West Virginia wins 15th title with second-highest final point total in history
“Petra and the Mountaineers” isn’t a musical group, but it does describe how top-ranked West Virginia won the 2013 NCAA Rifle Championship this weekend at the host site, Ohio State.
Senior Petra Zublasing led with way, posting the top overall individual score in both Friday’s .22 caliber smallbore competition and Saturday’s air rifle competition. She also swept both disciplines’ individual titles.
Add Maren, Garrett, Meelis and Taylor to the chorus line — her Mountaineer teammates Maren Prediger, Garrett Spurgeon, Meelis Kiish and Taylor Ciotola — whose strong shooting combined with Zublasing’s to snare West Virginia’s NCAA-best 15th rifle championship.
“Watching it is still way worse than competing,” West Virginia head coach Jon Hammond said, himself a former Mountaineer who competed during the 2002-03 season and still shoots on the international level. “I have to try and relax and I tell my guys all the time they have to trust each other and I have to trust them to go out and do their thing.
“Our score is not the greatest score, but they toughed it out and they got the job done this weekend and that’s all that matters.”
West Virginia beat second-place Kentucky by nine points — 4,679 to 4,670 — in the aggregate scores from both competitions. Defending champion Texas Christian finished third, with an aggregate score of 4,664.
The Mountaineers’ final point total is the second-highest in NCAA Rifle Championship history, bettered only by Kentucky’s title-winning 4,700 in 2011.
West Virginia also won Saturday’s team air rifle title by eight points (2,363 to 2,355) against Kentucky. TCU had claimed Friday’s team smallbore title by a mere one point (2317 to 2316) against the Alaska-Fairbanks.
Saturday’s triumph marked Hammond’s second NCAA title at West Virginia. He won his first with the 2009 Mountaineers and coached West Virginia to the runner-up position behind Kentucky in 2011.
Friday’s smallbore competition, shot in the Lt. Hugh Wylie Range at OSU’s Converse Hall, reflected title tension. The three top-ranked teams out of the field of eight NCAA qualifiers — West Virginia, Kentucky and TCU, respectively — all shot below season averages, with competitors and coaches citing NCAA pressure.
“You could cut the air with a chainsaw,” Kentucky head coach Harry Mullins said.
The smallbore competition features 20 shots each from prone, standing and kneeling positions, respectively, at a distance of 50 feet. The top-eight shooters from Friday’s three back-to-back sessions, or relays, advanced to the individual smallbore finals, which Zublasing won.
The 4,700-point barrier, first broken in competition two years ago and cemented with Kentucky’s 2011 title total, has become the norm since, with top NCAA teams now shooting 4,700 or above during regular-season matches.
But, this weekend’s two-day session at OSU wasn’t the regular season, and Friday’s scores — and, ultimately, the final team aggregate scores — reflected it.
“The three or four [top] teams, we went into this knowing we had the potential and the skills to do it,” Mullins said. “Especially yesterday, each team shot 240 shots and there were two points that separated No. 1 from No. 4 after all that shooting, eight hours later. I think most of us are prepared for that coming into this, but, at the same token, it’s always a nerve-wracking experience.”
Saturday’s air rifle competition was more of the same.
Members of all eight teams were divided into two back-to-back relays, with Zublasing shooting in the second relay. In air rifle competition, participants shoot 60 shots from a distance of 40 feet during a two-hour period, with as many “sighter” or practice shots as they require before beginning competition shots.
Despite being unhappy with her first five competition shots, Zublasing continued, finally abandoning her firing-line spot after her 31st, to take a deep breath and confer with Hammond.
Consider that a perfect “10” is the only thing that matters at the NCAA and elite levels, as in a computer-tracked center shot.
“I had the 31st shot and I actually thought it was going to be a nine,” Zublasing said. “I winged it and I thought it was out. I looked down and it was 10.2 and I’m like, ‘you need to take a break. You can not make the next one. You’re not going to be lucky the next one.’ So I took a break and came back, and I was very, very fluid and very nice after that.”
Zublasing is the first shooter to win both individual rifle titles in an NCAA Rifle Championship since 2001. Alaska-Fairbanks’ Matt Emmons was the last to do it. She’s the first Mountaineer to win three career individual rifle titles — she was the defending individual air rifle champion — and Friday’s individual smallbore title made her the first Mountaineer to win one title in each discipline. She is the fourth Mountaineer to win two career air rifle titles.
“Petra is world-class,” Hammond said. “She’s simply one of the best in the world and to have someone like that makes NCAA competition better. But to have someone like that on your team is huge. She makes everyone on the team better.”
Zublasing said teammate Taylor Ciotola actually made the Mountaineers better on Saturday, thanks to his Friday-night dinner exhortation that he would rather compete for an NCAA title with no other group except his own teammates.
“I kind of think it was the feeling of you know, we did not do bad, we can do better tomorrow,” she said. “Let’s just do our best — each individual — for the team. Whatever you have to struggle, whatever you have to fight. So I think that made the difference.”
After shooting her final match as a senior, Zublasing now concentrates on international-level competition. An Italian native and engineering major at West Virginia, she says she’ll be sad to leave Morgantown and her teammates and friends behind.
“I’m glad to be a Mountaineer,” she said. “I’m very proud.”