Though the Alaska Nanook rifle team has been a part of the NCAA for over 40 years, its time as a sport at the university actually began in 1937 – one of the school’s oldest programs. Even before its admission into the NCAA in 1980, the team garnered several wins and noteworthy individual titles, such as six women’s National Rifle Association National Championships in the 1960s and 15 All-Americans from 1961-1970.
In the past 20 years, the Nanooks have claimed the NCAA National Championship title 10 times and have earned four runner-up places. The team has also cultivated 15 individual National Champions and 175 All-American honors since 1988. Past Nanooks include four-time NCAA individual champion and Olympic gold medalist Matt Emmons and current U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit International Rifle team member, Spc. Tim Sherry.
Coach: Will Anti
Hometown: Fort Benning, Georgia
Were you a shooter before coaching? If yes, what were some of your accomplishments? Yes, I was fortunate to be a member of West Virginia University’s Rifle Team. In my senior year, I served as the captain of the program. I was also able to compete as a member of the U.S. Junior Team for several years and compete at various international competitions. Before coaching in college athletics, I was the National Team Coach for Paralympic Shooting with USA Shooting.
Favorite reason for coaching: There are a lot of rewarding aspects to being a college rifle coach. I take a lot of satisfaction in watching athletes grow as shooters and expand their knowledge. I like watching athlete’s long-term progression.
What is a day as your shooter like? Our shooters train three hours a day, five days a week. The time of day is different for everyone and dependent on class times. When possible, I try to schedule them in groups of four or five at a time. I can get a lot more one-on-one time with them in smaller groups, versus having the entire team in at once.
It’s nice when we have a weekend practice or a Friday practice here and there, where we have everyone on the line at once. It’s great energy. Day to day though, we aren’t able to get long periods of technical work with a couple of shooters if we have the entire group on the line at once. We have team workouts twice a week. Next season, we are looking to add a third workout that will likely be yoga-based.
What is your biggest challenge as a coach? The biggest challenge in coaching is tailoring your coaching to 10 or more different athletes. In the beginning, you believe that one explanation, or phrasing, or method, will work broadly. You quickly learn that what resonates for one athlete might as well be German to another. You have to tailor your technical coaching and off/on the line dialogue, depending on the athlete. This is the biggest challenge, but when you see that something you have said clicks, it is extremely gratifying.
Advice for junior shooters wanting to compete in college and for college athletes and graduating college seniors?
To junior shooters wanting to compete in college: Train as much as possible. A lot of the improvement at the junior level is based on getting reps in. Typically, the best juniors in the country are the ones with the most hours behind the gun – not necessarily the best equipment or best coaching.
College athletes: I would also say to take a little pressure off yourself. Almost every college coach was a junior shooter at one time and can remember how nerve-wracking it was to stand on the line with collegiate coaches evaluating you. Don’t let us psych you out. At one point, we were all 16 and shaking in our boots because Jon Hammond was standing behind us at Junior Olympics.
For graduating seniors, it can be an overwhelming time of year. You are trying to finish your collegiate year while beginning to plan the first step of your professional career. Know that it is normal to be overwhelmed and unsure about your next steps. Be open to unexpected opportunities. And always remember to thank the people that have helped you accomplish this major milestone.
Assistant College Coach: Randi Loudin
Hometown: Post Falls, Idaho
Were you a shooter before coaching? If yes, what were some of your accomplishments? I started shooting around the 7th grade in northern Idaho and Western Washington before walking-on at the Ole Miss Women’s Rifle Team.
At Ole Miss, I received my Bachelor of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications, with a minor in Business Administration. I am getting my Masters of Business Administration while working with the Nanooks. While competing, I worked with five different coaches (two head coaches, three assistant coaches) and learned a lot from all.
I have seen the most success in shooting prone – one time earning a spot on the USA team for the 2018 ISSF World Shooting Championships in Changwon, South Korea, before the start of my senior season. Also, at Ole Miss, I set the prone record as the first Rebel in program history to shoot a 200-20x in the Smallbore portion of the match.
Favorite reason for coaching: My favorite reason for coaching is not only helping shooters learn new things in their shooting, but also recognizing their perseverance for day-to-day challenges. I loved, as an athlete, how challenges on the line mimicked the same challenges in my own life (planning, preparing, being honest with how I was doing), and I try to help others see those same correlations.
What is a day as your shooter like? What is your biggest challenge as a coach? Depending on the training time, shooters might start their day either in the classroom or in the range. Will went into the details of the day, so I’ll leave that to him.
I think there are challenges, sometimes, in knowing what kind of support each person needs individually and adjusting to each person. Also, being a graduate assistant coach, I am always finding the balance of range work and schoolwork.
Advice for junior shooters wanting to compete in college and for college athletes and graduating college seniors? Big question! Something I would have told myself as a junior was that it’s normal to be overwhelmed when trying to make all these big life decisions. Where you want to go to school (if you want to go to school), what are you going to major in, what do you want to do for a career, etc. The best thing you can do is just start setting yourself up with options, and then at the end of the day, pick whatever interests you the most.
Whether you go on to a shoot in college, attend college close to home or don’t go to college at all – it’s not whether you make the right decision, but rather that you’re making the decision the right one for you by making the most of it.
Now, for the graduating college seniors… congratulations! You are almost there! I’m sure there have been many ups and downs along the way, but you’re probably a pretty resilient person as a result. It’s okay to be happy and sad all at once that school is ending. But now, whether you’re still shooting or not after school, take the time to try something new! Shooting will always be there if you want to pick it up again.
Name: Jessica Boyce
Hometown/Junior Team: Spanish Fork, Utah / Springville Rifle Junior Team
What is your major? Why? Favorite class? My major is Sport and Recreation Management, concentrating in Sport Management. I chose this major because I enjoy sports, and I want the rest of my life to be involved with sports. Right now, I am really enjoying my Sports Analytics class.
How old were you when you got involved in rifle? I was 13 years old.
Favorite rifle (air rifle vs .22) and stage (kneeling, prone, standing)? I would say air rifle is my favorite, but I love both air rifle and smallbore. Standing is my favorite stage.
What do you do outside of rifle to train and better yourself (workout, meditate, etc.)? We work out as a team twice a week, and I practice mindfulness and breathing about three times a day.
Future plans/goals for rifle and life? I have one more year of eligibility, which gives me another chance to help my favorite team go to the NCAA Championships. Upon graduation, I hope to find a career revolving around Sport Management.
Name: Haley Castillo
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
What is your major? Why? Favorite class? My major is in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. I chose this because it piqued my interest. While I had no immediate idea what I wanted to do after I graduated, I knew it would be somewhere in that area.
I would say one of my favorite classes was Emergency Planning and Preparedness. This was a big eye-opener class for me. It helped me to realize the threats that we face and what mitigative measures can be taken to protect different parts of society.
What/who got you involved in rifle? I was about 15 when I got involved with rifle in my MCJROTC program.
Favorite rifle (air rifle vs .22) and stage (kneeling, prone, standing)? If I had to choose, I enjoy shooting air rifle, mostly because I’ve been shooting it the longest. It comes a little more naturally to me. However, .22 is growing on me. And while kneeling is not my easiest position, I enjoy it because it offers me a challenge.
What do you do outside of rifle to train and better yourself (workout, meditate, etc.)? As a team, we all do daily mindfulness outside of the range. I personally also try to do some imagery of a position that I am working on each night before bed.
Future plans/goals for rifle and life? Border Patrol is my next step after I am done with school. While I do plan to continue shooting, I most likely will not be doing so competitively. However, I can’t say for sure.
Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? I came to UAF with one plan: shoot well. I work well on a team, but I saw the sport as only a one-man show at first. However, once I became a part of the team, I found that not only can I learn from my teammates, but that they also provide a strong support system on and off the line. The people you surround yourself with can influence your behavior, and I am glad for it. My teammates pushed me harder and gave me a better experience than I could have ever hoped for.
Name: Rylan Kissell
Hometown/Junior Team: Denver, Colorado; National Training Center Junior Club
What is your major? Why? Favorite class? My major is Business Administration, and I chose this because I would like to own my own charter fishing business. I love to spend time outdoors, and running my own business will help me be able to do what I love. My favorite class so far has been Modern World History.
What other clubs/sports/hobbies did you have in high school? I swam my freshman year of high school, and then after that I decided to stop doing two sports and just focus on shooting. I spend a lot of time fishing after school and going on hikes in the foothills.
Do you have a mantra or saying? What motivates you? What I like to say to myself on the line is “slow and steady.” It reminds me to keep a slow approach and center on the bull. My motivation is to make the 2024 Olympics, but also to be the best student-athlete that I can be.
What is a travel match like for you? For me, travel matches are a really fun and cool experience. I like being able to interact with the other team and experience shooting in some of the best ranges around the country.
Advice for new competitors joining the sport? If shooting is really what you want to do, then stick with it. There are going to be points when it doesn’t feel like you’re improving and it feels like a struggle, but don’t give up. Persistence and patience are what make good athletes and students.
Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? If you are looking to join a college team, make sure that you keep your grades up. Grades are a huge part of what coaches look at and they could be a determining factor for getting on a team.
Name: Kellen McAferty
Hometown/Junior Team: Littlerock, Washington; Capital City Junior Rifle Cup
What is your major? Why? Favorite class? I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering because I like tinkering with things and learning how they work. My favorite class is unmanned aircraft systems, as we learn about different technologies in UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).
Favorite junior match you competed at? Why? The 2019 Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, because that was my first trip out of the country. It was a great experience to see shooters from other countries compete.
What is a practice day like for you? We practice three hours a day, five days a week. I frequently use SCATT systems, especially in air rifle to train my approach and hold.
What has rifle taught you? Perseverance. Rifle has taught me perseverance through hardships, as it takes a lot of hard work to get to the college level and to push beyond that.
— By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Staff Writer, and Catherine Green, CMP Program Support Staff
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a federally chartered 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is dedicated to firearm safety and marksmanship training and to the promotion of marksmanship competition for citizens of the United States. For more information about the CMP and its programs, log onto www.TheCMP.org.