No. 1 Rifle Set to Defend NCAA Title

  • By Shannon McNamara
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  • March 13, 2014 03:39 PM
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Eight-year Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond looks to lead WVU to its third NCAA title in six years this weekend.
WVU Sports Information Photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle team shoots for its nation-best 16th national title at the 2014 NCAA Rifle Championships, March 14-15, at Murray State’s Pat Spurgin Rifle Range and CFSB Center, in Murray, Ky.
The first smallbore relay is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET Friday, with the discipline final scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The first air rifle relay will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, with the discipline final set for 2 p.m.
The Mountaineers (10-0, 7-0 GARC) take aim at their second straight championship and third in six seasons. WVU would be the first team to win back-to-back championships since Alaska-Fairbanks won three straight from 2006-08.
“We’re pretty relaxed going into this weekend. We’ve set the tone of looking at the season as one match at a time,” says Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond. “We’re going to treat the championships like it’s any other match. This is a new year and a new team, and we’re not looking at last year’s results.
“This semester, in particular, the team has done a great job of taking one match at a time and shooting its best. I think we’ve done a good job of not making this championships anything bigger than it is. We need to be prepared and be professional. We want to do our best.”
Four All-Americans and a 2012 Olympian will shoot for the Mountaineers, as WVU’s counting squad is comprised of juniors Ziva Dvorsak, Meelis Kiisk, Thomas Kyanko and Maren Prediger, and sophomore Garrett Spurgeon. All but Dvorsak shot at last year’s championships and earned National Rifle Association (NRA) All-America honors. Dvorsak joined the Mountaineers in January and shot for Team Slovenia at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
“I think everyone is prepared to go in and shoot his or her best, but I also think they all would like good individual results as well,” Hammond says. “Nearly all of them have finals experience, and that’s going to help them individually. They’re all focused on the team’s success, but I think after that they’re also prepared on their approach to a final. They are all competitors, and they all want to do their best.”
The only WVU team to win an NCAA title, the Mountaineers, the 2014 Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) regular season and championship victors, own the nation’s best score this season, having shot 4710 at the Withrow Invitational, also at Pat Spurgin Rifle Range, on Jan. 24. WVU also shot at the range on Feb. 22, tallying a 4691 mark in an NCAA Qualifying match.
“We like this range, and there’s a good comfort level for us going into the competition,” says Hammond.
WVU has shot 4700 or better five times this season.
WVU enters the championships boasting a 4690 season average. Dvorsak paces the team with a 596 air rifle average, while Spurgeon owns a team-best 584 smallbore average.
Seven teams join the Mountaineers’ at this year’s championships: No. 2 Kentucky, the 2011 NCAA champion, No. 3 Alaska-Fairbanks, the 10-time national champions, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 5 Jacksonville State, No. 6 Memphis, No. 7 Army, the 2005 champion, and No. 10 TCU, the 2010 and 2012 champion.  
“Anything can happen, and we saw that last year,” Hammond explains. “This is going to be a tough competition, and any team can win. I don’t think there’s more pressure on the top teams, though there may be more expectations. We are in this position more often than not, so this is how we shoot championships most of the time. We need to be prepared to get the best from the other teams.”
The Mountaineers return to competition following their fifth straight GARC Championships victory, as they secured the title with a 4700 score on March 2 at Mississippi’s Patricia C. Lamar National Guard Readiness Center. Prediger won the air rifle title with a 206.7 showing in the final (593 relay), while the team won smallbore (2337) and finished second in air rifle (2363). UK finished second overall (4672) and won air rifle (2364).
This is WVU’s seventh straight NCAA Championships. The Mountaineers won their 15th title with a two-day total of 4679 on March 9, 2013, at Ohio State’s French Field House. Five-time NRA All-American Petra Zublasing swept the individual titles, bringing her career NCAA title haul to three. She became the first Mountaineer shooter to earn the smallbore and air rifle titles in the same weekend, and the first NCAA shooter to win both titles at the same championship since Alaska-Fairbanks’ Matthew Emmons took the victories in 2001.