NCAA Rifle Preview: Eight Teams Look to Scale Championship Mountain in Mountaineer Country

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (March 6, 2019)

WVU Coliseum during an match earlier this season.  Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics. Country roads are leading this nation’s elite NCAA rifle programs to West Virginia University Coliseum Friday and Saturday for the 2019 NCAA Rifle Championships, as 48 competitors get ready to represent their sport and school.

On 19 different occasions, the West Virginia Mountaineers have proven that when it comes to NCAA Rifle titles, Morgantown is a consistent home.  Now, hosting the rifle championship for the first time in the illustrious history of the program, WVU will try and defend home turf against plenty of worthy competition.

University of Kentucky is the defending national champion, having ended the five-straight titles the Mountaineers had going. The all-female squad of Texas Christian University enters as the No. 1-ranked team. Sprinkle in eight teams and eight other individual competitors with a host site anxious to showcase their love of rifle shooting and there’s more than enough intrigue.

Plenty of USA Shooting Team athletes are also among them including Olympic gold medalist Ginny Thrasher (Springfield, Virginia), who is anxious to end her final collegiate match the same way she came in – as a champion. Both the air and smallbore NCAA champion her freshman year just prior to her Olympic gold-medal run, she was recently named the Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) Shooter of the Year and Outstanding Senior.  A nine-time All-American, Thrasher's aggregate season average of 1178.909 ranks No. 2 nationally. She also ranks No. 4 nationally in air rifle (594.364) and smallbore (584.545).

“I'm really proud to be an athlete at WVU and to have worn the Gold and Blue for the last four years,” Thrasher said recently. “It's something I will always look back at and remember as an amazing experience. I remember my freshman year and experiencing my first NCAA Qualifying Match. It's always our Senior Day, and I remember thinking, 'I never want to leave.' It's here now, and I'm really happy I have had the last four years and that I can continue shooting after graduation.”

Morgan Phillips will shoot among her Mountaineer support system with a chance at NCAA Rifle history as she can become the second athlete ever to earn three straight NCAA individual championships, joining three-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons. Photo courtesy of DeWitt Photos.Thrasher’s teammate and National Junior Team member Morgan Phillips (SalIsbury, Maryland) is the defending two-time NCAA Smallbore (.22 caliber) Rifle Champion.  She’s battled a hip injury for a good portion of the year and will have to overcome that as well as a talented smallbore field in order to earn a third individual crown. She ranks second coming in with a 586.0 season average. The only individual to ever win three-straight NCAA titles in either rifle discipline is three-time Olympic medalist Matt Emmons (Browns Mills, New Jersey), when he won three straight smallbore titles at Alaska Fairbanks from 2001-03.

The Mountaineers also include USA Shooting Team member Sarah Osborn (Hampton, Virginia). TCU is loaded with USA Shooting talent with four current members including Elizabeth Marsh (Searcy, Arkansas); Kristen Hemphill (Lohn, Texas); Rachel Garner (Celina, Texas); and Angeline Henry (Fort Worth Texas) as well as past team member Casey Lutz (Meridian, Idaho). 

Other current team members represented will include Kentucky’s Will Shaner (Colorado Springs, Colorado), Army’s Lauren McMahan (Sarasota, Florida), as well as Air Force cadets Peter Fiori, Jr. (Lebanon, New Jersey) and Logan Ogden, (Galway, New York). 

Parity among the teams competing this weekend is high according to WVU head coach Jon Hammond. 

"This is one of the more competitive fields we've had in a long time," Hammond said. "No team has jumped out and been dominant this season. We know it's going to be very competitive, and that's where the extra planning and preparation will be important. There isn't a favorite this season – each team can approach the weekend with the same expectations and aspirations. I think it's going to be exciting for spectators, and we're going to need to do our best."

That competitive anticipation and the shooting star power will be greeted by what may very well be an NCAA championship record crowd as Mountaineer country prepares for an event years in the making.

"This is going to be a pretty unique event for Mountaineer fans, and we're excited to be a part of it," Nathaniel Zinn, West Virginia's assistant athletics director for sports marketing, said. "We market special events from time to time and this would qualify as that."
According to Zinn, more than 500 advance tickets have already been sold for the two-day competition, which is about what a typical NCAA rifle championship event draws over two sessions.  The NCAA hasn't tracked attendance figures for its rifle championships but it is believed that Alaska Fairbanks once drew more than 1,000 spectators for its two-day event back in 2007.
Besides West Virginia, four of the other seven teams competing this weekend are within driving distance– defending national champion Kentucky, Army, Navy and Murray State.
Army coach Web Wright and Navy coach Mike Anti are WVU rifle alums, as is Air Force assistant coach Dave Johnson. Memphis head coach Dan Hermsmeier, once a graduate assistant coach on Hammond's WVU staff, will also be there this weekend coaching Levi Clark, one of four individual smallbore qualifiers competing.  WVU is expecting more than 40 former WVU shooters, plus former Mountaineer coach and Olympic gold medalist Ed Etzel, to be at the event this weekend.
Making the NCAA Championships in Morgantown a possibility is the new mobile rifle range purchased a few years ago through the generous donation made by former West Virginia placekicker Bill McKenzie.  

The smallbore competition will be held Friday, with the call to line for the first relay set for 9:30 a.m. The second relay's call to line will follow at 12:15 p.m., and a smallbore final will begin at 3 p.m.

Switzerland product, Barbara Schlapfer of Murray State, ranks No. 1 with a 587.417 smallbore average and a season high of 591 shot November 11 at Ohio State. Phillips is second and also shot a 591 during the season, November 10 at TCU.

On Saturday, the first air rifle relay will be called to the line at 9:45 a.m., and the second relay will follow at 11:45 a.m. A team champion will be determined near 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The air rifle finalists will be called to the line at 2 p.m., and an award ceremony will follow at 3:45 p.m.

Kentucky’s freshman standout, Shaner, ranks No. 1 with a 596.364 average.  Thrasher, Lutz, Schlapfer and Garner each own the highest Air Rifle score on the season having shot 599 with Garner doing so twice on back-to-back weeks in September.

NCAA Championship Information:



  • UAF - The Nanooks will be competing for their 11th NCAA team title after last winning the national championship in 2008. Since becoming an NCAA sport in 1980, Alaska has won 10 national titles and has been the runner-up on seven occasions. Furthermore, Alaska has boasted 16 individual NCAA Champions, with Tim Sherry ('16) being the most recent Nanook to do so in the 2014 NCAA Championships.
  • Murray State - For the fifth time in as many seasons, the Murray State rifle team will compete for a national championship. MSU will enter the event seeking its third NCAA national title and first since 1987. This NCAA selection marks the 33rd appearance by the Racers in the championship and they are currently tied with Alaska-Fairbanks for the second-most all-time. 
  • Navy - This marks Navy's first team national championship appearance since 2011 and is the program's 27th appearance all-time. Navy's 27 appearances in the NCAA Championship are fourth-most all-time, trailing only West Virginia (36), Alaska (33) and Murray State (33).
  • Kentucky - UK reached the NCAA Championships for the 25th time. The Wildcats have won the national title twice -- last year and in 2011, and UK has six runner-up finishes.
  • Army - After a program record-setting performance in its NCAA qualification match, the Army West Point rifle team qualified to compete at the NCAA Championships for the first time since the 2013-14 season. 
  • Air Force - This is the Air Force Academy's 18th year competing in the Championships since 1980.  It is the fifth-consecutive time under head coach Launi Meili that Air Force teams have competed. At the Patriot Rifle Conference Championships, the Falcons won a first-ever conference championship title, beating out the top rifle team in the country, TCU, 4708-4695. The Falcons also defeated conference foes Nevada (4665), Ohio State (4661), Alaska (4660), and UTEP (4610). 
  • TCU - The TCU Rifle team will head to the NCAA Rifle Championships for the 13th consecutive season. Horned Frogs have fired eight of the top 20 aggregate scores this season and rank second nationally with a team average of 4,700. For the second straight season, TCU fired the highest NCAA Qualifier score (4,711) to secure its spot in the field of eight. The Frogs have put up solid numbers all season long, surpassing the 4,700-point plateau in 10-of-13 matches. TCU is one of just two teams in the NCAA with an aggregate average over 4,700. As a team, the Frogs are averaging 2,375 in air rifle and 2,325 in smallbore. 
  • WVU - The No. 4-ranked West Virginia University rifle team will compete for its nation-best 20th NCAA title. The qualification is the 12th straight for the Mountaineers. WVU owns a nation-best 19 national titles and has won six under 13-year coach Jon Hammond, including five straight from 2013-17. Three Mountaineers have won five combined NCAA individual titles. Junior Morgan Phillips is the two-time reigning NCAA smallbore champion. Classmate Milica Babic won the 2017 NCAA air rifle title, and senior Ginny Thrasher became the first freshman to sweep the NCAA air rifle and smallbore titles in 2016. They are 6-0 against this year’s field in head-to-head competition.


NCAA Team Ranks

Rank Team                                     Total

1       TCU                                           9424

2       Kentucky                                9411.33

3       Air Force                                9408.67

4       West Virginia                        9405.67

5       Murray St.                              9370.67

6       Navy                                        9344.67

7       Alaska                                     9343.33

8       Army                                       9343.33

Individual Qualifiers (Smallbore Three-Position)
Brandon Bryer, Morehead State
Levi Clark, Memphis
Andre Gross, Akron
Mitchell Van Patten, Nevada

Individual Qualifiers (Air Rifle)
Rosemary Kramer, Georgia Southern
Alec Patajo, Nevada
Alexa Potts, Morehead State
Hanna Virga, Nebraska

READ:  NCAA CHAMPION Magazine took a deep dive into the data and conversations happening within RIFLE to show where the sport has been and where it’s going:


**Special thanks to the NCAA and the participating universities and their Sports Information Directors for the editorial assistance on this article. 

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