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Tucker wins smallbore; WVU rifle team leads after opening day of NCAA National Championship

— by Cody Nespor, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The smallbore individual championship round did not start how WVU senior Mary Tucker wanted on Friday at the NCAA Rifle National Championship inside the WVU Coliseum.

Tucker found herself in eighth place, last, following the first series of kneeling shots, facing an uphill battle the rest of the way.

“My kneeling position is really good and my hold is really good, but my brain doesn’t trust it,” Tucker explained. “I was just kind of fighting with myself there and not letting myself take good shots, which is obviously not what you want.”

The shooters took series of five shots in three positions, — kneeling, prone and then standing.

Despite the slow start, once the shooters got out of kneeling position, Tucker took off. After a strong series of prone shots, Tucker had climbed the leaderboard and was within striking distance of the top.

“My first prone (series) was really good,” Tucker said. “I had two 10.9s, which is always very nice and the crowd kind of gave me some energy off of that and I saw that I jumped up to the middle of the pack.”

When the shooters got into standing position, it became Tucker’s championship to lose.

“Going into standing, I had jumped into third and I was like ‘We’re winning this, we can do it now,’” she said.

Tucker had made it into first place by the time the competitors got to their final five shots. The shooter in last place was dropped after each of the final five shots until it was just Tucker and TCU’s Katie Zaun left shooting. Tucker led by more than a full point heading into the final shot and a 10.6 clinched her the 2024 individual smallbore championship.

“I feed off the crowd’s energy a lot,” Tucker said. “I told my team before I would really like for them to get really loud and make it exciting because that’s not really common in rifle. I wanted to get some more energy going and they definitely delivered.

“My shooting got better at the end and I was just feeding off their energy knowing these people are rooting for me. That’s not something I’m super used to and so that really made me want to win.”

Tucker’s final score was 462.0, ahead of Zaun’s 459.8 in second place. TCU’s Stephanie Grundosee, who was in first for much of the round, finished in third with a score of 448.1.

“It was a heck of a final,” WVU coach Jon Hammond said. “(Tucker) can shoot all three positions well but she definitely had a rough start in kneeling. There’s not many people that have the resiliency to just stay determined and keep with it. Those finals are challenging and there’s a lot of pressure and it’s kind of out of your control. But she just kept plucking away.”

Tucker’s win capped off a strong day of smallbore sooting for the Mountaineers, who lead the team standings after day one with a score of 2,353. TCU is in second place with a score of 2,347 and Kentucky is in third with 2,338.

“It was a hard day, we didn’t get off to the best start,” Hammond said. “No one shot badly today but other than Mary, the others all would’ve liked a few points here or there. Fortunately, we’re in the lead, so it’s not a bad day. That came from our collective effort.”

Tucker had the highest individual score in the team portion Friday at 596. She scored 100 in each of the final three series, prone and both standing.

“Obviously Mary really helped us,” Hammond said. “(To score) 200 in standing at the end is just world-class, it’s amazing to watch.”

The rest of WVU’s shooters were Griffin Lake (587), Matthew Sanchez (585), Molly McGhin (585) and Gavin Barnick (585).

“I don’t think our team did anything wrong today,” Hammond said. “No one was overly nervous, it just takes a couple points here or there. They’re a few points below what they had hoped they would be and then you times that by three or four and it adds up.

“You’d rather be in the lead than not in the lead so we’ll take that. We’ll try to reset and go out and give it our best in air rifle.”

The team champion and another individual champion will be crowned Saturday in the air rifle competition. The team relays will begin at 8:45 a.m. and the individual finals are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

The Mountaineers are trying to win their record 20th national championship and first since 2017.





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