MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After a long journey from his homeland of Paide, Estonia, all the way to West Virginia, sophomore Meelis Kiisk had a lot of transitioning to do and changes that he would have to face on his way to success.
Luckily for Kiisk, his wife, Kristina, accompanied him to the United States where they were both greeted with a warm welcome by his West Virginia rifle teammates, coaching staff and WVU faculty.
“The hardest part was the first couple of months here when I was adjusting to the environment and getting used to everything,” Kiisk said. “Getting married back home before I came here made transitioning into the American culture a little easier. It has been really nice to have [Kristina] here because she is able to support me, especially since she is basically living through the same situation I am.”
Getting to America wasn’t entirely smooth for Kiisk.
“My recruiting process was dragged out a little bit,” Kiisk said. “Prior to finishing high school in 2010, I emailed coaches from about 10 different universities. [WVU head coach] Jon [Hammond] was one of the coaches who responded, but he responded by saying that he didn’t have any space available on the team for the 2010 season.
“The coach from Tennessee Tech was another who responded. We got my paperwork together, and they had offered me a scholarship, so I started to get excited. That all changed in mid-April 2010 when I got an email from the Tennessee Tech coach saying that due to budget cuts the rifle program had been shut down. I knew that I wouldn’t have any shooting opportunities if I went to a university in Estonia because I would have to find a job to pay for my schooling.”
Still determined to make it to the United States to further his education and his shooting opportunities, Kiisk contacted Hammond again.
Kiisk’s patience and persistence paid off. Hammond said that he would be glad to sign Kiisk to the team with one stipulation — he had to wait until the fall of 2011.
Once he arrived Kiisk, a computer and electrical engineering double-major, had a lot on his plate as a student-athlete. He described it as “an interesting combination.”
“I feel like studying should come first and shooting should be second, in an ideal setting especially since studying is going to determine my career for the rest of my life,” Kiisk said. “I know that studying should come first, but for me it’s the opposite. The most important reason why I am here is shooting. I am a really good student, or at least I think I am, but I won’t be able to get 4.0s every semester because I choose to be here in the range practicing instead of studying.”
Hammond describes Kiisk as a “model student-athlete.”
“I think [Kiisk] sets a great example to everyone else on the team with his work ethic and how hard he trains; not just on the range but off the range as well,” Hammond said. “He works hard in all of his classes and works hard in the range. He just really gets everything done, and I think it really sets a great example to everyone on the team. He shows the newcomers what is expected and required if they want to improve and get better.”
Kiisk reflected on his first year. “My freshman year here was really hard for me because I had a lot of technical things to take care of and it took a long time. My whole first year I was working on things like my positions,” he said
After all of the hard work that he had put in, Kiisk hit a huge speed bump in his journey to success — he developed pneumonia two weeks before the 2012 NCAA Championships were to begin.
“I would have really liked to have been able to go to NCAAs last year,” Kiisk said with an optimistic tone. “When I have thought about it afterwards, I have thought that maybe it was better that I didn’t go or maybe I wasn’t ready for that yet. I am trying to find a positive outcome instead of thinking negatively about not competing at last year’s NCAA Championships.”
According to Hammond, Kiisk has made a lot of improvements since last season.
“His first season, we made a lot of changes,” Hammond said. “We worked a lot with his positions and worked on getting him settled into college life and the daily routine of being on the team and training. This season, he has really taken a step forward and become more consistent. His scores have definitely improved, and he is one of the hardest workers on the team, and that has benefited him.
“This season, [Kiisk] has really taken a step forward and become more consistent. I think all the hard work that he put in last year is starting to pay off this year.”
One of the hardest working shooters on the team, Kiisk knows what he needs to work on to achieve his goals.
“Since my positions are already figured out, now I can pay a little more attention to the mental level of shooting and my match management,” Kiisk said. “I definitely want to keep working hard like I have been so far and continue to train even after my NCAA eligibility runs out so I can go to the Olympic Games following graduation in May 2016.”
“I look for [Kiisk] to just continuously grow and improve,” Hammond said. “As he gains more experience and continues to work hard, he is going to continue to get better. I think he has a great future ahead. I look for him to stay on the path he is on now and just keep improving.”