With less than one month left in its season, the West Virginia University rifle team has only one thing on its mind: winning. Championship season has arrived, and the three-time defending Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) champions are ready to shoot for their fourth.
“I don’t know how many teams have won the title four years in a row,” said coach Jon Hammond. “It would be awesome. It isn’t something that we’ve thought too much about, but it would obviously be a great achievement. It would mean a lot to win the GARC team title for the fourth time.”
The No. 1 Mountaineers closed out their regular season with an 11-1 record, shooting 5-1 in the GARC. Their only loss of the season was to No. 3 Kentucky, whom the Mountaineers competed against for the regular-season and tournament GARC titles since 1998.
WVU’s loss at Baker Hall, in Lexington, Ky., gave the Wildcats the GARC regular-season title. UK outshot WVU in the smallbore relay, 2343-2325, and won with an overall score of 4704-4695, despite the Mountaineers making a come back in air rifle, winning 2370-2361.
“Obviously Kentucky will be our main opponent,” said Hammond. “I think we got a little too excited and amped up. We knew they were one of our main rivals, and some of the team just really wanted to beat them.”
The Mountaineers own a conference best six regular-season and championship titles. UK falls one short with five tournament wins, winning its last in 2009.
WVU can’t afford to dwell on the loss though because Kentucky won’t be the only team to put up some tough competition according to Hammond. Army and Nebraska are strong competitors as well.
“The focus needs to just stay on ourselves and not our opponents,” Hammond commented. “We need to have a good solid performance and shoot what we are capable of week in and week out.”
What the Mountaineers are capable of is no small feat. The team broke the NCAA team total record twice in one season. First setting it at 4717 in their win over then-No. 10 Memphis on Oct. 16 and following it up less than one month later by shooting 4720 at home against Ole Miss on Nov. 9.
In association with their NCAA records, the team also set new discipline and individual records as well.
Most recently, Senior Petra Zublasing
shot a 594 smallbore mark against Murray State, on Feb. 9, breaking the school record of 593, first shot by Olympic Gold medalist Nicco Campriani in 2010. The Appino, Italy, native set the aggregate school record at 1193, in the same match, topping Campriani’s record of 1192 shot in 2011.
As a team, the Mountaineers shot a school-record 2348 in smallbore twice this season, with the last being on Oct. 16 against Memphis. To add to that achievement, they also shot a school-record 2376 air rifle twice this season, most recently at Alaska-Fairbanks on Nov. 16.
To keep up with the high standard they have already set, Hammond said the Mountaineers must remain disciplined and focused with their shooting during the matches.
“The GARC Conference Championships is a really good match and has a high level of competition,” Hammond said. “It exposes the team to a greater level of competition and a greater tournament size. We consistently have three, sometimes four teams from our conference that qualify for NCAAs. To have our conference tournament be very similar in size and level of competition as NCAAs is fantastic.”
Following this weekend’s NCAA Qualifying match at Ohio State, the team will have no time to rest. With two championships in three weeks, the Mountaineers must dial in and focus on getting the job done.
“We have to prepare the same way that we always do,” Hammond said. “We are continuing to work hard in practice, but we are starting to really prepare for the championships by working on the small details.”
Competing against eight other teams at one time, WVU has no option but to be on its ‘A’ game at all times.
“Everyone is shooting against each other, all in one day,” Hammond noted. “ We aren’t competing against one team and then another after. All seven teams and Navy, who is coming to shoot as a guest with a view of joining the conference next year, will be shooting at the same time.
“Obviously, the number of competitors is a lot greater, and the level of competition is going to be higher. The possibility of one team out of those other seven or eight having a good day is pretty high.”
All the Mountaineers must do to reach their goal of defending their GARC championship title and competing well at the NCAA Tournament is to not lose focus and put forth their best effort.
“I think the goal for the team is to just go and have a really good performance,” Hammond concluded. “It would be great if some of them could make the individual finals. I think if we have a good, solid performance as a team, we will have a good result.”