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Mountaineer Magic Looking for Sweet 16

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (March 12, 2014)

In the lore of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the West Virginia University Rifle Team is prestigious in both the rank and file of all-time greatest teams. Among the conversation of the NCAA Mt. Rushmore, they deserve to be in the conversation of all-time greatest programs.  

This weekend, after visiting the White House on Monday in celebration of their 2012-13 National Championship, they’ll aim for their 16th NCAA title.  With an undefeated regular season, they have proven that they’ll once again be the team to beat.  The quest for Sweet 16 starts Friday, March 14 at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range on the campus of Murray State in Kentucky.  

Standing in their way will be the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and University of Kentucky rifle teams that have the precision necessary to foil another West Virginia run. 

No NCAA team has had a more successful history than the wrestling program of Oklahoma State with its impressive 34 team titles. Seven other programs have amassed 20-something NCAA titles while eight others have 15 or more titles, and this is exactly where the Mountaineer program lies with their 15 National Titles.  Of course, wrestling has been an NCAA Championship event since 1928, or 52 more years than Rifle has been an NCAA Championships event.  

Why shouldn’t we expect rifle dominance from a program whose mascot carries a musket?  The mere mention of a Mountaineer evokes images of a person adept at riflery and marksmanship.   This year’s team is no different.  

Two Rifle Leaders, Garrett Spurgeon and Taylor Ciotola, will try and help guide West Virginia to their 16th overall title.The Mountaineers were strong to begin the season despite the loss of two-event NCAA Champion Petra Zublasing but have excelled following the addition of Olympian Ziva Dvorsak, a member of the Slovenian National Team.  She joins German sharp shooter Maren Prediger to form a lethal combination on the range, particular in air.  Combine their experience and expertise with that of top-quality shooters like Garrett Spurgeon (Canton, Mo.), Jean Pierre Lucas (Dunlevy, Pa.) and Taylor Ciotola (Pasadena, Md.)and you have a recipe for continued success. 

Their depth and experience was on display with late-season victories against No. 3 Alaska-Fairbanks (4709-4680) and No. 2 Kentucky (4702-4688) on Feb. 6 and Feb. 8, respectively, at the WVU Rifle Range. The win over the Wildcats gave the Mountaineers their seventh regular-season Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) title. 

The team average on the season is 4,703 having eclipsed the 4700 mark three times on the season. Prediger paces the Mountaineers in air rifle, averaging 595, while Dvorsak leads smallbore, averaging 587 through three matches. The Mountaineers shot a NCAA-best 4710 at the Withrow Invitational on Jan. 24. 

“Most teams have been there year in and year out, and that’s been my biggest goal for us as a program,” said head coach Jon Hammond.  “You cycle through teams and have up and down years. In a sport like rifle, with only five people counting, you can lose people easily. There will always be cycles of shooters, but that’s the challenge for our program.” 

The rifle team has been at WVU since 1951 and is the only team at the university to win an NCAA Championship of any kind.  Only two programs, Women’s Tennis and Wrestling have even crowned an individual National Champion.  Of their 26 appearances at the NCAA, they have won 15 times.  They also won NRA Intercollegiate Titles in 1961, 1964 and 1966 to add to their overall program legacy.

The team has produced 65 NCAA All-Americans, 20 national individual champions, and 13 Olympians—including the current coach.  Over a 10-year span (1988-1998), WVU lost but one NCAA title, in 1994 to Alaska.

Despite the programs remarkable success, financial constraints in 2003 nearly terminated the winningest program in Mountaineer history when the school decided to drop the program.  An out crying of public support led to the program regaining full NCAA status a year later, but forced to club team status for that one year, was one of the main reasons behind WVU’s nine-year title drought from (1999-2008).

The depth and ability of both UAF and Kentucky assures that West Virginia’s 16th National title is no sure thing.  USA Shooting athletes provide a heavy presence on both squads with Kentucky offering National Team shooters Connor Davis (Shelbyville, Ky.) along with Emily Holsopple (Wilcox, Pa.) as well as past National Junior Team member Elijah Ellis (Kingsport, Tenn.).  Holsopple has been a force throughout her senior campaign for the Wildcats having recorded the highest smallbore score of 592 on January 24.  In addition, she also has shot a 590 to go along with two 589s. The USA Shooting National Champion in Air Rifle, Davis has dramatically improved his smallbore capabilities which should strengthen the Wildcat abilities on the range.

The Nanooks counter with National Junior Team members Ryan Anderson (Great Falls, Va.) and Dan Geer (Colorado Springs, Colo.) as well as past National Junior Team members Tim Sherry (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and Michael Liuzza (New Orleans, La.).  Alaska broke 4700 for only the second time ever on February 8 to win the inaugural Patriot Rifle Conference Championship conference title.  

Ryan Anderson is the next great Nanook shooter following in the proud footsteps of those Olympians before him.The Nanook rifle legacy is deep with a history of shooting success and an alumni base that includes three-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons and current Olympic champion Jamie Beyerle Gray.  Anderson might be the next in line having swept both smallbore rifle events at the 2013 National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships.  Sherry has also been formidable in the smallbore events as the only other rifle shooter to top 590 besides Holsopple. 

The top eight teams in both the smallbore three-position and air rifle events were selected based on the average of the three highest regular-season aggregate scores with no more than one match at any given site. The average of the three highest scores was added to the aggregate scores from the designated qualifiers to determine the top eight teams.  Also receiving invites were Jacksonville State, Memphis, Nebraska, TCU and the U.S. Military Academy. 

A total of 48 competitors will compete in the championships, with 40 competitors coming from the top eight teams selected. The remaining eight competitors were selected based on the scores submitted from the designated qualifier. These shooters include USA Shooting Team members Deanna Binnie (Ohio State/Holsopple, Pa.) and Meredith Carpentier (Air Force/Waukegan, Ill.) and Amanda Luoma (Ohio State/Cortland, Ohio).  Other individual invites include:  Ethan Cole, Morehead State; Jessica Cobb, Tennesse-Martin; Dacotah Faught, Tennessee-Martin; Alison Weisz, Mississippi; and Kelsey Emme, Murray State.

Individual and team competitions in smallbore three-position (60 shots) will be held Friday, March 14. Individual and team competitions in air rifle (60 shots) will be held Saturday, March 15. The overall team champion will be determined by combining the smallbore and air rifle team total scores into one aggregate score for each institution. 

“The NCAA program has long been a prime training ground for future US Team members that can set the path towards the Olympic Podium,” said West Virginia’s 1983 NCAA Champion Dave Johnson, who also coached UAF to two National titles earlier this century and is the current Director of Operations for USA Shooting. “Team athletes learn critical skills for success in life and on the range. Most of the student athletes are high achievers—they perform in the classroom and behind the rifle.” 

For a link to live scoring at the NCAA Rifle Championships, click here: http://bluemoon.murraystate.edu/rifleresults/

Info on the Championship including schedules:
http://goracers.com/sports/2014/2/4/RIFLE_0204140643.aspx?path=rifle

Bringing you all the action with a USA Shooting flare, we’ve inserted former NCAA Air Rifle Champion, 2004 Olympian and former Nebraska Rifle Head Coach Morgan (Hicks) Wallizer into the mix in a place she’s readily familiar with having competed at Murray State University herself. She’ll be on-scene beginning Thursday bringing you the inside story on the NCAA Rifle Championships. 

Top Individual Smallbore Performances (thru February 16) 

Score

Athlete

School

Date

592

Emily Holsopple

Kentucky

1/24

590

Tim Sherry

UAF

11/24

Emily Holsopple

Kentucky

1/18

589

Ryan Anderson

UAF

11/9

Emily Holsopple

Kentucky

11/2 & 11/9

Tim Sherry

UAF

1/20

Connor Davis

Kentucky

1/19

Ziva Dvorsak

WVU

1/19

588

Amanda Luoma

Ohio State

10/26

Tim Sherry

UAF

11/23

Ziva Dvorsak

WVU

1/25

Ryan Anderson

UAF

1/18

Connor Davis

Kentucky

1/18

Lorelie Stanfield

UAF

1/18

 

Top Individual Air Rifle Performances (thru February 16) 

Score

Athlete

School

Date

599

Maren Prediger

WVU

10/5 & 11/2

598

Maren Prediger

WVU

1/24

597

Maren Prediger

WVU

1/19 & 2/6

Ziva Dvorsak

WVU

1/24

596

Maren Prediger

WVU

10/26, 1/25, 2/8

Ziva Dvorsak

WVU

1/25, 2/6 & 2/8

Garrett Spurgeon

WVU

2/8

Emily Holsopple

Kentucky

2/8

Samuel Muegge

Jacksonville St.

1/25

 

Ryan Anderson

UAF

10/12 & 10/13

595

Connor Davis

Kentucky

10/19, 10/25, 11/9 & 11/24

 

Meredith Carpentier

Air Force

10/19

 

Tim Sherry

UAF

11/24

 

Richard Calvin

Army

1/17

 

Emily Holsopple

Kentucky

1/19

 

Meelis Kiisk

WVU

1/19

 

Sally Li

TCU

2/8

 

Dan Hermsmeier

Memphis

2/9

 

Top Team Performances Combined (Air & Smallbore)

Score

School

Date

4710

WVU

1/24

4709

WVU

2/6

4702

WVU

2/8

UAF

11/23 & 2/8

4697

Kentucky

1/19

4695

UAF

11/24

4694

Kentucky

11/2

4693

Kentucky

11/9

UAF

1/20

4692

UAF

11/9

4690

WVU

11/3 & 1/25

Nebraska

2/8

 

All-time Winningest NCAA Programs

Wrestling – 34 (Oklahoma State)

Football – 26 (Princeton) – All won before 1936

Men’s Outdoor Track & Field – 26 (USC)

Wrestling –23 (Iowa)

Men’s Golf – 21 (Yale)

Skiing – 21 (Denver)

Women’s Soccer – 21 (North Carolina)

Men’s Tennis – 20 (USC)

Men’s Indoor Track & Field – 20 (Arkansas)

Men’s Volleyball – 19 (UCLA)

Football – 18 (Yale) – All won before 1928

Men’s Tennis – 17 (Stanford)

Women’s Tennis – 17 (Stanford)

Men’s Golf – 16 (Houston)

Men’s Tennis – 16 (UCLA)

Rifle – 15 (West Virginia)

Football – 15 (Alabama)

 

 

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