MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When it is championship season and a national title is on the line, most student-athletes are celebrating how far they’ve come and the opportunity to compete.
For West Virginia University rifle team member Thomas Kyanko
, preparing to shoot for a second straight and nation-best 16th NCAA title involves quite the opposite.
“I’m excited to go but I have to focus on my training,” the junior shooter said. “Rather than psyching myself up, I need to just set my sights on and be prepared for and dedicated to the championship.”
The Wellsburg, W.Va., native started shooting in eighth grade and immediately loved the sport. His dad, who knew nothing about shooting as a competitive sport, introduced him to the lifestyle.
“My dad drove past a shooting club one day on his way to work and checked it out,” Kyanko explained. “I decided to go to one of its junior shooting nights, and I just really enjoyed it. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ll come back and give this another shot,’ and I did, literally.”
Kyanko prides himself on being a Mountaineer, and knew his dedication and preparation since his early days had paid off when he signed to be a Mountaineer.
“Growing up in West Virginia, you hear ‘WVU, WVU, WVU,’” said Kyanko. “It’s special because we don’t have a professional team in any sport. Our team stands out, and we get a lot of recognition and the loyalty of the state. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, because I love being a part of something like that.”
Kyanko has been consistently improving since he started the sport. He’s been shooting at a handful of national competitions for many summers and as a Mountaineer for three years. He’s averaging an aggregate 1164 score, 579 in smallbore and 585 in air rifle this season. When it comes to the NCAA Championships this weekend, he’s not too concerned.
“The sheer number of people at national competitions is much larger than at NCAAs,” Kyanko said. “Of course I have more at stake, because I’m contributing to a team, but the format is the same. I will be comfortable and familiar. We can’t get too excited. It’s all about the routine.”
The Mountaineers are excited, no doubt, but there are no true off weeks to celebrate in college athletics. While they may not have competed last week, the team is getting comfortable in a routine that will hopefully prove title-worthy this weekend.
“We just train, train, train,” explained Kyanko. “It’s not time to drastically change anything. It’s time to come together and do what we know each of us can do and ultimately, bring home a championship won by a team of really good shooters.”
Kyanko will focus on his individual contribution to his team at this weekend’s championships.
“I want to have a performance that I come away from having done everything I wanted to do,” Kyanko explained. “Most people probably expect me to say I want to win, but that’s not under my control or anyone else’s individual control. It’s better to focus on yourself and not on what is partially determined by everyone else.”
Kyanko, along with his teammates, will shoot at the NCAA Championships this weekend, March 14-15, at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range and CFSB Center, in Murray, Ky.