U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- The University of North Georgia has facilitated a scholastic rifle team since the school’s founding in 1873 (then known as the North Georgia Agricultural College). The program entered NCAA status in the fall of 2007, then returning in the fall of 2011 after the hiring of the program’s first full-time coach, former athlete Tori Kostecki. Under her leadership, the team has consistently increased its annual statistics and overall records, earned three Southern Conference (SOCON) titles, six individual SOCON titles and, in 2021, the program’s first NCAA qualifier, Kimberlee Nettles! Go, Nighthawks!
College Athlete #1 – Ryan Sponauer
Hometown/Junior Team: Southington, Connecticut/Junior Rifle Club at Blue Trail Range in Wallingford, Connecticut
What is your major? Favorite class? I am majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Natural Sciences (with focuses on Biology and Ecology) and Social Sciences (with focuses on Criminal Justice). My favorite classes I have taken have been Environmental Sciences as well as History of World’s Religions.
How old were you when you got involved in rifle? I started competitive smallbore when I was a sophomore in high school. I first started shooting, in general, when my father and I started shooting sporting clays when I was 14 years old.
Favorite rifle and stage? My favorite rifle to shoot is smallbore. I really enjoy prone and standing. My favorite type of matches are outdoor prone matches.
What do you do outside of rifle to train and better yourself? I work out at least four days a week, with focuses on cardio and core strength. I also try to manage my time so I can get my schoolwork, practice and workouts done and still hang out with friends.
Future plans/goals for rifle and life? Right now, my plan is to graduate with my degree and find a job in a field that I am interested in. I still plan on shooting matches once I finish school. Even after college, my goal in rifle will stay the same – to learn as much as I can about the sport and get better at it. Shooting competitively has led me to learn about other fields of shooting, which are also very interesting to me, and I plan on pursuing those more after school.
Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? Some advice that I have found very helpful, both in shooting and life, is that it is never too late to have new goals. Five years ago, I had not even heard of competitive rifle. Up until a year ago, I never knew the major I am in now even existed. Goals do not have to be a lifetime thing. They can be something that you find out about tomorrow. You should strive to achieve your goals, even if they are new or improbable, because you never know what you can achieve until you devote yourself.
College Athlete #2 – Kimberlee Nettles
Hometown/Junior Team: Waycross, Georgia/Ware County Rifle Team
What is your major? Favorite class? Early Childhood Education and Special Education – I enjoy working with children and encouraging them to try their best. My favorite class has been Strategies for Supporting Diverse Communities. I have learned how to effectively teach students from all different backgrounds.
What/who got you involved in rifle? I grew up hunting with my grandfather, so I have been around guns my entire life. I was interested in rifle because it is an individual sport and a team sport at the same time.
How many hours a day, and days per week, do you practice? I practice three hours a day, four days a week.
What is a week at college like? A week at college consists of going to class, completing homework, going to practice and maybe a match on the weekends if there is one scheduled.
What is the biggest life lesson you have learned from rifle? The biggest life lesson I have learned is to be kind to myself. If I wouldn’t say it to someone else, I shouldn’t say it to myself.
Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? I am forever grateful for the experiences and life lessons that I have gained by competing on a NCAA Rifle Team. I encourage all juniors to consider shooting in college.
College Athlete #3 Kevin Vaughn
Hometown/Junior Team: Pflugerville, Texas/ I didn’t have a junior team that I was a part of, but I shot in the Travis County 4-H Shooting Sports Club.
What is your major? Favorite class? My major is Criminal Justice, with a minor in Sociology. I chose this major because I want to be a Texas State Trooper, then ultimately a Texas Ranger. My favorite class that I have taken so far would have to be Juvenile Justice. It was intriguing to learn about what makes children delinquent and what continues them into a life of criminality.
What other clubs/sports/hobbies did you have in high school? I played baseball through my sophomore year, participated in our high school’s Marine Corps JROTC program and shot on their marksmanship team all four years.
Do you have a mantra or saying? The saying that I have always followed is something that my dad has said to me numerous times, “Anything worth having takes hard work.” My dad is, hands down, my biggest motivator. He has done everything and more for myself, my siblings and my mom. I strive to be the man that he is every day.
What is a travel match like for you? A travel match means a long van ride with my teammates. Sometimes we laugh and have fun, but most of the time everyone is either asleep or watching a show/listening to music. Then, we get to the hotel, drop our stuff off and have dinner, which is always a great time. Then, it is back to the hotel. We have a short meeting about the match and then go to bed. After the match, it is a repeat of the day before. Needless to say, we have a great time on travel matches!
Advice for new competitors joining the sport? My advice is very short and sweet: Have fun, and live in the moment. However, this sport does take hard work and a lot of dedication, so don’t give up when things aren’t going right. Just remember that you are shooting to have fun, and there is nothing else to it.
College Athlete #4 Jaden-Ann Fraser
Hometown/Junior Team: Surgoinsville, Tennessee/Volunteer NJROTC Rifle Team
What is your major? Favorite Class? My major is currently Political Science/Pre-Law. I chose Pre-Law because I’ve always had a knack for arguing, so I figured I’d make a career out of it. After college, I want to become a lawyer for the Air Force. My favorite class so far has been Public Speaking, as it fits my personality.
Favorite Junior Match you have competed at? My favorite Junior match was definitely the 2019 American Legion National Championship match in Colorado Springs. After a few rounds of Postals sent in from my high school, I was selected to continue on to the final match of the series. Fifteen of the best sporter and precision shooters got a plane ticket and a chance at an amazing title.
It was so enjoyable for me because I had the opportunity to be flown out to shoot at a multi-day match at the Olympic Training Center and meet an amazing array of shooters from all around the country (unknown to me, two would become my future teammates – Dawson Kissik and Morgan Frank). It was my last competition shooting sporter air rifle, and after winning arguably the toughest match of my career, it helped me move on to the next stage of my shooting career – an NCAA program.
I will never forget how hard I worked to make it to that match and how proud my grandmother looked when I won. Without going to that match, I would have never been introduced to Coach Kostecki. The American Legion National Championship was really something special for me.
Do you have a lucky charm that you have on the line with you when you are shooting? Ever since my freshman year of high school, I have always had Turkish Evil Eyes with me. As my former coach “Chief” Greear said, “We aren’t superstitious, we just don’t take chances.” It has been a funny topic of conversation when people see and ask about it, but I have them now to remind me of where I came from and how I’ve gone so far in my shooting career.
What is a practice day like for you? From Monday-Thursday, practice starts at 6 a.m. with team and trainer workouts. After an hour long session, the team parts ways to prepare for our classes that day. Right after lunch, from 12-3, we have our actual shooting practice, which usually starts out with a record set and then more work on certain aspects that we are personally trying to improve. Even with a break or two scattered in, I typically leave the range exhausted. After another class or two, I finally get to go back to my dorm, relax, study and start it all over the next day.
What has rifle taught you?: Rifle has taught me a plethora of life skills aside from shooting itself. I have learned how to deal with stress in emotionally intense situations, as well as managing my mental stability during them. It has also taught me how to manage self-discipline and having to work for what you want in life. It has taught me that nothing happens overnight, and to never settle for mediocrity.
But, above all else, it has taught me that the only limits in this sport, and in life, are the ones we set for ourselves. Nothing about our journey is predetermined – we are the only ones who have the power to say we can or can’t do anything. Someone always has to be the one to win – why not believe it can be you?
Head Coach – Tori Kostecki
Hometown: Powder Springs, Georgia
Were you a shooter before coaching? Yes, I started in JROTC in high school, competed one year for North Carolina State, and then three years for North Georgia. I placed well in-conference each year and was Club National Champion in my senior year. I’ve always enjoyed coaching since I started back in high school. I did a lot of coaching in the Junior Club through college and was happy to begin coaching the team at UNG starting in my senior year. I was both coach and team captain that year and was hired full-time right after graduation.
Favorite reason for coaching: I love watching my students grow into mature adults during their time with me, guiding them to grow as athletes and people in this important stage of life where many are still trying to figure out who exactly they want to be.
What is a day as your shooter like? Monday-Thursday they have workouts at 6 a.m., classes through the morning, practice from 12-3, and classes or studying after. Wednesday, we have a team meeting right after practice. Bi-weekly, I have individual meetings with each athlete, and some athletes will be assigned study hall (based on GPA) in the evenings.
Advice for junior shooters wanting to compete in college and for college athletes and graduating college seniors?
I have two major thoughts for prospective athletes:
1. Time management. The changeover to college and being in control of your own schedule for the first time can be difficult. You need to be able to manage yourself and get things done on a schedule. You are going to be MUCH busier in college than you were in high school!
2. Keep in touch while being recruited. Be proactive and persistent. Coaches are talking to a lot of athletes all at once. The athletes that stand out from the pack are the ones who keep showing up in my email! I need to know about your academics first, then shooting. You will be a STUDENT-Athlete – student comes first!
Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? The best part of the college experience is the experience. I tell my athletes regularly – 10 years from now, you won’t remember what you shot at a qualifier your junior year. You will remember the time you guys decided to race rolling footstools down the hallway of the hotel (true story…) or other fun times with your teammates. College is a lot of fun – don’t lose sight of that.
— By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Staff Writer, and Catherine Green, CMP Program Coordinator
About the Civilian Marksmanship Program
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.