MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle team opens the defense of its nation-best 15th national title Saturday, as the Mountaineers welcome Ohio State to the WVU Rifle Range for a shoulder-to-shoulder match.
The Mountaineers return to the line following an 11-1 2012-13 season that saw the squad win its fourth straight Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) title and the aforementioned NCAA Championship.
Despite the loss of three-time NCAA individual champion Petra Zublasing, the Mountaineers boast a deep roster that looks primed to make another run at the national title. Seven National Rifle Association (NRA) All-Americans return, including four first-team honorees: Taylor Ciotola
, Meelis Kiisk
, Maren Prediger
and Garrett Spurgeon
Coach Jon Hammond returns after winning the 2013 College Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) Coach of the Year honor, his second career award. Entering his eighth season with the Mountaineers, Hammond boasts two national titles in five years, four consecutive GARC Championships and one undefeated season. He has coached his student-athletes to four individual NCAA titles, 55 NRA All-America honors and seven Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-America recognitions.
Competition will start at 8 a.m. tomorrow and play into the afternoon. Admission is free, and all are invited to the range to watch the Mountaineers and to take a look at the updated hallway. Protecting the Title
For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the WVU rifle team carries the nation’s biggest target on its back as the defending NCAA champions.
WVU won its nation-best 15th national title with a combined score of 4679 on March 9, 2013, at Ohio State’s French Field House.
The last team to win back-to-back titles was Alaska-Fairbanks in 2007 and 2008. The Mountaineers last won two straight titles in 1997 and 1998; those titles capped a four-year run of championships for WVU. Coaches Pay Respect
The Mountaineers enter the 2013-14 season as the nation’s top team, as WVU was ranked No. 1 in the Preseason CRCA Top 20 Poll. WVU earned 12 of the poll’s 16 first-place votes. The Mountaineers ended last season at No. 1 after winning their nation-best 15th NCAA title.
Kentucky, the 2013 national runner-up, was ranked No. 2, while Alaska-Fairbanks was No. 3. The Wildcats received three first-place votes, and the Nanooks earned one. TCU, the 2012 National Champion and last season’s third-place finisher, was No. 4, and Army was No. 5. All-America Flavor
Seven 2013 NRA All-Americans return for the Mountaineers this season: senior Daniel Sojka
, juniors Taylor Ciotola
, Meelis Kiisk Thomas Kyanko
and Maren Prediger
, and sophomores Garrett Spurgeon
and Patrick Sunderman
Four Mountaineers collected first-team awards last year. Ciotola earned a spot on the air rifle and smallbore teams, pushing his career total to three, as he was named to the 2012 smallbore honorable mention team. Prediger landed on the air rifle squad, while Kiisk and Spurgeon were named to the smallbore team.
Kiisk and Spurgeon also were named to the air rifle second team. Kiisk owns three career NRA All-America honors, as he was named to the air rifle second team in 2012. Kyanko and Sojka earned second team smallbore honors, the first career award for Sojka and the second for Kyanko, as he was named to the same team in 2012.
Sunderman was named to the smallbore honorable mention squad.
Senior Chance Cover
puts the Mountaineer returners at eight this year. New Faces Jean-Pierre Lucas
and Sydney Smith
complete the Mountaineers’ 2013-14 roster.
Lucas, a redshirt-freshman, joined the Mountaineers last January. The Speers, Pa., native competed at the National Junior Olympic Championships in 3 positions. He is the 2007 Williamsport 1,000-yard world open light gun junior champion and the 2007 Ohio 1,000-yard two gun overall state champion.
Smith, a freshman out of Wayne, W.Va., was a three-time captain of the Junior ROTC team at Wayne High. She was a two-time (2011, 2012) champion in girls air rifle and smallbore at the West Virginia Junior Olympic Championship and competed at the 2012 USA Junior Olympics. Additionally, Smith attended the 2012 National Rifle Association Youth Education Summit. Great Reign
The Mountaineers have made a home in the winner’s circle at the GARC Championships – and they show no signs of moving any time soon.
WVU will shoot for its conference-best fifth straight title March 1-2, at Mississippi’s Patricia C. Lamar National Guard Readiness Center, in Oxford, Miss.
The Mountaineers became the first team to win four straight GARC titles with its 4705 two-day total at last year’s championship. WVU shot winning 2335 smallbore and 2370 air rifle scores.
WVU owns a conference-best seven GARC titles. The Best of the Best
The WVU rifle team prides itself on shooting against the nation’s best teams, and this season is no different, as coach Hammond has scheduled a difficult slate for the Mountaineers.
WVU’s 2013-14 schedule features seven home matches at the WVU Rifle Range and two of the NCAA’s top-four teams from one year ago. The Mountaineers will open their season in Morgantown for the first time in three years, as they play host to Ohio State on Oct. 5. The squad will then open its GARC schedule with a match at Nebraska, the seventh-place team at the 2013 NCAA Championships, on Oct. 13.
Three straight home matches, including shoulder-to-shoulders with Army and Mississippi, and a match at new GARC foe Navy on Nov. 16, close out WVU’s fall schedule.
WVU resumes its season in January and will compete against NC State on Jan. 19. Following trips to the Winthrow Invitational and Memphis, the Mountaineers will close out their regular-season against Alaska-Fairbanks and Kentucky at the WVU Rifle Range. UK finished second at last season’s NCAA Championships, while UAF placed fourth.
WVU defeated UAF twice last season, in Fairbanks, Alaska, winning 4719-4670 and 4716-4651. The Wildcats got the better of WVU in the regular season, winning 4704-4695, at Baker Hall, in Lexington, Ky.; that victory gave UK the GARC regular-season title, its third straight. Outside Success
The WVU rifle team was well represented in the international and national shooting scenes this offseason, as several Mountaineers shot competitively away from Morgantown.
Junior Maren Prediger
won Gold in the women’s 10m air rifle at the 2013 Summer Universiade on July 12, in Kazan, Russia. Representing Germany, she shot 206.4 in the discipline final for the victory. Prediger advanced in the competition after finishing fourth in the qualification relay with a 414.7 mark.
Junior Meelis Kiisk
joined Prediger at the Universiade Games and shot for Estonia. He placed 20th in the men’s 50m rifle 3 positions with a score of 1149. Kiisk also shot at the 2013 European Shooting Championships in July and earned his top finish in the men’s 50m rifle 3 positions, where he placed 38th with a 1155 score.
Sophomore Garrett Spurgeon
won the junior men’s 50m rifle 3 positions Gold medal at the 2013 USA Shooting National Championships for Rifle and Pistol on June 4. He successfully defended his junior title and finished sixth overall with a two-day aggregate score of 2324, shooting 1161 and 1159. His final total benefited from a four-point boost from his fifth-place finish (420.8) on the first day of competition. He also finished second in the junior men’s 10m air rifle competition with a score of 1238.1. Spurgeon shot 616.7 and 613.4. He earned eight extra points with a final’s-best score of 206.