• Wed. May 11th, 2022

Manahawkin resident, Atlantic Cape competitor pursuing his Archery Pro dream

STAY ON TARGET: Matthew Byrnes shoots an arrow from his compound bow during a recent practice session. The collegiate archer competes for the Atlantic Cape Community College. (Photos by David Biggy)

After graduating from Southern Regional High School in 2019, Matthew Byrnes traveled to Ursinus College in Pennsylvania to begin his quest for an engineering degree. He was a track and field pitcher at the time.

During the semester break in his freshman year, Byrnes returned home to Manahawkin and realized he had made a mistake.

“While I was at home I shot my bow every day and realized how much I missed shooting,” he said. “I competed on the track, but it really wasn’t my thing. Archery was my thing. This is what I really wanted to do all the time.

Byrnes finished his freshman year at Ursinus under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic – in February he finished fifth in the shot put at the Centennial Conference Championships before the remainder of the season was canceled – then he moved on. away from the track of the Bears and program on the ground to pursue his true dreams.

“My parents were relieved, especially my father,” he said. “They knew from the start that I should have pursued archery because it’s the sport I really love. But they wanted me to find out for myself.

Archery since the age of 4 – his father, Chris, bought him one at Dick’s Sporting Goods, “basically a string and a bow” – Byrnes went back to his roots and changed direction. He transferred to Atlantic Cape Community in Mays Landing to resume his path to greater things, both academic and athletic.

SKILLED: Matthew Byrnes, a resident of Manahawkin, has been shooting archery since he was 4 years old, but as he continued his college career at Atlantic Cape Community College, he was considering turning pro.

Archery coach Chad Affrunti had tried to recruit Byrnes in the past, and now the Buccaneers, one of the few Division III college programs, have had it for two years. And because he was the team’s only archer during last year’s pandemic, Byrnes received a lot of one-on-one instruction from Affrunti and assistant coach John Repnicki.

“It was awesome,” Byrnes said. “Coach Chad and Coach John have devoted a lot of time to helping me improve, and without them I wouldn’t have accelerated so much in my pursuit of more ambitious archery goals. They really helped me polish a lot of little things.

Of course, the “little things” in archery can make the difference between a great tournament round and one worth forgetting: Missing dead center on target literally amounts to a fraction of an inch. , but doing it a dozen or more times can ruin the chance of a tournament title in a flash. And often it comes down to trust.

“This is where I’ve struggled over the years, with my level of confidence,” Byrnes said. “Like any sport, everyone has good days and bad days. And when my nerves are running out and I lack a bit of self-confidence, this is where I have my bad days. I’m improving with it and my coaches have helped me a lot to get over my nerves.

In April, Byrnes’ nerves were under control as he competed in the 50-meter round of the Eastern Regional College Championships at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He shot a 695 out of a possible 720 – each round consists of 72 arrows and a bull’s-eye is worth 10 points and Matt hit the center 47 times – and Affrunti had a thought.

“My trainer said, ‘I think this could be a record,’ and I said, ‘Oh, wow. It could be really cool. So as soon as I got home that night, I went to my computer and searched for it on the USA Archery website, ”he said. “Sure enough, Michigan State’s Chris Bee held the record 684, so I beat him.”

COMMITTED: Matthew Byrnes knows that in order to reach the professional level he has to perfect his craft, which is why he practices at some point every day.

However, to have a record with USA Archery, archers must submit the score to the governing body and this must go through a verification process, which takes a little time in a normal year. As the pandemic continued to rage this year, the process took a little longer. Byrnes did not receive official news of his outdoor male college record until late September.

“I had to wait a long time so I didn’t want to be too happy until it was official,” he said. “But once I got the letter saying it was official, I got a little emotional. It was my biggest archery achievement to date so it was exciting.

Lane Brandt of Union College has since replaced Matt’s 695 with a 697, but Byrnes still has the rest of the season at Atlantic Cape, in addition to where he will end his college career, to pick it up.

“I want to break it again, of course, with the next major target being a 700,” Byrnes said. “At the professional level, it’s a bit of a benchmark. In a few tournaments I’ve missed a lot of those shots by an eighth of an inch, and shot 700 in practice, so I know I can. It’s just a matter of doing it in competition.

Unsurprisingly, he puts a lot of work into perfecting his craft. For a week, he trains four to six hours a day, including weekends when not traveling and participating in a tournament.

“This is my life. I go to class when I have to go because my studies are what will move me forward later in life. But if not, I am archery,” he said. . “I want to get professional with archery so it’s like any other professional sport. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop the skills to always do well. I aim for perfection. with every round I shoot, so it’s essential to put some time into it.

PURSUIT: Matthew Byrnes recently held the collegiate national record in the men’s 50 compound meters. Now he’s aiming for his first meeting by 700 points.

Eventually, Byrnes, which already benefits from the sponsorship of several entities, wishes to compete at the level of world tournaments. This means that he must be able to hit the target even more regularly than he has in the recent past.

“I’m still an amateur, but if I want to try to be pro with archery, I have to keep doing it every day and keep striving for perfection every day,” he said. “If I want to go to world competitions and be at this level, that’s what it takes. You can’t expect to win if you don’t work at it. And if I go even one day without shooting an archery, I feel bad the next day. I want to do all I can to prepare to compete at this level.

And then after college?

“From Atlantic Cape I want to go to my next school and finish my degree, get pro with archery, then develop my own archery business,” he said. “I really want to make archery my life because I love it so much. This is what I should do, and I’m glad my parents let me figure it out for myself, without pushing me to do it. It made the realization of my true passion more meaningful.

– David Biggy

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