COLUMBUS, Oh. — Sophomore shooter Ginny Thrasher pulled off the firing line with six minutes left to complete the final shots of the second air rifle relay during Saturday’s 2017 NCAA Championships. Thrasher, WVU’s final shooter in the competition, had just fired her fifth “9” of the match and needed one final reset with Coach Jon Hammond.
Thrasher finished strong with six straight “10”‘s to post a score of 595 and helped round out a stellar air rifle day for the Mountaineers. The air rifle finish catapulted WVU to a 5th straight NCAA Rifle Championship and a record 19th overall. But the day belonged to WVU’s two freshman shooters Milica Babic and Morgan Phillips. Babic posted a score of 598 in the team competition and Phillips was right behind her with a 597. The Mountaineers’ Elizabeth Gratz also posted a 597 to soar the Mountaineers’ air rifle score to 2387–a season high
The Mountaineers finished with an aggregate score of 4723, an NCAA Championship match record. It was three shots short of the the team’s season high score of 4726.
“It’s very emotional,” said 11th year Head Coach Jon Hammond. “I’m just so happy for the team and all the hard work they put in. It never gets old because it’s always a new team.”
This year’s team was vastly different than the one which captured the NCAA’s a year ago. The young guns came to the 2017 Championship with only one senior and only one shooter, Thrasher, who had ever competed in the NCAA Championship match.
“The year is always very long and you always go through lots of ups and downs,” Hammond added. “The group this year is obviously a young group and there were a lot of things we had to work on. But I’m really pleased for them and just delighted to see them get the win.
Phillips, became the second freshman shooter to win an individual small bore title. She was unaware of it until she returned to the hotel Friday night.
“We try to not focus on the score, but focus on performance,” said Phillips. “I think we were all really happy with the small bore tittle but we came back in today and just refocused.”
Phillips focus was laser like going into the individuals finals. As competitors were eliminated one by one every two shots, the finals of the individual air rifle came down to Phillips and her teammate and roommate Babic.
“With three of them shooting in the final, it felt like shooting at home,” said Babic who eventually claimed the individual title in dramatic fashion. “I’m proud of shooting against Morgan at the end. It was a tough final, but I’m really proud of her.”
The final between Babic and Phillips featured high drama as both ladies shot a perfect 10.9 on the second to last shot. The crowd came alive with one shot left.
“I try to block everything out, but the crowd is cheering and they’re really loud,” Babic explained. “We love their support and feeling their emotions helped me a little bit. It boosts me up and helps me to get stronger with each shot.”
Babic’s final shot was a 10.5 while Phillips fired a 10.0. Babic won the individual title and earned the gold medal by 9/10ths of a point.
“That was pretty incredible. I’ve never seen something like that before,” said Hammond of watching his two shooters compete for the gold medal. “Two freshman. They’re roommates who are competing and then two 10.9’s that was pretty surreal. The final for me is a time when I can sit back and relax. I want one of my team members to come away with a win and it’s more of a celebration at that stage to let them go out and compete.”
Hammond had high praise for his two young shooters who have had to work to adapt to a lot this season.
“It’s funny, They’re roommates and they are just from incredibly different backgrounds and different places,” he said. “They’ve had a huge amount of growth and I think the four returners have to take a lot of credit for how they’ve helped those two and the rest of the freemen develop throughout the year. They’ve really guided them and helped them. They deserve a lot of credit, but those two have put in an incredible amount of work and they’ve listened to what we as a staff have told them and they’ve really done well.”
Overall the West Virginia team, for a second straight year, swept every award at the NCAA match. WVU took home the first place trophies for the overall tittle, air rifle, small bore and Babic and Phillip’s individual titles in the two disciplines provided a clean sweep for the second straight year for the Mountaineers.