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Shooting at a Higher Level

Have you ever experienced one of those days where nothing went wrong–and everything went exactly how you wanted it to go? Sure, it rarely happens in most of our lives, but for the WVU Rifle Team there have been three days like that in the young season.

The team opened the season on the road at Army and set a new school record with a team score of 4709. They followed it up with a solid win in a tri-team meet with Ohio State and Akron. Most recently for an encore the team shot against Memphis and not only bested the newly set school record, but shattered the standing NCAA record for a team score with a 4717.

“You know the standard is just going up year after year and the quality in college rifle is just going up and up,” said Coach John Hammond of his squad. “They’ve obviously got a lot of talent and hopefully we can have a really good year.”

Hammond is as shocked as anyone by the scores being put up by the team from top to bottom. Besting the NCAA record set a year ago by Kentucky is still hard for him to imagine.

“It’s a score if you’d have asked me two years ago, I’d have said it’s not possible for any team,” Hammond said. “To shoot a team score like that you have to have all team members shooting like that. For me that’s the best thing to see.”

Leading the team is Olympian Petra Zublasing, who’s among the best shooters in the world today. However, even within her own squad, she’s being challenged.

“In small bore, one of our freshmen beat Petra and one of sophomores tied with Petra,” said Hammond. “She’s an Olympic shooter and one of the best in the world and for us to have guys that are matching her it’s obviously giving us strength and depth.”

It’s also giving Hammond a difficult time selecting who’s scores will represent the team in each match. Although all team members compete, the scores of only the five selected ahead of the match by the coach are considered “counters” in the competition. The best four of those five become the counting score. Hammond says he knows somebody is bound to have a bad day.

“I don’t necessarily expect that to continue with every match,” said Hammond. “Like any other sport everybody’s going to have an off day. If somebody has a bad day, that’s when you hope someone else can make up for that.”

The reality is the level of competition within the WVU range may be the toughest the shooters face all year. Most of the Mountaineer shooters would rank near the top of any other teams in the nation. Hammond says shooters know that before they arrive on campus in Morgantown.

“If you’re going to come here, sure you’re going to have more competition and there are no guarantees,” he said. “But you’re going to be around better shooters and that’s going to make you better as well. We want the kids who want to come, work hard, and be self motivated and they’ll be in an environment where they’re going to be able to improve.”

It sets up to be quite a year for the Mountaineers if the trend continues. Only five can qualify as the WVU team for the NCAA tournament, but others who aren’t on the official team can still shoot for individual honors. It shapes up to be another year in which WVU will have All-American Shooters who aren’t even part of the actual qualifying match team.

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