Milestone achievement for the winningest team in NCAA Rifle history.

Four years since their last national rifle championship, West Virginia University is bringing the NCAA Rifle title back to Morgantown.

Starting the day at 2316, the Mountaineers had to separate themselves from the pack. Sitting one point behind defending champions Texas Christian University, West Virginia was tied with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and one point ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats. There was little breathing room … if any.

They believed they could make a championship push. Having just completed an outstanding regular season, West Virginia spent most of the year establishing multiple records and ranked number one. Seen by some as the top team going into the weekend, the championship was theirs to lose.

Everything was set into motion by an amazing regular season. All of which the Mountaineers attributed to their secret weapon. Preparation.

“We worked really hard come here with no stone unturned; to be the best prepared,” said West Virginia Head Coach Jon Hammond. “The National Championship is always a difficult match but I knew we had the team to do it.”

Hammond and his staff strived to ensure their shooters were ready for the national stage. Early on, the team ran through countless scenarios on newly purchased LED faceplates and projector screens to simulate the conditions. Hammond knew. His shooters were ready.

Each and every one of the Mountaineers justified their coaches beliefs when it mattered the most. Shooting a 2363 during Air Rifle was good enough to take this year’s Air Rifle title. When added to their Smallbore Rifle numbers, their final score of 4679 out of 4800 was enough to clench the 2013 Overall NCAA National Rifle Championships.

Hammond, in his seventh year as West Virginia’s head coach, won his first title at the 2009 championships.

“It’s felt like a long four years,” Hammond recalled of the last time the Mountaineers stood atop the podium. “After that first one I thought they would come more easily, but I’ve come to realize it’s hard to win a championship. Really hard,” he chuckled.

NCAA Rifle is currently home to a number of great shooters and teams. Having everything come together during this one weekend out of the year is no easy task. Probably the reason why we’ve seen six different champions over the past six years.

“We’ve had some fantastic teams over the years but just hadn’t able to get it done. It’s incredibly satisfying to win the championship again,” Hammond continued. “We knew this weekend would be tough but I think we fully earned this one.”

The Difference Maker

West Virginia’s win was a complete team effort. But their star shooter, Petra Zublasing, lead the way.

Hailing from Appiano, Italy, Zublasing won the Mountaineers’ first Individual Smallbore Rifle Championship since 1997 (during their 12th NCAA Rifle title run) on Saturday. The achievement created plenty cause for celebration. But half a national championship was left. Petra needed to stay focused.

“As soon as you win the thought is in your head that you could take both [individual championships],” Zublasing said. “But others could have easily won [the Smallbore title] like Sarah [Scherer], Henri [Junghanel] or Connor [Davis]. You can’t assume you’ll win again.

“A large part of shooting is in your mind and I concentrated on fighting for the team to keep myself calm. A couple years ago, we lost by three points. You bite yourself if you think you lost them. I tried not to drop any points because I thought about the team needing them.”

Petra’s concentration did the trick. Helping her team secure its 15th national championship, she shot a 598 — two points shy of a perfect score.

The team victory now complete, Petra entered the Air Rifle final looking for another personal win. This was the last NCAA Rifle Championship that Petra would have the privilege of shooting. A senior, graduating at the end of the year, she concentrated on getting the most out of her last chance. And she did. Winning the Air Rifle Championship in a more convincing manner than her early smallbore victory, Zublasing completed the sweep of the 2013 individual championships.

Over the summer Zublasing shot for Italy in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I was an eye opening experience.

“After the Olympics, I realized I actually like shooting,” she laughed. “I don’t do this because I have to or because I’m good at it. I actually enjoy it and try to help everyone else realize they should just have fun.”

With her collegiate career complete, Zublasing is happy to share those vital secrets — as long as they have fun.

Image courtesy Kyle Jillson

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