The No. 1-ranked West Virginia University rifle team opened the defense of its national championship strong, winning the 2014 NCAA smallbore tile with a score of 2338 today, at the 2014 NCAA Rifle Championships, at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range, in Murray, Ky.
Today's smallbore title is the first for the Mountaineers under eighth-year coach Jon Hammond. Five student-athletes shot for WVU, with juniors Ziva Dvorsak (588), Thomas Kyanko (584) and Meelis Kiisk (581), and sophomore Garrett Spurgeon (585) combining for the team score. Additionally, junior Maren Prediger shot 571.
"I don't know if we expected this result, but I knew we were capable of this," says Hammond. "They are all really good, experienced shooters. We prepared carefully for this championship. We wanted them to be comfortable shooting this match, and they were. They were confident, and they were able to shoot scores in and around their season averages. You can't ask for a whole lot more than that."
No. 3-ranked Alaska-Fairbanks trails WVU by 17 shots and sits in second place with a 2321 score. No. 6 Memphis is third with a 2320 mark, while No. 2 Kentucky is fourth (2316) and No. 4 Nebraska is fifth (2313).
The Mountaineers' (10-0, 7-0 GARC) score is their second-highest of the season and top mark since shooting 2342 in a win over NC State on Jan. 19. WVU entered the championships boasting a 2324 season average.
Three shooters represented WVU in the discipline final. Spurgeon placed second overall with a score of 451.6, while Kyanko finished sixth (412.6) and Dvorsak seventh (401.0). This was the second straight NCAA final for Kyanko, a Wellsburg, W.Va., native, as he finished seventh in smallbore at last year's championships.
"Three shooters in the final says a lot about this team this year," says Hammond. "There have been a lot of really good team performances, but it's all been built around solid individual performances. Today's final was very exciting with three shooters."
Spurgeon, a Canton, Mo., native, and eventual winner Tim Sherry of Alaska-Fairbanks were neck-and-neck throughout the final five shots, with Sherry owning a four-tenths lead entering the last shot. Sherry edged Spurgeon on the final shot, 7.7-7.6, and scored the national title with a final score of 452.1.
"Garrett had a great performance today; even his final was a really good final," says Hammond. "We prepared a lot for the final after the GARC Championships, and it showed. Garrett and Thomas were there all the way through. Garrett was very close. I know what it feels like to be in that position on the last shot. It came down to that last shot, and both shooters struggled. Unfortunately for Garrett, he came out on the wrong end. I know he's disappointed, but he should be really proud of his overall performance. I am really proud of his overall performance."
Nebraska's Denise Martin finished third with a score of 443.3.
Kiisk and Spurgeon helped WVU jump out to an early lead in the first relay, with Prediger adding her total in the second relay. With the title in their sights, Dvorsak and Kyanko delivered the win in the third relay. Of note, the final two Mountaineer shooters both shot a school-record 200 prone.
The Mountaineers, the 2014 Great American Rifle Conference (GARC) regular-season and postseason champions, shoot for their nation-best 16th NCAA title and second straight air rifle title tomorrow at Murray State's CFSB Center.
"We will approach tomorrow as a completely new day," says Hammond. "We can't worry about the score at all. We need to forget about today and re-focus. We don't want to be up or down. We want to be very even tomorrow – focused, prepared and professional. We want to shoot our best."
Links for live scores and a video feed are available at WVUSports.com.
For more information on the Mountaineers, follow @WVURifle on Twitter.