For the third time in program history, the Univ. of Kentucky rifle team has won the NCAA rifle championship, triumphing over 2019 champion Texas Christian University 4731-4722. Kentucky has now won two out of the past three NCAA rifle championships. The match was held Mar. 12-13 at Converse Hall on the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Competitors on the firing line at the 2021 NCAA rifle championship at Ohio State University. (Photo courtesy Newt Engle.)
Kentucky’s team aggregate score marks the highest in NCAA rifle championship history since 2005, when the format changed to 120 shots per competitor from 160 shots. The Wildcats faced a talented lineup of collegiate shooters at the 2021 NCAA rifle championship, and the winning squad was led by sophomore Mary Tucker, who was at the top of the individual aggregate leaderboard with 1190 points, along with junior Will Shaner, who placed fifth overall with a score of 1184. In the air rifle finals, Tucker defeated Shaner for the individual air rifle top honors, 249.4 to 248.7. Additionally, Tucker won the smallbore finals with a score of 463.3, placing her on top of both rifle disciplines. Both Tucker and Shaner are slated to compete this summer at the Tokyo Olympic Games as members of the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.
Kentucky sophomore Mary Tucker. (Photo courtesy UK Athletics.)
After winning air rifle and smallbore, Tucker became the sixth shooter in NCAA history to win both disciplines at the NCAA rifle championship. Although she was named the Most Outstanding Performer of the match, Tucker emphasized that the 2021 NCAA rifle win for Kentucky was a team victory. "This is a really big deal for this team. We have been going at it for two years now and this was long overdue for us," Tucker said in an interview with the Univ. of Kentucky Athletics website. "We went into the match confident and came out on top… I was really proud of my team…"
Not to be outdone, the runner-up in the overall team rankings—Texas Christian University (TCU)—secured the air rifle team championship with 2380 points. TCU top shot Stephanie Grundsøe, a sophomore, led the way for the Horned Frogs as high air rifle shooter in regulation with a score of 590. Reaching the smallbore rifle finals, Grundsøe had to settle for the runner-up spot with a 459.1 final score. In the overall individual rankings, Grundsøe and her 1188 score resulted in a second-place finish—only two points behind Kentucky's Tucker. Fellow TCU shooter, senior Elizabeth Marsh, finished third in the individual aggregate with a score of 1187. In the smallbore finals, Marsh scored 428.3 for fifth place.
In third place overall, the Ole Miss rifle team ended the match with a score of 4710, which marks the program's highest finish ever. The last time that Ole Miss had competed as a full squad at the NCAA rifle championship was back in 2006, where the team earned a sixth-place finish. For 2021, Ole Miss freshman Lea Horvath was the Rebel's top shooter, earning fourth place in the individual aggregate with a score of 1185. In the air rifle finals, Horvath finished third with 228 points, as well as securing third place in the smallbore finals with 449.1.
The overall team champion is determined by combining the air rifle and smallbore team scores into one aggregate score for each school. (Photo courtesy Newt Engle.)
As for 19-time NCAA rifle champion West Virginia University (WVU), the collegiate rifle powerhouse finished in fourth place with a team aggregate score of 4704. Leading the way for the Mountaineers was junior Jared Eddy with an aggregate score of 1180, putting him in seventh place overall among the individual shooters. In the air rifle finals, sophomore Akihito Shimizu placed seventh with 141.5. Additionally, Eddy was fourth in the individual smallbore standings in regulation with 590, while placing sixth in the finals with 417.6.
Finally, from the talented Akron Zips squad, freshman Kayla Andreoli received an individual invite to the 2021 NCAA rifle championship. (For the 48-student-athlete field at the match, the NCAA sends invites to top collegiate shooters, even if their school team didn't make the cut.) Taking advantage of the opportunity, Andreoli garnered a respectable air rifle score of 585, finishing as the No. 37 collegiate air rifle competitor in the country. Says Newt Engle, head coach of the Akron rifle team:
"Receiving this invite is often considered 'the big win' with anything happening after that to be icing on the cake. Anyone who knows me has heard me say, 'When an athlete goes to a big match and can fire their average… winner!' This is exactly what Kayla Andreoli did, and more."
"Earning one of the only four individual appointments (the others are team members) in the air rifle division, Kayla traveled to Ohio State University and represented Akron. In this field of the top 48 collegians in the U.S., which included multiple U.S. Olympians as well as other international Olympians, Kayla put her head down on the stock and did what she had trained to do. She started with a center 10 and finished with a center 10—adding up to an impressive 585 out of 600."
Below is the 2021 NCAA rifle championship team leaderboard and individual standings for the top eight shooters in both rifle disciplines.
Special thanks to Newt Engle, head coach of the Univ. of Akron rifle team for his assistance with this collegiate rifle update. While Shooting Sports USA was unable to attend this year's NCAA rifle championship, we hope to return in 2022 to provide full coverage as we did in 2019.—Ed.