Soon after Matthew Byrnes completed his 50-meter round at the Eastern Regional Collegiate Championships in April, he realized he had accomplished something special.
It was just a matter of waiting to find out how special it was.
And he was finally recognized for that achievement last month.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Byrnes, 21, of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township. “I’ve been competing for a long time.”
The 2019 Southern Regional High School graduate scored 695 out of a possible 720 points in April at the regional tournament at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. His record-setting score broke the male national collegiate compound record for USA Archery.
The performance also earned him a spot on the all-Eastern Regional team and qualified him for the U.S. Collegiate National Championships in May. He finished sixth at the national tournament, earning All-American status.
Byrnes shot very well at the regional tournament in the spring, he said. In fact, “it was probably the best I was shooting in a while.” And once he found out about the record, that tournament turned out to be even better.
USA Archery is the national governing body for the Olympic sport of archery.
Byrnes’ record was a culmination of years of dedication to the sport.
Byrnes’ father introduced him to the sport when he was just 4. About three or four years later, Byrnes received his first first tournament-style bow, saying he practiced with the bow for a couple years before entering any tournaments.
He joined his first official tournament when he was about 10.
“From then on, I just have been shooting competitive archery,” Byrnes said. “It’s been my whole life.”
Byrnes reached out to USA Archery following the competition to apply for the record. But because the organization was busy and still trying to catch up from COVID-19-related delays, it took awhile to get the official news. He finally heard back from USA Archery a few months ago, and received the official certificate this month.
Byrnes knew he had the record, it was just a matter of waiting. But he was not impatient about it. Byrnes just kept practicing and improving his craft, saying he always tries to stay focused on his upcoming tournaments rather than those he has already completed.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind, but I just put it aside,” Byrnes said about patiently waiting to hear about the record. “I try to leave that type of stuff out of my head.”
There was no archery team at Southern Regional, but Byrnes always competed in tournaments and attended local clubs, such as Garden State Archery in Jackson Township, Ocean County. But those clubs are mainly for individuals to go shoot and develop skills.
Byrnes has never been on an organized team.
“Being at Atlantic Cape, I get to be with a team. Every day I go to practice and have those other people help push and motivate me to shoot better,” Byrnes said, adding that head coach Chad Affrunti and assistant coach John Repnicki have been very influential in his development.
“Having that experience now, it’s pretty exciting. I never had that type of experience before.”
Last year, Byrnes was the only archer on the team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the Buccaneers have 19 archers, each competing in either male and female recurve, male and female compound or male and female bowhunter divisions.
Byrnes competes in the compound division.
“It is definitely exciting to realize that someone who comes through your program shot the best score that has ever been shot by a compound shooter,” Affrunti said about Byrnes’ record. “It’s definitely an exciting thing.”
And having that type of leadership on the team is very valuable, Affrunti said.
“He can set an example for the kids,” Affrunti added. “They can see first-hand his work ethic. He practices three or four hours every day, and that sets an example for the new kids coming in. They see what they need to be successful.”
Atlantic Cape is scheduled to compete in the Eastern Seaboard Championships from Nov. 13-14. The Buccaneers then have the Holiday Open on Dec. 4. Both events are home in Mays Landing, according to the team’s website. Atlantic Cape will travel to Manheim, Pennsylvania, to participate in the Lancaster Archery Classic on Jan. 22.
The Buccaneers will have at least six more tournaments after that.
“I have always tried to lead by example,” Byrnes said. “I try not to come off as gloating or anything. It was a pretty cool moment to have the record announced and everything, but I don’t want people to look at me for having the record. I want people to look at me for my hard work and dedication to the sport and academics.
“I always try to put the team before myself,” said Byrnes, who is excited to participate in team rounds this season.
And his goal is to help the team grow.
“I’m looking forward to (the rest of the year),” Byrnes said. “A lot of people on the team are new, and never had the experience before. But they come four or so days a week to shoot. ... Obviously, our goal is to win. There are a lot of strong programs, but with our hard work and dedication, we could make an impact.”
After college, Byrnes said he wants to continue competing in archery. He is studying engineering at Atlantic Cape, and plans to continue to pursue that degree at a four-year school.
The goal this season is to top 700 points and break the record again, something that he has done in practice, Affrunti said.
“At minimum, we hope he is an All-American again, but the sky’s the limit for Matt,” Affrunti said. “He can pretty much achieve what he wants to do. He is one of the top shooters in the country, and any given day he can win it all.”
Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217