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Drive for 5: Mountaineers Looking to Remain Atop NCAA Rifle World

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (March 8, 2017)

The West Virginia University (WVU) Mountaineers get set to return to where it all began as they ready for the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championship, which begins Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Four years ago, they started their latest rifle streak on the campus of The Ohio State University and claimed their first of four straight NCAA titles in 2013.  The drive for five this year, however, has plenty of opposition to consider. 

This year’s field, like usual, is packed with USA Shooting Team members including the Mountaineers leading lady, returning NCAA Champ and Olympic gold medalist Ginny Thrasher (Springfield, Virginia) and her Olympic teammate and North Carolina State senior shooting star Lucas Kozeniesky (Fairfax, Virginia). Other National Team athletes set to compete in Columbus include Texas Christian University junior Mindy Miles (Weatherford, Texas), WVU junior Elizabeth Gratz (Sigel, Illinois), Air Force senior Ryan Jacobs (Gresham, Oregon) and Alaska Fairbanks junior Sagen Maddalena (Groveland, California).

Eleven USA Shooting Junior Team members will also have an impact at NCAAs including:  Billy Azzinaro (Kentucky/East Brunswick, New Jersey); Jacob Buchanan (The Ohio State/Spring, Texas); Spencer Cap (Air Force/Cranbury, New Jersey); Hanna Carr (Kentucky/Versailles, Kentucky); Drew Cheezum (The Ohio State/Centreville, Maryland); Ben Estes (Murray State/Ozark, Missouri); Rachel Garner (TCU/Celina, Texas); Morgan Phillips (WVU/Salisbury, Maryland); Ivan Roe (Murray State/Manhattan, Montana); Spencer Brandon (Air Force/Kingsport, Tennessee); and Rhiann Travis (The Ohio State/Poole, Texas). 

NCAA Rifle has long been a producer of Olympic success for USA Shooting and the world with last year’s Olympic Games in Rio being no exception.  Highlighted by Thrasher’s success, four of the five Olympic golds in rifle went to current or former NCAA athletes. Six of the seven members of the 2016 U.S.  Olympic Team for Rifle were NCAA athletes or graduates of NCAA programs.  At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Air Rifle, 22 of the 24 competitors were current athletes or alumni of NCAA rifle programs.  NCAA Paves the Road to Rio Article 

Most formidably standing in the Mountaineers way in 2017 is an impressive TCU women’s rifle squad that has put together the most impressive regular season in program history. The Horned Frogs finished the 2016-17 slate with a 13-0 mark, including its second-straight Patriot Rifle Conference Championship.  The Frogs have put up solid numbers all season long, surpassing the 4,700 point plateau in all but one match. As a team, the Frogs are averaging 2,374 in air rifle and 2,338 in smallbore.  TCU has received solid contributions up and down the lineup all season long. The Horned Frogs boast four of the top nine season-average smallbore shooters and two of the top five aggregate score shooters in the country. Ariana Grabowski paces the Frogs in smallbore with a 584 season average, while Mindy Miles leads the NCAA with a 596 air rifle season average. 

A young Mountaineer squad led by 11-year head coach Jon Hammond and Olympic Champion Ginny Thrasher looks to return from a trek to Columbus, Ohio, with another title in hand.

This year’s Mountaineer team lacks experience, with only reigning smallbore and air rifle champion Ginny Thrasher having previously shot at a National Championships. What they lack in experience they more than make up for with the quiet confidence that follows a program which has won the last four national titles.  Joining Thrasher at this year’s championship are senior Jean-Pierre Lucas, junior Elizabeth Gratz and freshmen Milica Babic and Morgan Phillips

Hammond believes his crew is more than capable of adding to the program’s legacy. 

“We have four shooters who have not competed at an NCAA Championships before, but at the same time, all five have competed internationally and represented their country,” said WVU head coach Jon Hammond.  “I feel that while this is a slightly different match, they all have a huge amount of experience to draw from and will prepare for this match like they would any other competition. We have to be diligent in our preparation and make sure everything is planned. They are excited to get there; we’ve put a lot of training into this moment. Equally, we have to keep it very measured and calm and treat this like any other competition.” 

Despite its youth, WVU has rattled off 12 straight wins en route to its second straight undefeated season and third unblemished record in four years. Following a nation-high 4724 mark shot in an NCAA Qualifying Match on Feb. 18, the Mountaineers (12-0, 8-0 GARC) claimed their eighth straight GARC Championship title on Feb. 25 with a two-day score of 4725. 

Alaska-Fairbanks, Kentucky, Murray State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Air Force round out the field of eight. 

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM CAPSULES. 

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.  

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. 

The NCAA Rifle Championship was established in 1980, and the first competition was held that year. The original three-position smallbore rifle and air rifle events from 1980 remain in place today.  Since the dawn of the NCAA Rifle Championship, two schools have dominated the competition and filled their trophy cases: West Virginia University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With WVU’s 18 titles and UAF’s 10, the pair has won a combined 28 of the 37 total championships. 

Team Qualifiers (Smallbore Three-Position and Air Rifle)
University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Kentucky
Murray State University
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
The Ohio State University
Texas Christian University
U.S. Air Force Academy
West Virginia University 

Individual Qualifiers (Smallbore Three-Position)
Makennon Doran, University of Memphis
Brandon Muske, Jacksonville State University
Amy Fister, University of Memphis
David Sink, Jacksonville State University 

Individual Qualifiers (Air Rifle)
Lucas Kozeniesky, North Carolina State University
Caitlyn Ford, North Carolina State University
Nathan Brewer, U.S. Military Academy
Ali Weisz, University of Mississippi 

Individual and team competitions in Three-Position Rifle (.22 caliber) competition will be held Friday, March 10, and individual and team competitions in Air Rifle will be held Saturday, March 11. The overall team champion will be determined by combining the smallbore and air rifle team total scores into one aggregate score for each institution.

For more information about the NCAA Rifle Championship, visit the official website, and learn more about NRA’s Collegiate Shooting Programs at http://collegiate.nra.orgNCAA Live Results Page.

Thanks to the NRA, NCAA and participating schools for their editorial assistance in this article.

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