Now More Than Ever, Depth Powers WVU Rifle
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With NCAA Qualifying and the Great American Rifle Conference Championships coming up the next two weekends, West Virginia head coach Jon Hammond is dealing from a position of strength. That’s rather obvious, given that the Mountaineers have won the last five league regular season titles and nine postseason championship crowns in a row, not to mention the five consecutive national championships also in the trophy case. WVU has piled up those victories in several different manners, but this year, perhaps more than ever, depth has been a key.
Many schools have one or two bell cows who shoot routinely great scores, but West Virginia has built its dominance on depth. That has been evident this year more than ever, as all five of the members of the counting team (those whose scores will count for the team total) have headed efforts in different matches this year. Whether it’s Elizabeth Gratz, David Koenders, Milica Babic, Morgan Phillips or Ginny Thrasher, WVU usually gets five really good to great showings, which proves impossible for opponents to overcome.
“The people that have been on our counting team really compete with each other,” Hammond said after West Virginia locked up the regular season title las weekend. “We have an Olympic champion and three individual NCAA champions, and they all push each other and compete with each other, and that helps them. They are all capable of shooting great scores on any given day.”
West Virginia’s depth is also evident looking down the roster, where those that are honing their craft to compete for next year’s counting group are also doing well. Athletes such as Will Anti and Sarah Osborn have show up well this year, and the push that those athletes give the top five is also an important factor for the Mountaineers over the course of the season.
WVU now turns its attention to the last qualfiers and GARCs, which close out the month of February. Both will be held on WVU’s new Bill McKenzie Rifle Range in the Shell Building, which made this past weekend’s win over Kentucky at the same venue an important one. West Virginia got experience in the location that will determine its qualification status for the NCAAs, and also in its effort to lock up its tenth consecutive GARC title.
“There’s definitely excitement to come down and shoot in this environment and have some of our supporters here,” Hammond said. “For [the team] it definitely had the feeling of a larger match or an NCAA match. It was good for us to get that experience. You don’t want to become too comfortable in any environment, but part of our sport is to be o.k. when you aren’t comfortable. Being able to shoot in different environments is great.”
West Virginia will shoot alongside NC State in NCAA qualifying, which begins at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17. Admission is free and open to the public.