A New Beginning

By Gabriela Zych

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Much like the majority of high school students, I didn’t enjoy running. I’d go as far as saying I didn’t even like the thought of running.

At my high school, the rule was that you could waive a PE credit if you participated in a sport. Being the savvy freshman that I was, I chose the sport that I thought would involve the least amount of running and physical activity.


I’d never even shot a gun before.

My expectations couldn’t have been lower, but somehow, I made it past cuts when I tried out for the team.

And I’ve been shooting ever since.

What I thought was a loophole that would get me out of running, I discovered an underlying passion for a sport I had previously never thought twice about.

I understand my introduction to the sport was far from conventional, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a freshman on the Memphis rifle team, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t stumbled my way into a sport that has become such a prominent part of my life.

Being born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, to parents who immigrated to the United States from Poland, these opportunities are exactly what they had in mind for me when they came to this country.

In what’s become a theme in my life, Memphis has given me a fresh start to create moments and memories I’ll remember forever, and it all started when I picked up that rifle for the very first time.

Progress isn’t linear

In the time I’ve started rifle, one powerful lesson I’ve come to learn is that progress isn’t linear. Rifle is a sport of making adjustments, so anytime I change my positioning, or if my coach adds more weight to my gun, my scores are likely going to dip.

That can be frustrating, but I’ve also grown to appreciate the fact that these adjustments are going to improve my scores in the long run.

Instead of searching for that instant gratification of high scores, I’ve come a long way in learning what I need to focus on in order to become a top shooter.

As I kept improving and learning the physical and mental requirements of the sport, shooting rifle in college appeared to be a realistic possibility for me.

I couldn’t have been more ecstatic because beyond the success I was fortunate to achieve early in my career, I just genuinely love the sport.

And I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to take it to the next level.

A leap of faith

When it came time to choose a college, Coach Morgan Phillips sold me on her program at Memphis almost immediately. She’s a young coach, so I appreciated her youthful energy and ability to relate to her student-athletes.

While shooting rifle was my main motivation in attending college, in addition to being the first one in my family to attend college, I also looked forward to getting out of Alaska and exploring the rest of the country.

I love Alaska, but I knew if I wanted to challenge myself and grow as a person, I had to take that leap of faith and move to Memphis.

My parents certainly didn’t love their daughter going to a school 4,000 miles away from home, but they also understood Memphis was a great rifle program and knew I was in good hands with Coach Morgan.

I love Alaska, but I knew if I wanted to challenge myself and grow as a person, I had to take that leap of faith and move to Memphis.


Coming into my freshman season, one thing I knew for sure was I had tons of room for improvement.

Fortunately, I had plenty of teammates to help make that improvement along with me. We were one of the youngest teams in the country with five freshmen and only four returning shooters.

Some might have seen this as a disadvantage, but it was the opposite for us. We looked at this past season as a special opportunity to build something new that would elevate the program for years to come.

We also had a strong team culture and cohesive bond, which I believe undoubtedly played a role in the success we were able to achieve as a team and individuals.

We ended up breaking five school records this season, including shooting over 4,700 as a team against two top-ranked opponents, which was a massive milestone for us.

From an individual standpoint, I had the opportunity to compete at the GARC (Great American Rifle Conference) Championships. I qualified for the smallbore final, which was a monumental goal I set out to achieve for myself. I finished in third and was thrilled with how I performed on the big stage.

I stepped foot on the biggest stage when I qualified and later competed at the NCAA Championships. Competing for a national title as a freshman was not something I expected at all, but I have to give credit to my teammates and coaches for creating such a family-oriented environment that made me love to come to practice every day to shoot and improve.

The best is yet to come

As gratifying as it was to defy expectations as a team and individual in my first season at Memphis, it brings me even greater joy knowing we’re far from a finished product.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of our potential, which is beyond exciting as I look ahead to my next three seasons on the team.

As much as I look forward to setting more school records with my team and continuing to compete for NCAA Championships, it brings me just as much joy – if not more – knowing I’m surrounded by teammates and coaches that support me and hold me accountable to improve and grow.

Being a student-athlete at Memphis is drastically different from my life back in Alaska in about every way you can imagine. But it’s allowed me to challenge myself and push boundaries to exceed my limitations.

I can’t help but notice the parallels between creating this completely new life for myself in Memphis and joining such a young team in search of building the foundation of its program.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Together, we were destined to come together to create this fresh start for one another.

If my first season at Memphis is any indication of how my next three seasons will turn out, I have a great deal to be excited about with a city, university, and team that have captured my heart.