The No. 1-ranked West Virginia rifle team clinched its third consecutive and nation-best 17th title at the NCAA Championships with a 4702 score Saturday at Alaska-Fairbanks’s Patty Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The team aggregate score is the second best in NCAA Rifle Championships history. WVU rifle (11-1, 8-0 GARC) is the only University program to win an NCAA Championship. WVU also holds the nation-best 4705 record, shot at last year’s championships. They are the first to win three titles in a row since Alaska-Fairbanks’ run from 2006-2008.The 2015 title is the fourth under nine-year coach Jon Hammond.
WVU began the air rifle competition with a 2319 score, 12 points behind No. 2 Alaska-Fairbanks, who won Friday’s smallbore competition with a 2331 score. UAF shot a 2369 mark in air rifle Saturday for a second-place finish, ending with a 4700 score.
“It was an amazing performance today,” Hammond said. “Winning three titles back to back is unreal. We have stressed with them all year to focus on performance and not outcome. They did that today. No one did anything wrong yesterday, but they performed the right way today. All five of them shot incredible. We really tried to not think about point difference or score. That’s the nature of the sport. You can’t control the other teams.”
No. 6 TCU finished third overall with a two-day total of 4667. No. 4 Nebraska placed fourth with 4667, while No. 3 Jacksonville State placed fifth with 4664. Sixth, seventh and eighth places went to No. 5 Kentucky (4657), No. 7 Air Force (4642) and No. 8 Murray State (4637).
The Mountaineers shot a 2383 air rifle score, the second highest in team and NCAA history, and also took home the top three places in the individual final. Senior Maren Prediger started the first air rifle relay with a near-perfect 598 (100-100-99-100-100-99) score, one shot short of her career high, and entered the final in first place.
Prediger scored 205.8 in the final, earning the 2015 air rifle individual title. Prediger’s title is the first for a Mountaineer at an NCAA Championship since 2013, when Mountaineer alum Petra Zublasing won the title, also with a 598 score. Another team veteran, Nicco Campriani, holds the WVU all-time high air rifle championships record with a 599 mark, which also earned him the title in 2011.
Prediger, who placed second in last year’s final (205.0), pushed WVU’s individual title count to 23. There have now been 17 rifle national champions in Mountaineer history.
“For Maren to shoot a 598 air rifle in her last match is incredible,” Hammond said. “I can’t fault her on anything this weekend. It says a lot about her character to come back today and win. She’s a world-class air rifle shooter. For her to win the final after being so close last year is a huge credit to her. To do it during her final match is even better.”
Also in the first air rifle relay, junior Michael Bamsey shot 595 and placed fifth, narrowing the Nanook’s lead to just three points.
Senior Thomas Kyanko shot 590 in the second relay, reducing the Mountaineers’ deficit to two points.
In the final relay, junior Garrett Spurgeon (596) and senior Ziva Dvorsak (594) secured the title for the Mountaineers, placing second and sixth, respectively. Spurgeon’s 596 (99-99-100-100-100-98) score was one short of his career high.
Prediger, Bamsey, Spurgeon and Dvorsak counted toward the Mountaineers’ air rifle score, and all four represented WVU in the individual final.
Bamsey trailed Prediger in second place with a 200.6 final score, while Spurgeon placed third with 182.8. Dvorsak placed sixth with 122.5.Of note, Spurgeon was awarded the NCAA Rifle Championships’ inaugural Top Performer Award. He boasts a two-day, 1179 total at this year’s championships.
“That award is truly deserved for Garrett,” Hammond said. “He had awesome performances both days. He’s probably always seen himself as more of a smallbore shooter than an air rifle shooter. To shoot a 596 air rifle match was a huge contribution to the team. He had a fantastic weekend.”
Today’s match was the final career competition for four Mountaineers: Dvorsak, Kyanko, Prediger and Taylor Ciotola.
“I’m proud of the whole year and the whole team, and even the guys back in Morgantown,” Hammond said. “They all push each other. I’m incredibly proud of how they performed today, but we put the hard work and foundations in all year.”
Yesterday, WVU shot a 2319 smallbore score and sat in second place after day one of the championships.
“Our score was not what we would have liked it to be,” Hammond said. “It was definitely below our average. I thought our performance was good, however, and all five of the team members shot their match how I would want them to shoot it.”
Dvorsak and Spurgeon paced the Mountaineers with 583 relay scores. Dvorsak placed fifth with 30 center shots (196 kneeling, 193 prone, 194 standing), while Spurgeon placed seventh with 26 (191 kneeling, 199 prone, 193 standing). The score matched Dvorsak’s season high and was one shot higher than Spurgeon’s season average.
Bamsey followed with 581 (192 kneeling, 197 prone, 192 standing), placing eighth, while Prediger and Kyanko scored 572 in the relay.
Bamsey, Dvorsak, Spurgeon and Kyanko counted toward the team score.
“They were all patient and disciplined,” said Hammond. “They all had a couple struggles in the match. While it’s not the outcome and score we would have liked, they did their best and put everything into it.”
Three Mountaineers -- Dvorsak, Spurgeon and Bamsey -- competed in the individual final. It was the second consecutive NCAA smallbore final for Spurgeon and Dvorsak, and the first for Bamsey.
Spurgeon placed fourth in the final with 432.9, and Dvorsak (411.9) and Bamsey (398.2) followed in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Nebraska’s Rachel Martin claimed the smallbore individual title with 453.3. UAF’s Ryan Anderson (452.6) and UK’s Connor Davis (441.3) completed the podium places.
“Even the three who made the final probably aren’t satisfied with the results,” Hammond said. “They all worked hard and did a lot of really good things well. It was nice to have so many in the final. Garrett coming away with fourth place showed the consistency he has in the smallbore discipline. The finals are very difficult to come out on the top and win, and for Garrett to get it done was good.”