Rifle Season Preview

  • By Shannon McNamara
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  • October 04, 2012 09:00 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The West Virginia University rifle team begins its quest for a nation-best 15th national title this Sunday, Oct. 7, with a shoulder-to-shoulder match at Army, inside the Tronsrue Marskmanship Center, at 9 a.m.

Sunday’s match is a battle of top-five ranked Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) squads, as the Mountaineers, the three-time defending GARC champions, are ranked No. 3 in the 2012-13 Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) Preseason Poll, and the Black Knights are ranked No. 5. WVU earned a 4693-4637 victory over Army last season.

Seventh-year Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond believes his team is ready for its first competition.

“This semester is all about working on technique and trying to improve,” he explained. “I think after a month of practice, they’re all ready to shoot a match. I wouldn’t say we’re at our peak – there’s work to do, but that’s normal for the beginning of the season.”

The Mountaineers must approach the start of the season focused and ready to shoot program-best scores, as reigning national champion TCU shot a winning aggregate score of 4,707 at the Ole Miss Invitational on Oct. 1; the score is three shots better than WVU’s program-best mark of 4,704, a total the Mountaineers shot three times during the 2010-11 season.

“Our goals are always to shoot well throughout the season and then perform our best at the end of the year,” explained Hammond. “If we set records along the way, that’s great. I think this year’s team has the potential to shoot well; we’re going to have to shoot school records to compete and keep up with other teams. If we do shoot records, we won’t jump up and down – that’s what is expected of us. We really have to press on and improve to keep up with other teams.

“Having said that, I think this team has the potential to shoot with any other team. It’s hard to get five shooters to shoot personal bests on the same day, but based on what I’ve seen in practice, if the majority of the team has an exceptional day in the range, we will see some records fall this season.”

Focusing on the Competition

Once again, coach Hammond has put together a competitive schedule for the Mountaineers, as the team will line-up alongside three former NCAA champions, including 2011 champion and GARC foe Kentucky. WVU also will shoot against 10-time champion Alaska-Fairbanks and Army. All three teams shot at the 2012 NCAA Championships.

The Mountaineers will open the season at Army on Oct. 7 and will close out their fall schedule with two matches at UAF on Nov. 17-18. The Nanooks have traveled to Morgantown each of the last five seasons, and WVU owns a 4-1 record over the team during that span. WVU evened the all-time series at 6-6 with a 4676-4626 victory in 2012.

WVU ends its regular season in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 2. The Mountaineers and the Wildcats have battled for GARC supremacy over the last few seasons, and the winner of their shoulder-to-shoulder match also has won the conference’s regular-season crown each of the last four years. WVU is 14-8 all-time against UK.

Four is More

The Mountaineers will shoot for their fourth straight GARC title on Feb. 23-24, in Oxford, Miss.

WVU is the only team to win three consecutive titles, a feat the Mountaineers have accomplished twice (1998-2000, 2010-12). Prior to WVU’s current run, Kentucky won the title in 2007 and 2009, the same season the Mountaineers won the national championship, and Army won in 2008.

Title Hungry

For the first time in three years, the WVU roster is void of any holdovers from the Mountaineers’ run to the NCAA title in 2009. Since 2009, TCU has won two titles, including its first in 2010, while Kentucky won its first in 2011. Prior to the Mountaineers’ victory, Alaska-Fairbanks won three consecutive championships (2006-08).

No. 3 Out of the Gate

The Mountaineers open the 2012-13 season ranked No. 3 in the CRCA Preseason Poll. WVU finished last season ranked No. 6, a ranking determined by its finish at the NCAA Championships.

Defending national champion TCU is ranked No. 1, while Kentucky is ranked No. 2. Alaska-Fairbanks follows WVU at No. 4, and Army is ranked No. 5. WVU will face every team ranked in the Top 5 but TCU. Additionally, the squad will lineup against No. 6 Mississippi and t-No. 10 Ohio State and Nebraska.

From London to Morgantown

Following two 12th-place finishes for Italy at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, senior Petra Zublasing returns to WVU for one last season with the Mountaineers and her final shot at a team NCAA title.

Zublasing is arguably one of the top collegiate shooters. A three-time First Team National Rifle Association All-American, she is the defending NCAA air rifle champion and GARC air rifle and combined score champion.

The 2012 GARC Shooter of the Year, Zublasing paced the Mountaineers in both guns last season, shooting 596.2 air rifle and 586.8 smallbore. Additionally, she shot a collegiate- and school-record 600 air rifle in 2011; she is believed to be the first female NCAA shooter to earn the score.

A Job to Finish

Five lettermen return for the Mountaineers this year: Zublasing, junior Chance Cover and sophomores Taylor Ciotola, Meelis Kiisk and Thomas Kyanko, the 2012 GARC Rookie of the Year. Combined, the quintet owns six National Rifle Association All-America honors.

Zublasing, Ciotola and Kyanko all shot at the 2012 NCAA Championships. In addition to her air rifle win, Zublasing also finished a team-best sixth in smallbore. Ciotola joined Zublasing in the air rifle final and finished sixth.

New Faces

Three shooters join WVU in 2012-13, while two student-athletes look to contribute following redshirt seasons. New to the team this season are sophomore Maren Prediger and freshmen Garrett Spurgeon and Patrick Sunderman, while junior Daniel Sojka and redshirt-freshman Matthew Martin will aim for their first action as Mountaineers.

Prediger, a native of Petersaurach, Germany, is a strong shooter with three years experience on the German National Team. She finished first in the junior women’s 10m air rifle at the 2010 and 2011 German Championships. Prediger brings competitive air rifle scores with her and is expected to contribute to the team scores right away.

A Canton, Mo., native, Spurgeon, a four-time National Junior Olympics qualifier, is one of the top junior shooters in the country. He was the High J2 shooter at the 2010 and 2011 USA National Championships. Consistent in both guns, Spurgeon is capable of competing for the top scores immediately.

Though more inexperienced then his teammates, Sunderman, a native of Farmington, Minn., boasts a ton of potential. A three-time rifle state champion, he also is a three-time Junior Olympic Championships qualifier and finished fourth in air rifle at the 2012 Junior Olympics Championships.

After sitting out last season following his transfer from Harper College, Sojka, a native of Cracow, Poland, is anxious to join his teammates in the range. Though he hasn’t shot competitively in two seasons, he previously spent the 2009-10 season at Murray State, where he counted toward the team’s third-place air rifle finish at the NCAA Championships and earned All-Ohio Valley Conference Second Team Air Rifle honors.

Martin, an Eagle River, Alaska, native, was a member of the US National Development Team in high school and a multiple national Junior Olympics Championships qualifier.

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