MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A furious comeback and a national air rifle championship proved to be not enough today, as the No. 1 West Virginia rifle team fell just short at the 2011 NCAA Rifle Championships, shooting a combined score of 4697 and finishing in second place in Columbus, Ga.
Kentucky won its first national championship with a team score of 4700. The Wildcats’ and Mountaineers’ final scores rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in championship history.
Defending champion TCU finished third (4664), while Jacksonville State placed fourth (4650) and Murray State finished fifth (4634).
“It’s tough to lose by such a small margin,” says fifth-year coach Jon Hammond. “Kentucky had two great days and finished with a school-record score.
“Despite the overall loss, we had a good, solid two days and the team should be very proud of its effort.”
Down seven shots (2336-2329) to the Wildcats after yesterday’s smallbore championship, WVU (11-2, 5-1 GARC) mounted a valiant comeback effort, shooting 2368 air rifle and winning the discipline national championship inside Columbus State’s Frank G. Lumpkin Center. The title is the Mountaineers’ second in three years.
UK shot 2364 and finished second in air rifle. TCU shot 2351 to finish in third place.
“It’s really nice to come back to Morgantown with another air rifle title,” Hammond says. “The team did everything it could to overcome yesterday’s deficit, and that resulted in our high score and win.”
Senior Nicco Campriani, the reigning air rifle champion, won today’s individual title with a championship record score of 701.0. The Florence, Italy, native shot a near-perfect 599 (100-100-100-100-99-100) in the open relay and 102.0 in the finals. He is the first WVU national champion since Marcos Scrivner won the smallbore title in 1997. Additionally, he is the first air rifle champion since Trevor Gathman (1996). All-time, WVU has won 17 individual national championships since 1980.
“I’m so happy Nicco got the win today,” Hammond says. “It almost seems natural for him to conclude his Mountaineer career as a national champion.”
Sophomore Petra Zublasing shot 698.1 and finished second overall. The Appiano, Italy, native sat in fourth place after the open relay with a 593 (98-100-100-99-97) mark, but shot a finals-best score of 105.1 to push her ahead of TCU’s Sara Scherer and UK’s Henri Junghanel.
“Petra shot an incredible final,” Hammond explains. “Her score was just a great cap to the weekend.”
Junior Justin Pentz shot in his first NCAA finals and finished fifth overall with a score of 694.7. The DuBois, Pa., native shot 591 and sat in a three-way tie after the open relays. He and UK’s Heather Greathouse advanced to the finals after a five-shot shootoff, where he shot 103.7.
Senior Andy Lamson shot 585 and was the fourth Mountaineer to count toward the team score. Classmate Tommy Santelli opened the day and shot 580 in the first relay.
Today’s finish gives the Mountaineers a top-three finish in each of the last three seasons. WVU won its nation-best 14th title in 2009 and finished in third place last season.
WVU, the two-time reigning Great American Rifle Conference champion, has now concluded its 2010-11 campaign. Today’s championships conclude the collegiate careers for seven Mountaineer seniors: Campriani, Lamson, Santelli, Brandi Eskew, Andraz Poje, Kyle Smith and Ashley Zultanky.
National Rifle Association All-America honors will be announced next week.