MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle shoots for its fourth straight conference title a row at the Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) Championships on Feb. 23-24, at Mississippi’s Patricia C. Lamar National Guard Readiness Center, in Oxford, Miss.
The Mountaineers (11-1, 5-1 GARC) take the line for the team smallbore relay at 8 a.m. ET, and the individual smallbore championship is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. The team air rifle relay begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday, with the individual finals starting at 1:45 p.m.
“We need to have a good performance this weekend,” says coach Jon Hammond. “There are no guarantees, and we can’t control how the other teams perform. We just have to stay focused on ourselves and not worry so much about the outcome.”
WVU owns a conference-best six regular-season and championship titles. The three-time reigning GARC champions collected many individual championships over the past three years, with 2012 GARC Shooter of the Year Petra Zublasing
last winning the air rifle and combined score titles last season.
Kentucky, No. 6 Army, No. 8 Nebraska, No. 9 Memphis, Ole Miss and NC State will all take to the line to shoot against the Mountaineers for the GARC Championship title.
The Mountaineers head to the championships after defeating Murray State, 4700-4628, on Feb. 9, and shooting an impressive 4716 in an NCAA qualifying match on Feb. 17.
Prior to its last two successes, WVU dropped its only match of the season, 4704-4695, to No. 3 Kentucky. The Wildcats (10-1, 5-1 GARC) earned the GARC regular-season title that day by outshooting the Mountaineers in the smallbore relay, 2343-2325. WVU won air rifle 2370-2361.
“Kentucky stands out, since they are the only team that has beat us so far this season,” Hammond says. “They are always a strong team and are going to be one of the favorites for this competition, as well as NCAAs.
“The other teams in the conference have been shooting well also. Whether it’s Nebraska, Ole Miss or Memphis, you’re talking about other teams that are ranked in the top 10.”
The Mountaineers are averaging an aggregate score of 4706.5 with air rifle and smallbore season averages of 2367.2 and 2338.42 respectively.
Zublasing leads the team with an 1187.3 season average. The Appiano, Italy, native also paces the team’s discipline season averages with a 591.2 smallbore mark and 596.33 air rifle mark. The senior shooter set a personal best in smallbore this season, shooting a Mountaineer record 594 (199 prone, 197 standing, 198 kneeling) on Feb. 9 against Murray State. Her score was one shot better than the previous record of 593, set by Olympic Gold medalist Nicco Campriani in 2010. Zublasing’s aggregate score of 1193 from that match and was a Mountaineer record, topping Campriani’s record of 1192 set in 2011.
WVU finished first overall in the air rifle(2366)relay and second in the smallbore(2315)relay at the 2012 GARC Championships. The Mountaineers’ aggregate score of 4681 earned them their third straight championship title.
Zublasing finished first overall at last year’s championships with an aggregate total of 1178. She finished first in air rifle (598 relay, 104.7 finals) and third in smallbore (580 relay, 102.1 final).
Sophomores Taylor Ciotola
, Thomas Kyanko
and Meelis Kiisk
joined Zublasing on the line and shot toward the team total at last year’s competition. They are the only four Mountaineers with experience at the GARC Championships.
“It will definitely help that four of our shooters have been to this match before,” says Hammond. “They will have that comfort factor since they have shot in the range before and know the set up.”
No matter how the Mountaineers perform this weekend, they have already earned a bid to the 2013 NCAA Rifle Championships on March 8-9, at Converse Hall and French Field House, in Columbus, Ohio.