NCAA Rifle Preview: Mountaineers Fixed on Six

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (September 21, 2017)

As the 2017-18 NCAA Rifle season gets underway this weekend, it’s only fitting that things get started at the same place they’ll conclude as The Citadel hosts a big match this weekend.  Over the next six months, plenty of big shots will be taken, all with the hopes of raising some championship hardware on March 9-10 back in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Fourteen teams, including defending National Champion West Virginia University (WVU), start action Saturday in the quest for rifle glory with matches set for the Citadel, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee at Martin and Murray State University. 

NCAA Rifle has long been a producer of Olympic success for USA Shooting and the world with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio being no exception.  Highlighted by WVU junior Ginny 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 

NCAA National Champions Ginny Thrasher (left), Morgan Phillips (second from right), and Milica Babic (right) pose with WVU President E. Gordon Gee during the recent WVU Ring Ceremony.WVU, led by 12th-year head coach Jon Hammond, is loaded once again as Hammond welcomes back three individual NCAA champions to his team for the first-time ever in his coaching stint.  Leading the Mountaineers is Olympic gold medalist Thrasher (Springfield, Virginia), a 2016 NCAA air rifle and smallbore champion, along with sophomores Milica Babic (2017 NCAA air rifle champion) and Morgan Phillips (Salisbury, Maryland), 2017 NCAA smallbore champion. Add in their lone senior in Elizabeth Gratz (Sigel, Illinois)and there’s no reason to think that a sixth-straight title isn’t a strong possibility. 

“We have to make the focus about us and not other teams,” Hammond states. “We need to try and continue to grow as a team. Last season, I think we grew as a team throughout the year. I think we can continue to build off that growth. It's a similar group. We need to continue to grow those bonds and continue to work together. The performance side will take care of itself. We won't look to shoot certain scores or have specific results. We just want to continue to improve as individuals and as a team.” 

MORE: Q & A with WVU Head Coach Jon Hammond

Most formidably standing in the Mountaineers way will be an impressive TCU women’s rifle squad that put together the most impressive regular season in program history last year. The Horned Frogs finished the 2016-17 slate with a 13-0 mark, including its second-straight Patriot Rifle Conference Championship. The Frogs will be paced by junior Rachel Garner (Celina, Texas), who just finished second at USA Shooting’s Fall Selection Match in smallbore (.22 caliber) Three-Position Rifle. At last year’s NCAAs, she finished third in Air and fourth in Smallbore. Senior Mindy Miles (Weatherford, Texas) is a top Air Rifle threat, finishing the 2016-17 with the NCAA’s highest scoring average and finishing fourth at NCAAs.  Junior Ariana Grabowski (Beaver, Pennsylvania) and sophomore Casey Lutz (Meridian, Idaho) will also provide depth to the Frogs march to March.  As a freshman, Lutz earned a podium spot at NCAAs with a third-place finish in Smallbore. Sophomore Catherine Miller (Memphis, Tennessee) was third at Junior Nationals while newcomer Elizabeth Marsh (Searcy, Arkansas) was second. 

Murray State University comes into the season ranked third in the pre-season poll and for good reason. The Racers return all nine members of their 2016-17 Ohio Valley Conference championship squad this season, including one additional member. Of the nine returners, seven were named as an All-American one year ago. The Racers are led by senior Ivan Roe (Manhattan, Montana), an Air Rifle bronze medalist at USA Shooting’s National Championships, and rising junior MacKenzie Martin (Fairhaven, Massachusetts),who has captured bronze medals in Smallbore at each of the last two USA Shooting competitions.      

Rounding out the pre-season top five collegiate programs are the University of Kentucky and The Ohio State University.  Leading the Wildcats is USA Shooting Smallbore National Champion Hannah Carr (Versailles, Kentucky), who was fifth at last year’s NCAAs. Junior Jacob Buchanan (Spring, Texas)has emerged as a Buckeye shooting star this summer after being crowned Junior National Champion in Air and earning a junior bronze medal in Three-Position Rifle.   

MORE: Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) Preseason Poll

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