No. 1 Mountaineers take aim at national rifle championship

COLUMBNUS, Ohio – The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle team shoots for its 15th national title at the 2013 NCAA Championships today and Saturday at the Ohio State Converse Hall and French Field House.

The Mountaineers qualified as the top seed. WVU, the four-time defending Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) champions, last won the title in 2009.

“I think we’re prepared,” says seventh-year coach Jon Hammond. “It’s always a challenge to get everything timed right, but we’ll be ready. We’ve had a good semester, and we’ve especially improved over the last month. I’m excited for a good performance from this group.”

The championships open with the smallbore competition at 8 a.m. Individual finals will follow the three relays at 4:30 p.m. The first of two air rifle relays will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with the individual finals set for 1:45 p.m.

WVU qualified for its seventh straight championships with a 9432.0 qualification mark, which is based on the average of a team’s three highest regular-season aggregate scores, with no more than one match at any given site. That average was then added to the squad’s aggregate total for the team’s designated qualifier.

The Mountaineers shot an NCAA-record 4720 at the WVU Rifle Range on Nov. 9. The team also tallied highs of 4719 at Alaska-Fairbanks on Nov. 17 and 4709 at Army on Oct. 7. Additionally, WVU earned a 4716 score in its NCAA Qualifier Match at Ohio State on Feb. 17.

This weekend’s competition is the Mountaineers’ third at OSU’s facilities this season, as they also shot against the Buckeyes and Akron in Columbus on Oct. 13.

“It definitely helps that we’ve shot in the range twice this year,” says Hammond. “We’ve been fortunate to get a familiarity and feel for the venue. We will know when we walk in there this weekend what to expect, and I think that will help put the team at ease and limit distractions.”

Five Mountaineers will shoot for the team’s title: senior Petra Zublasing, sophomores Taylor Ciotola, Meelis Kiisk and Maren Prediger, and freshman Garrett Spurgeon.

Kentucky, the only team to defeat the Mountaineers this season and the 2011 NCAA champions, qualified as the No. 2 seed. UK defeated WVU, 4704-4695, on Feb. 2, in Lexington, Ky.

TCU, the reigning champions, will shoot for its third title in four years as the No. 3 seed. Alaska-Fairbanks, Jacksonville State, Army, Nebraska and Air Force round out this year’s eight-team field.