MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - March Madness is in the air, and not the basketball variety. With the opening of the 2011 NCAA Rifle Championships today, West Virginia sophomore Petra Zublasing is beginning to feel the squeeze.
The gauntlet began two weeks ago when Zublasing joined the Mountaineers in defense of their Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) championship in Oxford, Miss. After successfully securing the squad’s second straight title, the Appiano, Italy, native jetted off to her home country and shot at the 2011 European Championships. Following a week-long stay, she and WVU teammate Nicco Campriani flew back to Morgantown before boarding another plane, bound for Atlanta, Ga., and the NCAA championships, on March 9. With hopes of returning to Morgantown on March 13 as a freshly-crowned national champion, Zublasing will enjoy a short stay before settling into a day-long flight to Sydney, Australia, for the International Shooting Sport Federation Sydney World Cup, slated to open on March 21.
“Busy,” was all Zublasing could muster in response to her current state. “I don’t know how to prepare! When I travel for long spurts, I go into a self-safety mode. I’ll sleep everywhere. When you sleep, your brain shuts off. I try to sleep on the plane, on the bus and in the hotel – everywhere! That’s how I get over the travel It’s energy saving.”
Zublasing has been exerting an increased amount of energy over the last seven months. She enrolled in WVU last August with lofty expectations, as her successful reputation as a member of the Italian national team preceded her. Yet the competitive student-athlete, a civil engineering major, was thrown an immediate hurdle and was forced to sit out the team’s fall season due to transfer rules.
“Not competing was kind of nice because I could work on a lot of technique without worrying about shooting a 9.0 or not,” she explained of the setback. “I wanted to compete and be challenged, but it also was nice to not have to.
“This semester, even if I didn’t want to be challenged, I had to face it because I’m with the team now. I have to push through challenges. You’re tired and your body hurts, but that doesn’t matter. If your score is bad, nobody asks you why. Everyone just sees it as a bad score.”
Zublasing’s competitive fuel was not tempered by her move to Morgantown. As an international shooter, she was accustomed to shooting for herself – team scores are not common overseas. While she appreciates having the support of her fellow Mountaineers, she says that she has always held herself accountable for each shot, team or no team.
“It’s a principle,” she elaborated. “Even if I knew I wasn’t going to win when I was younger and shooting for the national team, I never gave up. That thinking developed into never, ever, ever giving up. It’s not that you are shooting for yourself or a team, it’s just that it’s not right to give up. You always have to give your best.
“You’re going to cry after a match if you don’t shoot well, and if you give up you’re going to cry even more. If you do your best, and you can’t do anything more, then it was just a bad day. You can’t cry over that. When you shoot for a team, you have to do your best just on principle and you have to take responsibility for your score.”
“Petra is ridiculously competitive,” said fifth-year coach Jon Hammond. “She does not like to shoot poorly. I don’t try to put pressure on her, but I know she isn’t used to shooting for a team score and that this has been an adjustment. Ultimately, she has to just shoot for herself, and her scores are always going to help the team.”
Having only shot in seven matches this season, including a second-place finish at the conference championship with an aggregate score of 1175, Zublasing is facing her biggest challenge yet as a Mountaineer this weekend at the national championships. Owning a 594 air rifle average and a 583.17 smallbore average, she feels confident in her shot and is excited for the new test.
“Everyone is excited,” she reiterated. “A lot of international shooters have told me that after the world championships, this is the next best match. I’m excited, but I don’t know what to expect.”
“I don’t have any doubt that Petra will handle the championships OK,” Hammond said. “She needs to go into the weekend not focusing on her team or other shooters, but thinking about herself and shooting to her capabilities. She’s a seasoned competitor, and I think she’ll enjoy this match.”
Zublasing’s anxiety is calmed by the fact that the Mountaineers lost to both No. 2 TCU and No. 4 Kentucky this season. She says the defeats, especially the late-season loss to the Wildcats, may have been a blessing in disguise for the Mountaineers.
“I’m almost glad we lost to Kentucky and still shot well after,” she said of WVU’s 4696-4646 defeat in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 5. “I think we were thinking that we were the best, and we needed a wake-up call. We needed to remember that we can’t win unless we give our best.”
Since the defeat, the Mountaineers have shot a nation-best 4704 in three straight matches, including their victory at the GARC Championship on Feb. 26-27.
In order to keep that streak alive and secure the squad’s second national title in three years, Zublasing calmly states that each shooter must keep their focus and shoot to their potential.
“I hope we don’t lose our nerve,” she said. “We’re all going to be excited. It’s just going to come down to how we handle everything.
“Everyone has to do their best and cannot depend on just one or two shooters. We’re a team. I may have a bad day. We need everyone on the team to do his best. We all need to step-up.”
While dependence on a team was a foreign concept for Zublasing, she believes that she is a stronger shooter since joining the Mountaineers and the madness that has surrounded her this past year, a madness which promises to reign at least for the next three weeks, will be beneficial in the end.
“I’m drained right now, I have to admit that, but I think all of this is going to help me down the road,” she said. “I just know I’m getting better. I work with a psychologist, I shoot every day and I workout two to three times a week. I can’t do any more than I’m doing, so it’s giving me a sense of calm. I know I’m getting prepared (for the future) and there isn’t much more I can do.”
Only half-way through a maddening travel schedule, Zublasing may be looking forward to extra sleep, but she knows there’s no time for rest with an NCAA title on the line, and that any slumber will be sweeter as a national champion.
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