While folks in Columbus and Buckeye Nation rejoice in the start of spring football and the joy of their men’s basketball program defeating Indiana University Tuesday night, may they not forget that the NCAA Rifle Championships are taking place in their backyard on the campus of The Ohio State University. Forty-eight athletes representing 12 NCAA Rifle programs will be shooting for respective individual and NCAA National Titles, March 8-9, at the Converse Hall and French Field House on the Ohio State campus.
Competitive rifle shooting has been an established NCAA program since 1980 with Tennessee Tech taking the first three NCAA titles in the program’s early beginnings. The NRA Collegiate and Schools Department manages all Collegiate & School Shooting Programs to include; NRA Collegiate Rifle & Pistol Sectionals, NCAA Rifle Championships, NRA Collegiate Pistol Championships, NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championships, ACUI Shotgun Championships, and Senior ROTC.
“The NCAA program has long been a prime training ground for future U.S. team members that can set the path towards the Olympic podium,” said USA Shooting Director of Operations Dave Johnson who coached the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rifle Team to three-straight NCAA championships from 2001-03. “Team athletes learn critical skills for success in life and on the range. Most of the student athletes are high achievers-they perform in the classroom and behind the rifle. Self-discipline, motivation, goal setting and achievement, efficient use of limited practice time, athletic lifestyle, and the performance skills learned through regular competitions and dealing with high expectations are all critical experience factors that help develop athletes.”
USAS has long supported the NCAA program: the athletes for the NCAA Teams come through the USAS, CMP, and NRA pipelines. The USAS Junior Olympic Program is a prime training vehicle for young athletes and a great recruiting ground for coaches. USAS and the NCAA programs are close partners as both organizations feed athletes to each other.
USAS also has hosted the NCAA Championships twice and has played a leadership role in bringing the NCAA program into the electronic target and finals era. Ongoing programs include coach certification and training, athlete and coach mentoring, skill seminars sponsored by both USAS and USOC, and a constant eye towards building the sport.
The team qualifiers were announced Feb. 20 while individual participants were announced Feb. 21. The top-eight teams in both the Smallbore (.22 caliber) Three-Position and Air Rifle events include in order of their NCAA ranking: West Virginia, Texas Christian, Kentucky, Jacksonville State, Alaska-Fairbanks, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and Nebraska.
The West Virginia Mountaineers qualified as the field’s top-ranked team with a 9432.0 qualification mark (aggregate top score of team air and smallbore rifle). This is WVU’s seventh straight qualification to the NCAAs. The Mountaineers, who last won a title at the 2009 NCAA Championships, will shoot for an all-time best 15th title. The Mountaineers are led by 2012 Italian Olympian Petra Zubasling as well as a pair of USA Shooting National Junior Team (NJT) members in freshman Garrett Spurgeon (Canton, Mo.) and Taylor Ciotola (Pasadena, Md.).
“The way the system works now, you really need to put an importance on every single match, and we’ve tried to shoot our best each match this season, said WVU head coach Jon Hammond recently. “Obviously, we’ve had some really great performances, and that’s good. We’re coming off a strong showing in our NCAA Qualifying Match at Ohio State, and it feels great to know we get to shoot for the title in that range, too. We’ve worked really hard this season, and each of the shooters has improved a lot. Now, we just have to maintain our focus.”
The Mountaineers will be challenged by the defending NCAA champion TCU Horned Frogs which features an all-ladies shooting squad led by 2012 Olympian and two-time NCAA champion Sarah Scherer (Woburn, Mass.) along with her USA Shooting teammate and three-time NCAA All-American Sarah Beard (Indianapolis, Ind.). This senior-laden squad also features former National Team member Caitlin Morrissey (Topeka, Kan.) along with fellow NJT member Catherine Green (Coventry, R.I.).
TCU went undefeated in 2012-13, recording a 10-0 mark. The Frogs have won 41 straightregular-season matches dating back to the 2009-10 campaign.