Trace the roots of the top America competitive rifle shooters and you’ll see a common bond. Foundations formed in shooting clubs across America and then moving on to hone those marksmanship skills at college campuses throughout North America. That talent gets showcased in the months ahead starting in force this Saturday when another season of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rifle gets underway.
Matt Emmons and Jamie Gray started their Olympic dreams at Alaska Fairbanks; four-time Olympian Jason Parker was a standout at Xavier University before competing in four-straight Olympic Games; two-time Olympian Eric Uptagrafft is a part of that Mountaineer pride of West Virginia as is current National Team athlete Bryant Wallizer. 2012 Olympians Sarah Scherer and Amanda Furrer helped bolster their respective universities competing for Texas Christian University and Ohio State University respectively. Current National Team athlete Sarah Beard is a TCU alum too, while Dempster Christenson is a proud Nevada graduate, and Amy Sowash is a Kentucky Wildcat product.
“We watch and follow the NCAA rifle season with great interest,” said USA Shooting’s National Rifle Coach Marcus Raab. “The strength of these programs and the depth and quality of marksmanship present is a testament to the coaches at these universities and to the coaches that make our sport work at the grassroots level. The NCAA program is essential to the success of USA Shooting and our future depends on preserving its status as an NCAA sport and ensuring that the quality and quantity of college-age rifle opportunities persists.”
USAS has long supported the NCAA program: the athletes for the NCAA Teams come through the USAS, CMP, and NRA pipelines. The USAS Junior Olympic Program is a prime training vehicle for young athletes and a great recruiting ground for coaches. USAS and the NCAA programs are close partners as both organizations feed athletes to each other.
USAS also has hosted the NCAA Championships twice and has played a leadership role in bringing the NCAA program into the electronic target and finals era. Ongoing programs include coach certification and training, athlete and coach mentoring, skill seminars sponsored by both USAS and USOC, and a constant eye towards building the sport.
This year’s crop of NCAA talent and those teams making the most noise in the end will likely be a result of the USA Shooting Team experience present at the major institutions of marksmanship. West Virginia, Kentucky, Air Force, Alaska-Fairbanks, Ohio State, Nebraska, UTEP and Memphis all feature squads with USA Shooting Team members. Kentucky has two National Team standouts in Connor Davis (Shelbyville, Ky.) and Emily Holsopple (Wilcox, Pa.) along with rising talent Elijah Ellis (Kingsport, Tenn.) as they try and push the Wildcats past the Mountaineers having finished second in the NCAA Rifle Championships the past two seasons. The Mountaineers may have lost their all-everything shooter Petra Zublasing but they retain the services of National Junior Team member Garrett Spurgeon (Canton, Mo.) along with former National Junior Team member Taylor Ciotola (Pasadena, Md.). Despite the lack of senior leadership, the Air Force Academy will be legit contenders as well with Meredith Carpentier (Waukegan, Ill.) and David Higgins (San Clemente, Calif.) having earned National Jr. Team distinction in the past year to go along with former junior team member Tyler Rico (Tucson, Ariz.).
Other notables are incoming freshman shooters Deanna Binnie (Holsopple, Pa.), the 2013 National Junior Olympic champion who took her talents to Buckeye nation and Ohio State University, along with Nebraska freshman Rachel Martin (Peralta, N.M.), who was the Junior National champion in smallbore (.22 caliber). Daniel Geer (Colorado Springs, Colo.) will take his talents northward to the University of Alaska to pair with fellow Junior Team member Ryan Anderson (Wasilla, Alaska). The pair finished 1-2 at the 2013 National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships. Former National Junior Team member Michael Liuzza will help form a strong trio for the traditional Nanook powerhouse rifle program. Fresh off a three-position rifle (3PAR) National title at the Civilian Marksmanship Program, earlier this summer, Rachael Schoenrock (Cortland, Neb.) is enrolled at University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) while National Development Team member Daniel Hermsmeier (Chesterfield, Mo.) continues to lead the Tiger attack at Memphis University.
Previous National Junior Team members Michael Matthews (Johns Creek, Ga.) of the Army, Kelsey Emme (Piedmont, S.D.) of Murray State and Catherine Greene (Coventry, R.I.) of Texas Christian will also help push their teams in the quest for a national title.
The formation of a new conference will add to the level of NCAA rifle excitement with six universities joining the newly formed Patriot Rifle Conference (PRC). Beginning this fall, the Patriot Rifle Conference will begin competition with head-to-head matches throughout the season and a conference championship scheduled at Ohio State, Feb. 8-9, in Columbus. Charter members include the Air Force Academy, TCU, Ohio State, Nevada, UTEP, and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. USA Shooting Hall of Fame member and 1992 Olympic gold medalist, Launi Meili, the current coach at the Air Force Academy will serve as the commissioner of the PRC.
Competitive rifle shooting has been an established NCAA program since 1980 with Tennessee Tech taking the first three NCAA titles in the program’s early beginnings.
The Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association (CRCA) released their pre-season poll on August 27 featuring the defending National Champion West Virginia Mountaineers as the No. 1 team before first shots are fired down range on the season.
CRCA Preseason Rifle Poll
- West Virginia
- Air Force
- Jacksonville State
- Murray State
- Ohio State
- Ole Miss
- North Carolina State
- Columbus State
- Morehead State
Logo courtesy West Virginia University/ USA Shooting