MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When you’re already the most successful program in the history of a sport, setting new standards isn’t easy. When the West Virginia rifle team stepped to the firing line on Jan. 17 to shoot against Akron, nobody could have predicted the outcome.
West Virginia easily won the match, but as the day wore on, West Virginia began to shoot against itself. Perfection is always the goal among WVU shooters and by day’s end they had become the best shooters in NCAA history.
The team broke its own NCAA record with an aggregate score of 4740. It was a record the Mountaineers already owned. It stood five days. The previous Tuesday WVU shot an aggregate 4724 against then-No. 5 Alaska-Fairbanks. Against Akron, they added 16 shots to the record.
“Today was another incredible performance from the team,” coach Jon Hammond noted after the feat. “I don’t know if any of us thought that a 4740 score was possible. I am really proud of the team with how hard they have worked and how hard they have focused since they came back from break.”
A trio of Mountaineers set career-high scores in smallbore, with senior Meelis Kiisk (198 kneeling, 200 prone, 192 standing), senior Michael Bamsey (196 kneeling, 199 prone, 193 standing) and freshman William Anti (192 kneeling, 198 prone, 194 kneeling) each shooting a 590, 588 and 584 mark, respectively.
“Will had an incredible performance in smallbore for a career-high, and Meelis shot an incredible 590 in smallbore,” Hammond stated. “590 is an incredibly hard score to shoot, but he was inching closer and closer to that mark just like all the others are.”
Junior Jean-Pierre Lucas (195 kneeling, 200 prone, 192 standing) and Kiisk matched a program record, shooting 200 prone. The 200 prone mark was last shot by sophomore Elizabeth Gratz and Kiisk against Alaska-Fairbanks, at the WVU Rifle Range, on Jan. 12.
“From this point on, it is all about consistency,” Hammond explained. “We have to stay very level headed. We have to keep working, and we have to keep doing the things that we have been doing. We don’t want to get caught up on the outcome. While it’s a great team score, we want to get back in the range and keep working hard.”
The Mountaineers are ranked No. 1 again this week. Rankings are based on team aggregate scores and indicate consistency in performance. Saturday’s match against No. 14 Navy was postponed by Winter Storm Jonas.
Fans will get a chance to visit with the team and watch them in action in a different venue when they take on N.C. State on Saturday, Jan.30. The air rifle portion of the match will be held as an open air competition in the WVU Shell Building. Smallbore will be shot that morning at 8 a.m. on the WVU Rifle Range. The air rifle events will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
“As a team, we’re very excited to host this unique event for all the WVU rifle fans and supporters in the area,” Hammond said. “This match not only provides us the chance to shoot in a different venue, it also allows us to shoot in an arena that’s more fan-friendly. The air rifle range will be very similar to an NCAA Championships environment, and I think that will add excitement for the fans and for the teams competing.”
The 2013, 2014 and 2015 national championship trophies will be on display for photos, and a free youth clinic will immediately follow the match. Additionally, the Mountaineers will meet with fans to sign autographs.
“Rifle is a unique sport, and it holds a special place within WVU athletics,” Hammond said. “We’re excited to educate our young fan interested in rifle at the youth clinic. Participants will be invited to shoot on the range and to speak with the student-athletes. Overall, this promises to be a very unique, fun day for all fans in the area.”