air rifles.
Any additional comments/story/advice you’d like to add? Being on a sports team while in college is the best thing a college student could be a part of. From the first day I moved in, I had teammates I could rely on who would always support me, which is true to this day.
— By Ashley Dugan, CMP Staff Writer
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