Excellence – Perseverance – Sportsmanship

2015 NRA Intercollegiate Club Rifle Championship - Nathan Switzer, Leigh Yarbrough, JP O'Connor, Rachel Mangan, Madeleine Godwin

2015 NRA Intercollegiate Club Rifle Championship – Nathan Switzer, Leigh Yarbrough, JP O’Connor, Rachel Mangan, Madeleine Godwin

The 6th annual NRA Intercollegiate Club Rifle National Championship was recently held at the US Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, GA. As with all competitions, there were many stories of success and… many learning opportunities. There were also many stories of great sportsmanship. It was a wonderful competition!

The athletes pictured here each have their own stories of challenges and obstacles overcome, and excellence achieved, just like every athlete in every sport.

Madeleine quietly went about her business and swept everything. She was 1st in both the 60 shot standing air rifle and 3 position smallbore events, easily winning the Overall Aggregate Championship, and held the top spot on both All-Star teams. She and I worked together in a clinic I did at her club in fall 2013, kept in touch a bit since then, and have recently started working together again. She has faced a number of challenges in shooting and life and has worked hard to excel… all while remaining positive, quiet, and humble. Her primary coach is Nathan who is and has been a student of mine for many years, so Madeleine had to “put up” with my ideas from him as well, while also benefiting from his deep experience and insight.

Rachel was 2nd overall, 4th air, 3rd smallbore, and was named to both first teams of the All-Star team. She has worked very hard this year to improve her shooting and toughen her competitiveness. Just two weeks earlier, she took a huge step forward in the southeastern collegiate rifle conference final when she battled 7 others to be one of the last three finalists standing. She kept battling and took gold against the top athlete from NC State (silver) and from the University of North Georgia (bronze). It was really fun to watch her work that final! Rachel is a completely different competitor compared to who she was at the beginning of the season. It has been wonderful to watch her transform herself!

Leigh, the last year’s overall aggregate champion, was 4th overall, 3rd air, 6th smallbore, and was named to both All-Star teams. All this after 6 months off to heal a left wrist injury and recuperate from an illness. Her only two smallbore matches after the time off were sectionals and this event.

Her wrist still isn’t fully healed yet, and by the second prone series of the smallbore 3×20 prone stage, I could hear hear moan in pain after each shot. But she never gave up and completed the match… and she never said a word before, during, or afterward about how it affected her. On match day, we just shoot.

During both events in this championship, we noticed that she didn’t quite have her usual “edge” but there was no obvious reason. Sometimes that is how things go. No, it wasn’t because of the 6 months off. She was very sharp the previous weekend when she and Rachel spent a couple of days on the range with me doing competition intensity drills. Later we discovered why: the day after the match she became very sick and had a 102 degree fever for a couple of days. When your body is fighting an oncoming illness, it cannot respond as usual, even days ahead of time. The timing was unfortunate, but we bring our best to each competition and we grow for the next one.

The girls almost swept the podium for the overall aggregate. However, Cory Miller of New Mexico kept the pressure on and took 3rd overall ahead of Leigh. On the second day, he was set up right next to Madeleine, so it was fun watching them side by side go head to head as they fought each other for the top two air rifle medals!


Speaking of the fun watching those two battle, and fun watching all the athletes that weekend, There is something that I really love as a coach that isn’t often talked about. I love watching my athletes and other athletes shoot. I love watching them compete. I love watching them train, even when it isn’t going well. They are learning and having fun – or learning about overcoming rough spots, which in the end is fun. Sometimes, but not often enough, I even say to them “I love watching you shoot.” You should see their reaction – it is awesome!

Many coaches and parents worry about the score or if Suzie or Johnnie is going to do well and then get all over them on the ride home. Of course I want my athletes to do well. But that will come in the due course of time. If they do well, as they did in this competition, I am happy for them. If they fall short of their goals, it is perfectly fine; we learn from our mistakes and we go back to work. More on this topic here.

I just love watching them shoot. These athletes certainly gave me something fun to watch that weekend! And they all came off the line with smiles knowing they had given it their best. That is the best reward of all, for them and for me, for all the long hours on the range.


Due to some computer issues, the script for the awards ceremony had 2 team errors and an individual overall aggregate error. Luckily, the errors were caught during the ceremony and corrected. The incorrect awardees asked if they could come up and present the awards to the correct awardees. It was a great scene to see the teams (Penn State and Illinois ROTC) come up, stand in front of the platform, and award the medals and trophies to the correct teams! The crowd roared!

Then, Leigh and Rachel, who are fierce competitors and good friends, came up on the platform side by side, each with an arm around the other, turned and gave each other a big hug while the crowd applauded and cheered, and then Leigh gave Rachel her award. Both their fathers, and coach, were bursting with pride!

As a coach, I am very lucky to be able to work with athletes like the four pictured above, and so many others like them.

Get Involved

If you want to shoot rifle in college, and are not on an NCAA rifle team, you may participate on a club team, or as a solo athlete. Same for pistol. The NRA Intercollegiate Club Rifle & Pistol National Championships are two great competitions! And there are plenty of competitions during the regular season. For example, Leigh (as a solo athlete) and Rachel (as a member of the Clemson club team) have participated in the southeastern collegiate rifle conference the past two seasons. Please contact me directly (using the “Contact” menu item of the blog) if you wish to learn more and get involved.


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