Jan. 25, 2010

Courtesy of West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The West Virginia University rifle team earned the edge in a tight battle between the nation's top two teams and defeated Alaska-Fairbanks, 4697-4670, this evening at the WVU Coliseum.

The No. 2 Mountaineers (8-0, 4-0 GARC) handed the top-ranked Nanooks (8-1) their first defeat of the season. The victory is WVU's second consecutive over UAF and narrows the Nanooks series advantage to 6-4.

At 8-0 and riding a 14-match win streak, the Mountaineers are off to their best season start since 2003, when they jumped out to a similar record before ending the year at 11-2.

WVU's aggregate score of 4697 is a nation-best mark and trumps the Mountaineers' and Nanooks' previous respective season scores of 4691 and 4692; today's winning score is the highest collegiate combined total since the NCAA implemented a 60-shot course at the onset of the 2004-05 season.

The Mountaineers took care of business in both guns, defeating the Nanooks 2368-2352 air gun and 2329-2318 smallbore. WVU's air gun score is a season-high and school record. The team remains undefeated in both disciplines.

"Today was another strong team performance and definitely the type of result I was hoping for," says fourth-year coach Jon Hammond. "Everyone shot a solid match.

"The overall standard of today's match was one of the highest I have ever seen. Both teams shot phenomenally, which makes the win even more satisfying."

Junior transfer Nicco Campriani set or tied four school records and paced the field with a program-best aggregate score of 1185. The Florence, Italy, native shot a school-record 589 smallbore (199 prone, 195 standing, 195 kneeling) and tied sophomore Michael Kulbacki's air rifle record with a score of 596 (99, 98, 99, 100, 100, 100). Among his honors, Campriani's standing score of 195 matched a school record, also previously achieved by Kulbacki.

Kulbacki and senior Bryant Wallizer tied for second with a score of 1178; the mark is a personal-best for both Mountaineers.

UAF's Cody Rutter finished fourth with an aggregate score of 1177.

Rutter finished behind Campriani in smallbore with a 587 score. Wallizer tied the Nanooks' Jace Bures for third place with a personal-best mark of 586. The Little Orleans, Md., native improved upon his previous best, last achieved four days ago in the Mountaineers' victory over NC State, by six shots. Additionally, he shot a school-record 200 prone.

"Bryant's score definitely stands out today; it's such a great achievement," Hammond says. "He's been working hard on smallbore in practice, and the few things he focused on this week really paid off in the match. I think this result should boost his confidence for the remainder of the season."

Kulbacki also had a strong smallbore match and finished fifth overall with a personal-best score of 585. Additionally, junior Brandi Eskew shot a program-best 200 prone and concluded the evening with a 576 smallbore score.

UAF's Dustin Cheesbro finished two shots behind Campriani in air gun with a score of 594. Kulbacki placed third with a season-high 593, while Wallizer followed in fourth with a season-high 592.

Also of note, WVU sophomore Justin Pentz recorded a season-high combined score of 1160, shooting 585 air rifle and 575 smallbore.

"I think you peak in big matches," Hammond explains. "We wanted to put in a strong performance. I know some of the student-athletes felt nerves today, but they were able to deal with the pressure-filled situation and still shoot well.

"We may not shoot this high again for the rest of the season. We would like to, but we'll keep moving forward from this point and build off of the lessons learned. Hopefully today will help us come postseason."

Today's match came just three days after the Nanooks passed the Mountaineers at the top of the College Rifle Coaches Association Poll. WVU had held the No. 1 ranking since its national championship victory last March.

The Mountaineers will return to Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) action next weekend, as they compete against Ole Miss on Jan. 30, in Cookeville, Tenn., and Memphis on Jan. 31, in Murray, Ky. Both matches start at 8 a.m.