MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Mountaineers were in the hunt for their 20th national championship when the sun rose Saturday. However, it didn’t take long to realize this would not be the Hollywood ending Mountaineer fans had envisioned for the program’s first NCAA national championship event at the WVU Coliseum.
Instead West Virginia settled for a second-place finish, seven points behind TCU’s score of 4699.
“There’s always nerves in a championship like this. I think we felt the nerves a little bit,” said WVU coach Jon Hammond. “I know they did the best they could and tried to keep composed and be as calm as they could under the circumstances. You always hope when you get going you’ll be able to settle into the flow of the match, but it’s a tough environment.
“I felt the pressure just sitting there and I wasn’t out there trying to stand still and shoot a tiny dot at the other end.”
The two-day event drew 2,215 fans, a rifle championships record eclipsing the 919 at Alaska-Fairbanks in 2007.
Tied with TCU entering the final day, struggles came early for the Mountaineers.
David Koenders, who led Friday’s smallbore competition for WVU, could only muster a 587 in the air rifle. Sarah Osborn and Morgan Phillips struggled with 587 and 584 respectively. Milica Babic and Ginny Thrasher managed to shoot 596 and 591, but it was the Horned Frogs’ day.
TCU’s shooters Angeline Henry and Kristen Hemphill each posted a 593 in air rifle. Elizabeth Marsh, who won the smallbore competition Friday, shot a 592 and Casey Lutz shot a 590. Rachel Garner’s 586 for the Horned Frogs didn’t count in air rifle since the team’s lowest score is dropped.
Air Force came on strong during the air rifle competition, posting a team total of 2368 and winning the event.
The Horned Frogs’ good fortune continued into the individual air rifle final. Hemphill and Henry were tied with two shots left for the title. Hemphill edged her teammate with an individual score of 248.2 and Henry had 247.9. The Mountaineers’ Babic placed fifth in the individual competition.
“It’s been a rough 48 hours for sure. The expectations were high from our teammates, our families, from all of our supporters,” said Babic. “We all gave our best, which is what we expected from each other. It was really rough when you looked at the scores, but nobody gave up.”
Decorated senior teammate Ginny Thrasher finished 11th with a 591 total but enjoyed a standing ovation from the audience as she completed her final shot as a Mountaineer.
“This is a very difficult 48 hours and I’m just thankful I got to finish my career here at home. We broke the attendance record and that’s thanks to Mountaineer nation,” Thrasher said. “I was prepared for the number of people, but it was getting overwhelming at the end. People were screaming, ‘Thank you, Ginny!’ That really touched me.”
West Virginia entered as the No. 1 seed.
“The team fought really hard and we did a lot of things really well,” Thrasher said. “Any shot could be the difference in winning and losing. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Notable from the air rifle competition was the performance of shooter Rosemary Kramer of Georgia Southern. Kramer set a new NCAA championship record with 599.
It may have been the first NCAA rifle championship that included tailgating in the parking lot.
“I just have to say a huge thank-you to all the fans who showed up yesterday and today,” Hammond said. “To have that many people to show up and show their support for our team and the sport, it was incredible.”