West Virginia rifle sets championship record en route to fifth straight title
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The No. 2-ranked West Virginia University rifle team claimed its fifth straight NCAA title Saturday in commanding fashion, shooting a championship-record 4723 aggregate score at the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championships inside Ohio State’s French Field House.
Owning a two-shot advantage thanks to a winning, 2336 smallbore score shot Friday, WVU secured its nation-best 19th national championship with a season-high 2387 air rifle score.
“Today is always pretty tense, but this was an amazing showing,” Mountaineer coach Jon Hammond said. “We were prepared for an incredibly tight championship. This was an incredible performance by this team in this environment. It is crazy to shoot a season-high air rifle at an NCAA Championship. This is a great result overall.
“It’s hard to come in here and shoot your average, and we did just that. We shot our season average. We pushed our limits as a team this year and got better and better each match. This is a big jump in standards as to what teams can do at a championship. This is only going to make the competition tougher and tougher.”
This marks the second straight season and third time in four years that the Mountaineers have swept the team discipline titles.
The Mountaineers’ NCAA championship five-peat is the third in the sport since 1980. WVU previously won six straight titles from 1988-1993, and Alaska-Fairbanks won six straight from 1999-2004.
In addition to the team title, freshman Milica Babic became the second Mountaineer rookie in as many days to win an individual title, as she shot 208.1 in the final to claim the 2017 NCAA air rifle championship. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Babic entered the final in first place with a 598 (100-99-100-100-99-100) relay score.
“I’m really pleased for Milica,” Hammond said. “She’s had a great year in air rifle, and she came in here and performed exceptionally well. Milica has worked so hard this year on the mental side of the sport, and we’ve seen her grow as a shooter and a person.”
Classmate Morgan Phillips, who won the NCAA smallbore title Friday with a 464.3 final score, finished second behind Babic with a 207.2 mark. The final two shots were tight between the roommates, as each shot a 10.9 in the second-to-last shot.
For her efforts all weekend, Phillips earned the NCAA Championships’ Top Performer Award.
“Morgan shot a personal best both days, and that’s unbelievable at an event like this,” Hammond said. “She’s so calm but also mentally tough. She did a great job.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Smallbore rifle recap
With the wins this weekend, Mountaineer shooters have now swept the NCAA individual titles five times since 1992. This is the first time since 1993 that two different Mountaineer shooters have won the individual titles. Additionally, following sophomore Ginny Thrasher’s sweep in 2016, a freshman shooter has now claimed the last two straight NCAA air rifle and smallbore titles.
Twenty different Mountaineer shooters have claimed 27 national championships since 1961.
Junior Elizabeth Gratz finished in fifth place with a 144.3 mark, while Thrasher shot 99.7 and placed seventh.
Phillips and Gratz entered the final tied for second place overall with a 597 marks. The score is the second career-best mark for Phillips this weekend. Thrasher shot 595 and was tied for sixth place.
Senior Jean-Pierre Lucas shot 588 and tied for 28th place.
No. 1-ranked TCU finished second overall with a 4706 score. The Horned Frogs also placed second in air rifle (2372). No. 3 Murray State finished third overall with a 4692 total.
The eight-time reigning Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) champions, WVU finished the 2016-17 season with a 12-0 overall record and an 8-0 conference mark.