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Autumn Means NCAA Rifle Season is Back

Autumn has officially arrived today and with it the start of the 2015-16 NCAA Rifle season.  Gearing up for it are some of this nation’s elite competitors proudly representing over 25 colleges and universities. 

The season gets underway this coming weekend as Ohio State University travels to the University of Nevada while Murray State University kicks off their 60th season by hosting University of Tennessee-Martin.  Also opening up this weekend will be The Citadel, University of North Georgia and North Carolina State University as they travel to the Virginia Military Institute to compete in Southeast Rifle Conference action.

USA Shooting athletes dot the NCAA rifle landscape with 14 collegiate athletes a part of some USA Shooting Team presently.  Additionally, 13 more athletes were part of USA Shooting’s World Championship Team in 2014. 

Competitive rifle shooting has been an established NCAA program since 1980 with Tennessee Tech taking the first three NCAA titles in the program’s early beginnings. USA Shooting has long supported the NCAA program: the athletes for the NCAA Teams come through USA Shooting, Civilian Marksmanship Program, 4H, American Legion and National Rifle Association pipelines. USA Shooting’s Junior Olympic Program is a prime training vehicle for young athletes and a great recruiting ground for coaches.

USA Shooting also has hosted the NCAA Championships twice and has played a leadership role in bringing the NCAA program into the electronic target and finals era. Ongoing programs include coach certification and training, athlete and coach mentoring, skill seminars sponsored by both USA Shooting and the U.S. Olympic Committee, and a constant eye towards building the sport.

“The NCAA program has long been a prime training ground for future U.S. team members that can set the path towards the Olympic podium,” says USA Shooting Director of Operations Dave Johnson, who coached the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rifle Team to three-straight NCAA championships from 2001-03. “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. Self-discipline, motivation, goal setting and achievement, efficient use of limited practice time, athletic lifestyle, and the performance skills learned through regular competitions and dealing with high expectations are all critical experience factors that help develop athletes.”

The NCAA rifle trophy all are after currently resides at West Virginia University, with the Mountaineers having won the NCAA title the past three seasons and a record 17 all-time. They are a solid bet to earn a fourth-straight title come March as they return six All-Americans, including eight-time All-American Garrett Spurgeon (Canton, Missouri). Spurgeon, a World Championships team member in 2014, is joined by senior classmates Michael Bamsey, Meelis Kiisk and Patrick Sunderman (Farmington, Minnesota).  Additionally, the Mountaineer depth also includes Elizabeth Gratz (Sigel, Illinois) as well as freshmen newcomers Virginia Thrasher (Springfield, Virginia) and Will Anti (Colorado Springs, Colorado). Thrasher is one of just two NCAA Rifle athletes to be on the USA Shooting National Team while Anti is the National Junior Olympic Champion and USA Shooting Junior Team member in Air Rifle.

West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association preseason poll.  Preseason rankings are based on a point total centered on coaches’ first-place votes. WVU earned 276 points.  The University of Alaska Fairbanks ranks No. 2 with 255 points, while Texas Christian University is No. 3 (250), with the University of Kentucky at No. 4 (235) and University of Nebraska is No. 5 (215).  Rounding out the top-10 is Murray State (204), Ohio State (188), Jacksonville State (176), Air Force (174) and Memphis (134).  Complete rankings can be found here: http://www.ncaa.com/rankings/rifle/nc/crca

The Mountaineers will face five of the nation’s top-eight teams from last season, including matches in Morgantown against national championship runner-up Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 12 and Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) rival Kentucky on February 6.   

“I think this schedule will set the team up for another successful season,” said 10-year Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond. “We will face many familiar opponents this year, as well as some of the nation’s top teams, which will challenge us on a weekly basis.”

Alaska enters the 2015-16 season with several shooters returning from last year's squad, including senior Tim Sherry (Highlands Ranch, Colorado), who won the 2014 National Championship in smallbore. Sherry earned the team's highest overall finish in air rifle at last year's NCAA National Championship with his eighth-place appearance. Sherry is also the team's top returner in the smallbore, as he placed fifth at last year's Championships. Joining the senior will be 2014 World Team members Sagen Maddalena (Groveland, California) and Lorelie Stanfield (Fairbanks, Alaska), who both finished in the top-10 in the smallbore last season, as well as a top-30 finish in air rifle.

Other athletes to watch this season will include defending NCAA smallbore champion Rachel Martin (Peralta, New Mexico) of the University of Nebraska as well as 2016 Pan American Games champion Connor Davis (Shelbyville, Kentucky) of the University of Kentucky. West Point athlete Luke Johnson (Marysville, Pennsylvania) won the National Junior Championship this summer in Three-Position while Murray State will be led by standout sophomores Ivan Roe (Manhattan, Montana) and Ben Estes (Ozark, Missouri).  Roe was a double junior medalist at USA Shooting’s National Championships picking up silver in Three-Position and bronze in Air while Estes competed at the Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, where he made two finals and finished fourth and sixth respectively. Texas Christian University will look to Hannah Black (Richmond, Virginia), Mindy Miles (Weatherford, Texas) and Ariana Grabowski (Beaver, Pennsylvania) to help carry them to contention this season. Following a strong Winter Selection Match, Black competed in several World Cups in 2015 and competed at the Pan Am Games this summer.  Her teammates had strong showings at Nationals as Miles, a 2014 World Championships junior finalist in Air Rifle, earned a junior title in Air while Grabowski was a bronze medalist in Three-Position.

The season will conclude with the 2016 NCAA Rifle Championships taking place on the campus of Akron University, March 11-12.  

USA Shooting will provide a weekly collegiate rifle round-up every Wednesday beginning with the first issue October 14.

USA SHOOTING TEAM ATHLETES COMPETING IN COLLEGIATE RIFLE

TCU – Ariana Grabowski, Mindy Miles, Hannah Black*, Katie Bridges*

North Carolina State – Lucas Kozeniesky*, Lauren Phillips* (will compete for WolfPack in January)

West Virginia - Will Anti, Virginia Thrasher, Garrett Spurgeon*, Elizabeth Gratz*

Army - Nathan Brewer, Josh Martin

Kentucky – Connor Davis, Hanna Carr, Sonya May*

Ohio State – Drew Cheezum, Michael Steinel, Remington Lyman*

Murray State - Ben Estes, Ivan Roe

Alaska Fairbanks - Luke Johnson, Tim Sherry*, Sagen Maddalena*, Lorelie Stanfield*

Nebraska - Rachel Martin (Nebraska)

Air Force - Spencer Brandon, David Higgins*

Tennessee Martin - Dacotah Faught*

*2014 USA Shooting Team athletes

Special thanks to the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) and to the school sport’s information departments for their contributions to this article and promotion of their NCAA Rifle programs.  

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