The No.1 ranked West Virginia University (WVU) rifle team will compete for a sixth straight NCAA Championship at the 2018 NCAA Rifle Championships, held at the Citadel’s McAlister Field House in Charleston, SC. A victory this year would be number 20 for the Mountaineers.
“We feel great about the team we’re taking to the championships,” said WVU rifle coach Jon Hammond. “They’ve had an excellent season—a record-breaking season—and we’ve had great team chemistry throughout the year. This is one of the strongest groups of five we’ve taken to the NCAA Championships.”
Since Hammond’s arrival in 2006, the Mountaineers have won six national titles, including his first in 2009. A championship win this weekend would make WVU the first team in the sport’s history to win six straight titles twice. Previously, WVU achieved the feat from 1988-1993. Alaska-Fairbanks also won six straight titles from 1999-2004.
“A successful weekend for us would be going to the championship and having great performances,” said Hammond. “Naturally, you want to win the championship. We’re very conscious of the fact that we don’t control that. We have to set our own expectations, which are to perform to the best of our abilities and to enjoy the experience. We want to do our best.”
WVU has set three NCAA rifle records this season: a team aggregate record of 4742 during a victory at Murray State (4703) last November. WVU also shot an NCAA-record 2356 smallbore score the same day. And, only a month earlier, WVU had shot another NCAA-record breaking score of 2392 in air rifle against Mississippi.
Thrasher, an Olympic gold medalist and the 2018 Great America Rifle Conference air rifle and smallbore champion, leads the team with season averages of 586.3 smallbore and 596.6 air rifle. Phillips follows in smallbore with a 585.8 average, and Babic is second in air rifle with a 596.2 average.
WVU won last year’s NCAA championship at Ohio State University’s French Field House with a record-breaking score of 4723. Additionally WVU swept the team titles, shooting 2336 for smallbore and a season-high 2387 in air rifle. Two then-freshman claimed both of the individual titles—Babic with 208.1 in the air rifle final and Phillips with 464.3 in the smallbore final. Phillips also finished second in air rifle, and was named the NCAA Championships’ Top Performer.
“Morgan and Milica will have a lot of outside expectations placed on them, but they need to focus on themselves and their own expectations,” said Hammond. “I want them to relax, enjoy the competition and trust what they’ve been doing.”
Last month, the WVU rifle team won their ninth straight GARC Championship. WVU tallied scores of 2366 and 2333 for air rifle and smallbore, respectively.