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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Ranked No. 1 and boasting the nation’s top collegiate score, the No. 1 West Virginia rifle team is set to shoot at the 2011 NCAA Championships, hosted by Columbus State University, March 11-12, in Columbus, Ga. The event will be held in the Frank G. Lumpkin Jr. Center on the Columbus State campus and at the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning.
The Mountaineers (11-2, 5-1 GARC) will shoot for their nation-best 15th national title and their second championship in three seasons. WVU made a historical comeback in 2009, recovering from a sixth-place smallbore finish to shoot a combined score of 4643 and win its first title since 1998.
WVU finished third at last year’s championship with an aggregate score of 4641. TCU shot 4675 and won its first national title, while Alaska-Fairbanks finished second with a score of 4653. The Nanooks rank second behind the Mountaineers with 10 titles and most recently won three straight from 2006-08.
WVU enters the championships riding an unprecedented streak, having shot a nation-best 4704 in each of the last three matches. Most recently, the score was good enough for the Mountaineers to secure their second consecutive Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) championship on Feb. 26-27, in Oxford, Miss.
“We’ve been shooting well this semester and we just want to maintain that,” says coach Jon Hammond. “We’ve had some good training sessions over the last few weeks. I think we’ve prepared better this season for the championships. While it is just another match, we’ve prepared for the distractions and different circumstances that we will face.
“We feel good going into this weekend, but we know we have to go out there and shoot the best we can. If the team stays focused and doesn’t get caught up in the situation, I think we can have one more good performance.”
Ranked No. 1 in the nation despite suffering losses to No. 2 TCU (4674-4663) on Oct. 24 and No. 4 Kentucky (4696-4680) on Feb. 5, the Mountaineers own a season average of 4682.57. The team averages 2360.29 air rifle and 2315.79 smallbore.
In addition to the aggregate team record, WVU also shot a school-record 2376 air rifle on Feb. 12 and a school-best 2336 smallbore on Feb. 26.
Five student-athletes will represent the Mountaineers at the championships: seniors Nicco Campriani, Andy Lamson and Tommy Santelli, junior Justin Pentz and sophomore Petra Zublasing. Lamson and Santelli have shot for WVU at the last two championships, while Pentz competed as an individual smallbore qualifier in 2010. This weekend’s tournament will be the first for Campriani and Zublasing.
“I’m pretty confident in this group,” Hammond says. “Though Nicco and Petra haven’t shot at the championships before, they are international shooters and handle pressure well. Justin has come on strong this semester, and he is mentally tough. Andy and Tom have the benefit of shooting at the championships before and know what to expect.”
Campriani enters the championships as the Mountaineers’ top shooter, owning season averages of 596.8 in air rifle and 588.4 in smallbore. He has shot a school-record 600 air rifle twice, and also tallied a program-best 1192 aggregate score on Feb. 6. Most recently, he swept the individual titles at the GARC Championships and was named the conference’s senior and shooter of the year.
Though Zublasing has only shot in seven matches, she ranks second on the team with 594 air rifle and 583 smallbore season averages.
Lamson, Pentz and Santelli have all shot personal-best smallbore scores this season, with Lamson most recently shooting 587 at the conference championships and finishing in second place overall (685.7 final score). Pentz shot 588 on Nov. 14, while Santelli shot 585 on Oct. 24. Additionally, Pentz shot a personal-best 595 air rifle on Feb. 12.
Eight teams will shoot at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Alaska-Fairbanks, Navy, Jacksonville State, Murray State and Army join the defending champion Horned Frogs, the Wildcats and the Mountaineers.
The smallbore competition opens tomorrow at 8 a.m. at Fort Benning, with air rifle set to follow on Saturday at 8 a.m., at the Lumpkin Center.
Fans wishing to follow the Mountaineers in action can find a link for a video stream at www.MSNsportsNET.com.