Everyone has a shot
Wide-open field takes aim at Rifle championships in Columbus
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Don’t be shocked if a top-ranked rifle team proves dominant in this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
Don’t be shocked if a sleeper squad shoots its way to victory, either.
Both team and individual rifle titles are at stake Friday and Saturday at Ohio State, which hosts the NCAA Championships for a second consecutive season.
Eight teams — No. 1 West Virginia, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Texas Christian, No. 4 Alaska-Fairbanks, No. 5 Jacksonville (Ala.) State, No. 6 Army, No. 7 Nebraska and No. 8 Air Force — square off in air rifle and smallbore competition, with team and individual events in the latter discipline scheduled for Friday at OSU’s Converse Hall. Air rifle events follow on Saturday at French Field House.
“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 head coach Jon Hammond of the top-ranked Mountaineers. “Obviously, we’ve had some really great performances, and that’s good.”
Here’s why every shot counts:
Announced by the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Rifle Committee on Feb. 20, the top eight teams were selected on two criteria — the average of their three highest regular-season aggregate scores (all shot at different sites), and the aggregate score from each team’s designated NCAA Championship qualifying match.
Those two totals, added together, determined this weekend’s top eight teams.
Each team will compete with a five-person roster. Those 40 participants also will compete for individual titles, along with eight additional athletes announced by the NCAA Committee on Feb. 21; those athletes were selected based on scores from their team’s designated NCAA Championship qualifying match.
Smallbore team and individual competition requires 20 shots with the same rifle in each of three positions (sitting, standing and kneeling). Air rifle requires 60 shots from a standing position. The eight individual competitors with the best scores in each discipline qualify for a 10-shot round that determines the individual national champions.
The overall team champion will be determined by combining smallbore and air rifle total scores into one aggregate score for each squad. All awards will be presented following the conclusion of Saturday’s competition.
As title dreams loom, top-ranked West Virginia wears the bulls-eye. The Mountaineers aim for an NCAA-best 15th national championship, boasting a 9,432 qualification score and their seventh consecutive NCAA bid.
“There’s still one big job for us to finish,” Hammond said of a season already rich with a fourth consecutive Great American Rifle Conference championship and an NCAA-record, air-rifle aggregate score of 2,381, shot during the team’s NCAA qualifying match at Ohio State on Feb. 17.
Returning to OSU’s French Field House and the Lt. Hugh W. Wylie Range in Converse Hall is a bonus.
“It feels great to know we get to shoot for the title in that range, too,” Hammond said.
Second-ranked Kentucky, which finished second in the GARC championships, won a third consecutive GARC regular-season title. The Wildcats also set two new team and two new individual records against Army earlier this season.
“It's always exciting to go to the NCAA championships,” head coach Harry Mullins said. “This is always one of our goals at the beginning of the season, to go, but also to try to make a strong push to bring home hardware.”
The Horned Frogs from reigning national champion TCU are attempting to capture their third NCAA title in the last four years. Led by senior standouts Sarah Beard, Caitlin Morrissey and Sarah Scherer, TCU qualified for its seventh consecutive NCAA Championship, having triumphed overall in 2010 and a year ago.
“It has been the goal and mind-set of the three seniors on this championship squad to return to Ohio State to defend their championship title,” said head coach Karen Monez.
The Alaska Nanooks, third-place finishers a year ago, qualified for their 26 consecutive NCAA Championship and 27th overall. The 2008 national champions, they’ll vie for their 11th national title.
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks, who won their five-team NCAA qualifying match, will compete at their third consecutive NCAA Championship. They secured a seventh Ohio Valley Conference crown in February.
Army’s Black Knights return for a 10th consecutive NCAA Championship, and, as one of two service academies along with Air Force. They are one of four GARC members to earn NCAA title bids.
Nebraska’s Cornhuskers are back in title contention for the first time since 2010. They finished third in the GARC championship.
The Air Force Falcons are making their first NCAA Championship appearance since 2003. This marks their 13th rifle title bid.