MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While many eyes will be on top-ranked West Virginia’s shooters when the NCAA rifle championships open Friday, other competitors have deep ties to the Mountaineers program.
Morgantown native Aaron Flowers is a freshman shooting for Army. The 2017 graduate of University High School was a student at West Virginia before being accepted to West Point.
“He took a lot of his engineering classes, calculus, and science during that year he spent here,” said his father Carl Flowers. “He didn’t get accepted the first time, but he applied the next year and he made it.”
The emergence of Flowers is no longshot. His dad is a longtime competitive shooter and his mother, Marsha Beasley, is the former WVU rifle coach who’s now leading the program at Ole Miss.
“He got me back into it,” said Beasley who left the WVU position during the tumultuous era when the program was briefly eliminated in the early 2000s.
After her separation from WVU, she spent time being a mom, more specifically a “rifle mom.” Aaron started out shooting long-range and high-powered rifles with the West Virginia Junior Marksmanship program in Buckhannon. When he set his sites on a service academy appointment, Marsha encouraged him to consider a transition to smallbore and air rifle.
“I thought it might help him get into the academy — in the end it did not,” she said.
Still, Aaron followed his mother’s advice and shot matches during his high school days. He was a member of the Mason Dixon Junior Rifle Club and shot some of his matches at the WVU rifle range at the Shell Building.
“I was taking him around to matches and coaching him,” said Marsha. “Then suddenly, I’m bitten by the bug and getting back into it. He’s really the reason I’m now back coaching in college.”
This weekend, Beasley is back in Morgantown to watch the championships and her son compete. Her Ole Miss shooters barely missed qualifying for the NCAA championships. Ironically, it was her son’s Army squad that snatched the last spot in the championships.
“As a mom I’m very proud, but I think it’s just very cool for a hometown boy to be competing in the NCAA championship in his hometown,” Beasley said.
After attending Thursday’s practice session, Beasley said was surreal to see the Coliseum transformed into a rifle range. “The setup is beautiful and it is just so exciting that WVU is doing this.”
Much like Nick Saban’s football coaching tree sprouted from LSU and Alabama, West Virginia’s legendary rifle program has coaching branches stretching far and wide i the sport. Many will return to their roots this weekend.
Three head coaches for the nation’s service academies are former WVU shooters.
Web Wright is the coach for 11th-ranked Army. A 1989 WVU grad, he was a seven-time All American shooter and a member of national championship teams in 1986, 1988, and 1989. He was a two-time NCAA smallbore champion and a member of Team USA that shot at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Navy coach Mike Anti was an eight-time All-American in smallbore and air rifle at WVU from 1984-1987. During his college career, the Mountaineers went 38-2 and won two NCAA titles. He won the 1986 smallbore individual crown and was a four-time Olympian who won a 2004 silver medal in Athens.
His son, Will Anti, is a senior member of the WVU rifle team. Will won’t be shooting as one of the five “counters” for the Mountaineers this weekend, but likes the excitement of having family in town for the championships. And he hopes the Midshipmen do well.
“I’ll be rooting for them to have a second-place finish,” Will said.
The Air Force Academy’s visit to Morgantown will mark a return for WVU alum Dave Johnson. He led WVU to three national championships in 1983, 1984, and 1986, became an eight-time All-American and won the NCAA smallbore title in 1983. Johnson was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and coached Team USA in 2004, 2008, and 2012 during which the U.S. won five rifle medals. He formerly coached the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to a pair of national titles.
Other coaching links to West Virginia include Dan Hermsmeier, the head coach at Memphis who will accompany some of his individual qualifiers.