UTEP Rifle Coach Andrea Palafox
The last time UTEP was a National Rifle Factor ten years ago, Amanda Palafox was the driving force.
She earned five All-Americans from 2009 to 2012 on her way to earning her psychology degree, then held several different jobs, including teaching yoga, in New York City and her native Mexico.
In August, she was chosen to resurrect the program at her alma mater. She comes from her hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico, where she competed professionally and coached.
UTEP’s first rifle game under Palafox was scheduled for last week in Nebraska, but the Miners were stranded at the Phoenix airport and had to postpone. They are now set to open at the Air Force on Saturday as they look to break a 16-game losing streak dating back to 2020.
Palafox is still actively competing in a bid to represent Mexico at the 2024 Olympics.
After:Facing off the court: Sara Pushtahija, first-year volleyball player
What made you want to come back to UTEP?
Whenever I was a student-athlete here, I really enjoyed being with the team here in El Paso. It was the first time I had moved away from home. It was a very good experience for me. All I wanted to do when I was a teenager and in my twenties was shoot. It was really great to be here at the range all these years and represent UTEP. …
After different experiences in life, I realized that was what I wanted to do. I love shooting, I love teaching, I realized I love teaching when I became a yoga teacher. Then I thought to myself, I like yoga, but I don’t like it as much as shooting.
At some point, I don’t know when, I realized that my dream job was to coach at a university in the United States. I thought, whenever I get the chance, it’s something I want to do, it’s the dream. I applied for different jobs, I finally discovered UTEP. It was my main objective. I loved this place when I was a student. I didn’t know if I would make it or not, but fate brought me here.
Is there pressure coming back to your alma mater?
I feel really comfortable because I already know a lot of people here since I was a student. This is the right place for me. I feel happy, I feel the support of the department. A lot has changed since I was a student here, in a positive way. Some of the things I didn’t have when I was a student we have now. There is more support from trainers. At the time, we weren’t doing bodybuilding. Now I know we have access to it.
You are still in professional competition. How difficult is it to juggle between training and competition?
It’s a challenge. I want to be there for them and I want to be at all their competitions, but there are certain dates that conflict. I have to plan ahead so I can combine everything to make it work. Next year I have to qualify for the Mexico team and then go to international competitions. It’s difficult, it’s a challenge but I have the support of the athletic department.
It’s a relief, because it’s been my dream since I was a child. I find inspiration in two coaches who have done the same thing. The West Virginia coach (Jon Hammond) went to the Olympics when he started his coaching job, and the TCU coach (Karen Monez) was also competing, at one point competing against his own students. It’s an inspiration that tells me it’s possible, I just have to find a way to make it work.
How does UTEP improve?
Recruit the right people, people committed to sport and who have knowledge of sport. I don’t expect to have world-class shooters right away, but I have the knowledge that will help any athlete reach a high level and improve. We have everything we need here. The range is incredible, we have the ammo. Once I find the talent and people with the right disposition to learn and change when needed, it will make a difference.
Where will recruitment be concentrated?
Most schools that have won nationals or are at the top have international students. I think that makes a big difference. This is partly because international students bring a different commitment and have a different vision of what they want to do.
Coming here from Mexico was a very different experience and I think that is true for most international athletes. In Mexico we don’t have such a range, we don’t have access to the equipment that we have here. This desire, to really want to take advantage of what we have and improve the skills according to all the equipment and the competition, is important.
Participating almost every weekend is what made me feel like I was progressing. In my country, we competed maybe three times a year. Here every weekend you have a competition and the chance to improve every time.
What are the team’s prospects this year?
They have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, their experience with the previous coach was not great. There was a lot of resistance because they had suffered trauma as a result of this experience. I don’t know the details. They didn’t accept my comments at first, it was difficult the first two weeks. Once they realized I was different from the previous coach, I started to see more commitment, willingness to learn and do new things. I see a lot of potential.
The problem here is that most of them are graduates, we only have one junior coming back next year. It’s a challenge. Their mind tends to go to graduation. But after two or three weeks of working with me, they changed. They are open to trying new things.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; [email protected]; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.