A Decade of Friendship
- By Ashleigh Pollart
- February 03, 2012 10:09 AM
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - When walking from the WVU Rifle Range to the hallway to interview the Mountaineers’ two seniors, Michael Kulbacki and Justin Pentz, the first thing one hears is one of them saying 'ladies first,' followed by a clap on the back and then an outburst of laughter from their teammates. From this brief glimpse of the WVU rifle team, this fun-filled atmosphere seems to be the norm. This close team bond is only strengthened by the fact that its two seniors have been friends since hitting their double digits.
"Yeah, we were both in Boy Scouts together," laughed Pentz. "He tells me I was a jerk to him back when I was 11."
"I think it definitely does bring everyone closer," explained Kulbacki after laughing from his teammate's comment. "This year especially, everyone has become closer and they really get along."
The DuBois, Pa., natives also went to the same high school together but had not planned on shooting for the same school after graduation.
"He signed in the early signing period, and I was a little undecided," said Kulbacki. "I almost went to West Point but at the last second I changed my mind.”
It's no secret that the transition from high school to college can be a difficult one, and it can be even more stressful for student-athletes. Luckily for Pentz and Kulbacki, their friendship made it a little easier.
"I think it's nice when you go to a school far away to know someone; having the team is nice because you know the people because it's such a small group," Pentz explained. "It was really nice having someone you could always go to if you needed something."
When asked if they had classes together, the two engineering majors said yes simultaneously and explained that they've had the same schedule since sophomore year. And freshman year? They were roommates.
"I got the letter in the mail that says who your roommate is, and we just thought it was funny because we didn't even try to be roommates," Pentz said, smiling at the memory. "Our coach didn't put us together or anything, but somehow the school put us on the same floor in Towers and then decided to make us roommates, too."
"It was funny. Our freshman year there was a big article in the paper because right away we were both on the counting team, and it said 'Justin Pentz and Michael Kulbacki: they're more than just friends, they're roommates,'" Kulbacki said, both laughing. "Jon has a couple clippings in his office, and everyone gets a big kick out of it."
In over a decade together as high school peers, teammates, roommates and classmates they have plenty of funny stories and favorite memories, including when they spontaneously decided to go turkey hunting one weekend.
"The odds were stacked way against us," Pentz said, smiling.
"We saw three - two females and a male - from a mile away and jumped in my car to go get them," Kulbacki remembered, a smile spreading across his face as well. "We scared the females away accidently because we were talking too loud, but we got the male."
"He didn't know where his women went, so we got him," laughed Pentz. "But anyways, here on the team we've had some really good times."
An example of one of these good times the seniors are talking about is the NCAA Championships. It’s no wonder this big event is on their minds as the NCAA qualifiers are coming up on Feb. 18, followed by the GARC Championships Feb. 25 and 26 in Oxford Miss., and finally the NCAA championships March 9 and 10 in Columbus, Ohio.
So far this season, the currently third-ranked rifle team is in a good place. This could be partially due to the seniors' outlook on each individual match and their team's dynamic.
"I really look forward to each match; the team dynamic is just so great this year," Pentz explained, as Kulbacki nodded his head in agreement. “When everything is done with such a positive attitude and everyone just gives it everything he or she has, it makes it a lot more fun."
Before Kulbacki, Pentz and their teammates can focus on these exciting milestones in their rifle careers, the team must focus on the two last matches of the regular season; WVU welcomes rival No. 2 Kentucky to the WVU Rifle Range on Friday, Feb. 3, for an 8 a.m. match, followed by another 8 a.m. start against NC State on Sunday, Feb. 5.