Aiming For Titles
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coming off its regular season finale against Kentucky in which it posted a season-high team score of 4723, it might have been expected that the Mountaineer rifle team would see a bit of a lower score in its NCAA Qualifier. In order to post such a high score, at least for of the five “counter” competitors on the squad have to approach or exceed their personal bests, and that’s not a realistic expectation. Still, WVU’s team score of 4690 tied for its third-lowest of the season, although to call that a disappointment would be as off-target as a five point shot during competition.
Head coach Jon Hammond acknowledged that the score wasn’t West Virginia’s best, but noted that it is all part of the ups and downs of the season. It also would have been enough to win any of the Mountaineers’ shoulder-to-shoulder matches this year.
“It’s the nature of the sport. Consistency is really really challenging,” he noted. “At Kentucky, everyone had a good day. Everyone was down a couple of points today, and when you spread that across the whole team, you get a lower score. I think it was still a good match, and there’s a lot we can take from it and learn from it.”
Maintaining that sort of outlook is critical in the sport, where a short memory is more paramount than that of a cornerback in football. Each shot must be executed, then forgotten, so as not to carry over to the next. The same is true when evaluating past performances.
“I think you can take the pros and the cons out of any situation,” Hammond said of Saturday’s work in the qualifier. “We’ll certainly take the good things from today, whether its things that motivate us or push us.”
To prepare for this week’s Great American Rifle Conference Championship, Hammond will usher his team through practice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before travelling to Akron for competition on Friday and Saturday. That will, like many other preparations, wind down in length and practice time so as to provide mental rest for the two-day event.
“The matches are really quick right now. We’ll have a few days of practice this week, then leave on Thursday for the GARC Championships. Now at this point, [practices] are shorter, more intense,” he explained. “They have put a huge amount of work in, so there’s not much to change. It’s mostly mental training, plus maybe a few tiny little things here and there, but it’s not a case of getting in there and firing a huge number of rounds right now. We want to make sure they are rested for the championships.
Scores at championship events, and across the collegiate rifle landscape overall, have been inching upward over the last several years, with advances in training methods and technology contributing. As recently as 2013, WVU won the national title with a score of 4679, but since then it has required a score of at least 4702 to take home the championship trophy. The Mountaineers posted a 4723 to win the 2017 title, but its score of 4708 last season wasn’t enough, as Kentucky shot a 4717. Thus, the impetus to continue to improve, and also to peak during championship season.
“We’ve been shooting well in practice so other than a few struggles today there’s nothing major that concerns me,” Hammond said as he tries to structure just the right build-up for the final two events of the season.