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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle team shoots for its 15th national title at the 2013 NCAA Championships, March 8-9, at Ohio State’s Converse Hall and French Field House, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Mountaineers (11-1, 5-1 GARC) qualified as the championships’ top seed. WVU, the four-time defending Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) champions, last won the title in 2009.
“I think we’re prepared,” says seventh-year coach Jon Hammond. “It’s always a challenge to get everything timed right, but we’ll be ready. We’ve had a good semester, and we’ve especially improved over the last month. I’m excited for a good performance from this group.
“This year, we’ve tried even more not to think about (winning the title). We’ve been so close over the last few years, and we’ve learned we can’t control the outcome – that’s a distraction that takes away from our focus, which has to be on this team and the individual performances. We all want to do our best and be successful for the school, and we are focused on just doing the small things that have gotten us to this point.”
The championships open with the smallbore competition at Converse Hall on Friday, with the first shot scheduled for 8 a.m. Individual finals will follow the three relays at 4:30 p.m. The first of two air rifle relays will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday at French Field House, with the individual finals set for 1:45 p.m.
WVU qualified for its seventh straight championships with a 9432.0 qualification mark, which is based on the average of a team’s three highest regular-season aggregate scores, with no more than one match at any given site. That average was then added to the squad’s aggregate total for the team’s designated qualifier.
The Mountaineers shot an NCAA-record 4720 at the WVU Rifle Range on Nov. 9. The team also tallied highs of 4719 at Alaska-Fairbanks on Nov. 17 and 4709 at Army on Oct. 7. Additionally, WVU earned a 4716 score in its NCAA Qualifier Match at Ohio State on Feb. 17.
This weekend’s competition is the Mountaineers’ third at OSU’s facilities this season, as they also shot against the Buckeyes and Akron in Columbus on Oct. 13.
“It definitely helps that we’ve shot in the range twice this year,” says Hammond. “We’ve been fortunate to get a familiarity and feel for the venue. We will know when we walk in there this weekend what to expect, and I think that will help put the team at ease and limit distractions.”
Five Mountaineers will shoot for the team’s title: senior Petra Zublasing
, sophomores Taylor Ciotola
, Meelis Kiisk
and Maren Prediger
, and freshman Garrett Spurgeon
Kentucky, the only team to defeat the Mountaineers this season and the 2011 NCAA champions, qualified as the No. 2 seed. UK defeated WVU, 4704-4695, on Feb. 2, in Lexington, Ky.
TCU, the reigning champions, will shoot for its third title in four years as the No. 3 seed. Alaska-Fairbanks, Jacksonville State, Army, Nebraska and Air Force round out this year’s eight-team field.
“The confidence is there that we can go and put in a good score,” explains Hammond. “We know we can’t control the outcome or what the other teams do. We’re focused on ourselves. We won’t look or talk about the other teams because they don’t control what we do. We’re confident that we’re bringing five really good shooters with us, and they’re all well prepared.”
Zublasing, the defending NCAA air rifle champion, is coming off a strong showing at the GARC Championships, as she led the team to its fourth straight title with a tournament-best 1192 aggregate score. The 2013 GARC Shooter and Senior of the Year, she won the conference smallbore title on Feb. 23 with a 696.4 score, shooting a school-record 595 in the open relay and 101.4 in the final. The Appiano, Italy, native also finished second in air rife on Feb. 24 with a 700.5 mark, as she totaled 597 in the open relay and 103.5 in the final.
“I think Petra has had a different outlook since the Olympics,” says Hammond of the Italian Olympian. “I don’t think she will feel pressure to win an event. She just wants to enjoy the experience and do her best. She’s a fighter, but she will be disciplined and focused on herself. Petra is a competitor, and she is ready for a challenge.”
Prior to her record-setting performance at the conference championships, Zublasing also shot a school-record aggregate score of 1193 against Murray State on Feb. 9. In total, she has shot eight air rifle scores of 597 or better, including two team-best scores of 599, this season, and seven smallbore scores of 592 or better. She owns season averages of 596.38 air rifle and 591.55 smallbore.
Kiisk, Prediger and Spurgeon will shoot at their first NCAA Championships this weekend. Spurgeon, the GARC Rookie of the Year, ranks second on the team in smallbore with a 584.08 season average, while Prediger, a native of Petersaurach, Germany, has compiled an air rifle season average 595.0, the team’s second-best mark, in just nine matches. Kiisk, a Paide, Estonia, native, ranks third on the team in both guns with season averages of 589.54 air rifle and 581.62 smallbore.
Ciotola, along with Zublasing, is the only Mountaineer on the WVU counting team that previously shot at the national championships. The Pasadena, Md., native placed sixth in air rifle at the 2012 championships with a 690.4 total. He shot 591 in the open relay and 99.4 in the final.
In addition to the team’s five counters, sophomore Thomas Kyanko
also will shoot Friday, as the Wellsburg, W.Va., native individually qualified for the smallbore competition. Kyanko recently finished fourth in smallbore at the GARC Championships with a 684.4 total, shooting 587 in the open relay and 97.4 in the final. He owns a 580.85 smallbore season average and shot as part of the team’s counters at last year’s championships.
“Thomas’ goal is the same as the other five shooters – to go in and do his best,” says Hammond. “Thomas will compete just like everyone else on Friday, and then he’ll turn into a big supporter for us on Saturday.”
The Mountaineers shot school records in both disciplines this season. WVU tallied an NCAA-best 2381 air rifle at its NCAA Qualifying Match and shot a program-best 2348 smallbore twice this season – at Army on Oct. 7 and against Memphis at the WVU Rifle Range on Oct. 16. The Mountaineers average 2367.54 air rifle and 2339.54 smallbore.
WVU shot 4647 and finished sixth at the 2012 NCAA Championships, also at OSU. The Mountaineers finished second (2350) in air rifle and eighth (2297) in smallbore. Zublasing’s air rifle win gave WVU its 16th individual national champion. The Mountaineers own 20 individual titles. She also paced the team in smallbore and finished sixth with a 686.7 total (586, 100.7).