After Strong Olympic Showing, NCAA Rifle Back with Plenty of Intrigue for 2016-17

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (September 23, 2016)

WVU Rifle Team top left, TCU Junior Mindy Miles middle left. Olympic gold medalist and WVU sophomore Ginny Thrasher bottom left. Olympian and NC State senior Lucas Kozeniesky top right, Air Force senior Ryan Jacobs middle right.  WVU photos courtesy of WVU Athletic Communications/Brian Persinger PhotoFall is here and with it comes the start of another action-packed NCAA Rifle season. Like always, there’s plenty of excitement to come as action got underway Wednesday at the Ole Miss Rifle Open and will continue to unfold as we head toward the NCAA Rifle Championships, March 10-11 in Columbus, Ohio. 

The recent Olympic Games proved just how valuable to the shooting landscape these collegiate rifle programs and opportunities are for the present and future of the competitive shooting sports. In fact, four of the five rifle medals went to current or former NCAA Rifle athletes.  Six of the seven U.S. representatives in Rio shot or are shooting for an NCAA Rifle program.  At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Air Rifle, all but two of the 24 competitors were affiliated with an NCAA Rifle program at some point in their career. 

“Seeing the success that the NCAA athletes, past and present, are able to have on a world stage is great to see, and it shows what an amazing opportunity it is to be a student athlete in the USA at different schools,” said West Virginia University (WVU) head coach Jon Hammond. “It’s a unique experience, and something you cannot do in almost every other country, and a huge credit to the athletes and the schools to have such a strong representation.” 

“Few other environments are such a good crucible for developing the ability to handle match pressure - day in and day out,” added Keith Miller, head coach at NC State. 

Former Kentucky star Henri Junghanel earned gold in Men’s Prone Rifle while WVU alum Nicco Campriani rose to rifle stardom with a performance for the ages in Rio by earning two gold medals in Air and Three-Position Rifle to go along with a gold and silver medal he earned in London.  

WVU sophomore Ginny Thrasher seized her day August 6 by earning the first Olympic gold medal handed out at the 2016 Olympic Games in Air Rifle.  NC State senior Lucas Kozeniesky had his Olympic moment two days later with a 21st-place finish in Air Rifle.  They are among the individual standouts you can expect to star during the 2016-17 NCAA Rifle season. Thrasher and Kozeniesky represent two of four USA Shooting National Team athletes on NCAA rosters this season.  Air Force senior Ryan Jacobs and Texas Christian University (TCU) junior Mindy Miles are the other two having earned their U.S. Team status earlier this summer at the USA Shooting National Championships. 

Eleven other athletes are represented on USA Shooting’s Junior Team and Junior Olympic Squad including: Billy Azzinaro (Kentucky); Nathan Brewer (Army), Jacob Buchanan (Ohio State), Spencer Cap (Air Force); Hanna Carr (Kentucky), Drew Cheezum (Ohio State), Rachel Garner (TCU), Elizabeth Gratz (West Virginia), Ivan Roe (Murray State), Mitchell Van Patten (Nevada) and Ariana Grabowski (TCU).                

There’s one program that everyone else is in pursuit of and that is West Virginia after earning a fourth-straight national title last year.  The Mountaineers finished the 2015-16 season at 12-0 and collected the Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) regular-season and championship titles, as well as the NCAA title. Thrasher swept the individual NCAA titles and became the first freshman to win smallbore and air rifle at the NCAA Championships. She highlights a group of four letterwinners returning for WVU, which also includes senior Jean-Pierre Lucas, junior Elizabeth Gratz and sophomore Will Anti. They are ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll and begin the season October 2 at home against No.5-ranked Ohio State University. 

“This ranking shows the stature and the respect the team has, but we also know there’s a lot of hard work to do for this season,” Hammond said. “There are a lot of good teams that are right up there with us that finished last season well. Every year is a new season, so every year we start again and we rebuild. We’re just focused on getting ready for the start of the season and working hard in the range.” 

Murray State, who finished third at NCAAs last season, is the No. 2-ranked team and will be led by National Junior Team member Ivan Roe. The Racers will become very familiar with the teams in the Top 20 as they will face nine of them throughout the course of the season, including all four other top five teams. Led by Alan Lollar, now in his 10th season, Murray State begins the season at home at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range September 25 against UT Martin. 

TCU, Kentucky and Ohio State round out the top five in the preseason rankings. 

“This year’s schedule will be one of the toughest that we’ve faced in the past few years,” said Kentucky head coach Harry Mullins. “The parity in our sport has elevated to a point where the margin of error has decreased even more. I feel that we are going to see a lot of great scores this year from a number of teams because the talent in college rifle is deep and spread over numerous teams. Coming off an Olympic year usually ignites many people’s desire in pursuit of their goals when it is right out there in front of them.” 

After a disappointing end to the season at the 2016 NCAA Rifle National Championships and the resignation of longtime head coach Dan Jordan earlier this summer, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) will look to build from the foundation of its six returning veterans. With the addition of two prominent newcomers, Alaska rifle is preparing to create a new chapter in the program's rich history. 

A program on the rise is the Kozeniesky-led Wolfpack of NC State.  Coach Miller has his team headed in the right direction.  An NCAA qualifier last year, Kozeniesky became the school’s first NRA All-American since 1975.  The addition of 2014 Junior World Team member Lauren Phillips will only bolster the squad’s expectation level this season.  

USA Shooting will begin the Collegiate Rifle Round-Up, a weekly newsletter full of collegiate rifle action and stories, on Wednesday, October 5. 

NCAA Rifle Preseason Coaches Poll 

1               West Virginia University

2               Murray State University

3               Texas Christian University

4               University of Kentucky

5               Ohio State University

6               University of Alaska Fairbanks

7               University of Nebraska

                 Air Force Academy

9               North Carolina State University

10            University of Memphis

11            Jacksonville State University

12            Army

13            University of Nevada

14            Navy

15            University of Mississippi

16            Akron University

17            Morehead State University

18            University of Texas El Paso

19            University of Tennessee Martin

20            University of North Georgia 

Editorial support provided by the schools and universities with NCAA Rifle Programs as well as the NCAA Rifle Committee and Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association.  

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