MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The West Virginia University rifle team ended its 2016-17 season with its fifth straight, nation-best 19th national title at the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championships, held on March 10-11, at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Holding an undefeated regular-season record (12-0, 8-0 GARC), the Mountaineers also captured the program’s eighth straight Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) title with a total score of 4725 on Feb. 25, at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio.
The success of the 2016-17 season was a combination of goals set by the team, a positive mindset and a work ethic that was unmatched.
“It’s hard to say if you ever met all of your goals, but I think we did a great job to the best of our abilities,” 11-year Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond said.
Mountaineer Momentum: NCAA Five-Peat
The Mountaineers delivered a world-class performance at the 2017 NCAA Championships with a championship-record score of 4723.
On the first day of competition, the team held a narrow two-point lead over TCU with a winning smallbore score of 2336. The Mountaineers also shot a victorious air rifle score of 2387 the following day. With an aggregate score of 4723, the Mountaineers captured the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championship title.
Phillips, a native of Salisbury, Maryland, dominated the smallbore competition and captured a first-place finish with a score of 589 and a finals score of 464.3. She placed second in the air rifle discipline with a score of 597 and a finals score of 207.2.
Babic, a native of Belgrade, Serbia, earned a first-place finish in air rifle with a score of 598 and a finals score of 208.1.
Thrasher owned a second-place finish in smallbore with a score of 584 and a finals score of 459.8. The Springfield, Virginia, native, who swept the individual titles in 2016, placed seventh in air rifle with a score of 595 and a finals score of 99.7.
In her first career NCAA Championship appearance, Gratz captured a fifth-place finish in the air rifle discipline with a score of 597 and a finals score of 144.3.
The 2017 NCAA Championship win was the sixth under Hammond. The WVU rifle team is the only program in school history to win an NCAA title.
WVU Adds 12th GARC Trophy to the Collection
Following an undefeated regular season, the Mountaineers traveled to the GARC Championships as the reigning conference champions. The two-day event was held at the Louis and Freda Stile Athletic Field House in Akron, Ohio.
After the first day of competition, the team held a significant 30-point lead with a smallbore score of 2341. The Mountaineers shot an air rifle score of 2384 on day two to capture the GARC Championship title with an aggregate score of 4725.
The counting team for the GARC Championships included Phillips, Babic, Thrasher, Gratz and Lucas.
Thrasher won the air rifle title with a score of 597 and a finals score of 208.4. The reigning 2016 GARC smallbore champion, she also placed third in smallbore with a score of 588 and a finals score of 444.4.
Phillips finished a team-best second in smallbore with a score of 586 and a finals mark of 454.3. She also placed seventh in air rifle with a score of 595 and a finals score of 100.4.
Gratz placed fourth in air rifle with a score of 597 and a finals score of 165.1. The Sigel, Illinois, native came in seventh in the smallbore discipline with a score of 585 and a finals score of 396.0.
Babic placed sixth in air rifle with a score of 595 and a finals score of 122.8. She also contributed to the smallbore team score with a 578.
Lucas added to the air rifle team score with a 591 mark and a smallbore score of 582.
For the fourth time in his career, Hammond was named the GARC Coach of the Year.
A Championship Attitude
“The team’s attitude was a growth process throughout the year. The first semester everything was new, the returners were possibly not sure how to deal with such a new team and a new atmosphere,” Hammond said.
Dr. Raymond Prior, one of the program’s sport psychologists, assisted the team through the mental aspects of the sport.
The team created a mission this season to focus not only on outcome-based goals, but also goals that are non-outcome based. “Many things in our team mission this year were not really measurable,” Hammond added. “Overall, I’d have to say the year was successful not just in the outcomes we had, but also in the growth of the team as well. The attitude definitely changed, but that’s what made this year so special.”
Honoring the Mountaineers
Five Mountaineers added a combined 14 All-America awards to the program. Nine National Rifle Association (NRA) All-America honors and five College Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) All-America accolades were collected.
A 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist, Thrasher led the Mountaineers as she was named to the NRA Air Rifle and Smallbore First Teams and to the CRCA All-America First Team. Thrasher also was named to the 2017 Academic All-Big 12 At-Large First Team, as well as the All-GARC Air Rifle, Smallbore and Combined Score First Teams.
Additionally, Thrasher received the 2017 GARC Shooter of the Year Award, was named the first-ever CRCA Rifle Athlete of the Year and was a finalist for the 87th AAU James E. Sullivan Award.
Babic was named to the NRA Air Rifle First Team and the NRA Smallbore Second Team. She also was named to the CRCA Second Team and won the 2017 GARC Outstanding Rookie Award.
Babic collected the All-GARC Air Rifle and Combined Score First Team honors and All-GARC Smallbore Second Team accolades. She also won the first-ever CRCA Freshman of the Year Award.
Lucas was named to the 2017 Academic All-Big 12 At-Large Second Team, the NRA All-America Smallbore First Team, the CRCA All-America Second Team and received an NRA All-America Honorable Mention in Air Rifle. Additionally, Lucas earned All-GARC Smallbore and Combined Score First Team honors. He also was named to the All-GARC Air Rifle Second Team.
Gratz collected one of the most prestigious awards at the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championships, as she was named the Elite 90 Award winner for NCAA Division I Rifle. The Elite 90 Award is given to one athlete in each sport of each NCAA division who maintains the highest GPA. The marketing major currently holds a 4.0 GPA.
Gratz also was named to the NRA All-America Smallbore and Air Rifle First Teams, the CRCA All-America Second Team and the All-GARC Smallbore, Air Rifle and Combined Score First Teams. Gratz also received 2017 Academic All-Big 12 At-Large First Team honors.
Phillips earned NRA All-America First Team honors and received the 2017 NCAA Championships’ Top Performer Award. She also collected CRCA All-America Honorable Mention accolades, as well as All-GARC Smallbore First Team, All-GARC Combined Score Second Team and All-GARC Air Rifle Honorable Mention awards.
Sophomore Will Anti
earned an All-GARC Smallbore Honorable Mention nod and was named to the 2017 Academic All-Big 12 At-Large First Team.
A Senior Send-Off
Lucas led the Mountaineers this season as the senior captain and was a member of the program for the last five years.
“This season we focused on our team and our team only,” Lucas said. “We tried to put in the work and all of the little things that we needed to do to get to where we wanted to be as a team.”
The Speers, Pennsylvania, native shot an aggregate score of 1168 at the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championships, scoring 580 in smallbore and 588 in air rifle.
“Coach Hammond has such a wealth of knowledge, and he does everything to his fullest,” Lucas added. “He’s always supporting us, and it’s easier to shoot and compete when you know you have coaches supporting you.”
Along with Lucas, graduate assistant Michael Bamsey will be leaving the Mountaineer program.
“Michael is great and unfortunately we only had one year with him,” Lucas said. “The combination of coach Hammond and Michael was fantastic.”
Returning to the team next year are Gratz, Thrasher, Anti, Phillips, Babic and freshmen Jack Anderson and Noah Barker. They will be joined by newcomers Sarah Osborn and David Koenders.