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Monday, March 18, 2013
West Virginia woman wins NCAA rifle titles

By Denise Maloof

A petite, dark-haired young woman tracked a target, using the sight at the business end of a rifle. A trigger squeeze popped a perfect 10 on a scoring monitor, and -- 120 shots of near-perfection later -- the NCAA rifle championship was hers.

West Virginia Mountaineers' Petra Zublasing proved the sharpest shooter of the championship last weekend, capturing individual titles in the .22-caliber smallbore and air rifle competitions. She also keyed the Mountaineers to an NCAA-best 15th national team title.

And her win is what makes this NCAA sport unique -- she accomplished all of that competing against men.

"It's the only true coed sport where they compete with each other and against each other -- level playing field, completely," said Jon Hammond, West Virginia's seventh-year head coach. "And it's fascinating. It's great to see that. International level, they break up into men and women, but great camaraderie. They're all competitive. They all want to do well."

Zublasing, a senior All-American from Appiano, Italy, became the first shooter to win both individual titles at the same NCAA championship since University of Alaska-Fairbanks' Matt Emmons in 2001. She's the first Mountaineer to win three individual rifle titles, the first to win one individual title in each discipline and the fourth to win two air rifle titles.

"I decided before I went to bed, I want to be ready, if it's only for the team," Zublasing said of a personal, late-night vow. "I want to do my best. And I did, and the team won, and that's so great."

Joining Zublasing on the championship team were Maren Prediger and three male teammates: Garrett Spurgeon, Meelis Kiish and Taylor Ciotola.

TCU, Nebraska field all women

Eight teams qualified for this year's showdown at Ohio State. Top-ranked West Virginia beat second-ranked Kentucky by nine points -- 4,679 to 4,670 -- on the aggregate scores from small bore and air rifle. It was the second-highest team total in NCAA history, exceeded only by Kentucky's title-winning 4,700 in 2011.

Of the eight teams competing, TCU and Nebraska fielded all-women lineups, Alaska-Fairbanks was all male and the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, Jacksonville State, West Virginia and Kentucky mixed men and women on their five-person rosters.

TCU, winner of the 2010 and 2012 titles, epitomizes rifle's girl power. Senior All-Americans Caitlin Morrissey, Sarah Scherer and Sarah Beard ended their collegiate careers having lost only three matches. TCU finished third in this competition.

"I've been lucky," said Karen Monez, TCU's head coach since 2004. "The girls get along well, they have fun together, they support each other and I've actually enjoyed that. Being the first all-female team to win the NCAA rifle championship [in 2010], it was special. We got a lot of attention because of that, and we enjoyed it."

Scherer, who finished seventh in last summer's Olympic Games in London, was the defending NCAA smallbore champion. She finished third behind Zublasing in that discipline and second in the air rifle final.

Expect Scherer, Beard and Zublasing to target the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Control is of the essense

"It's performance-driven," Scherer said. "I don't think a lot of people understand the control you need to get that done."

So controlled, she said, she can open or close her epiglottis -- the muscle at the top of the esophagus that permits swallowing -- in the fraction of a second before she pulls the trigger.

In smallbore, participants fire 20 competition shots from each of three positions -- prone, standing and kneeling -- at a distance of 50 feet. In air rifle (lead pellets instead of bullets), they fire 60 shots from a standing position at a distance of 40 feet, all in cumbersome, protective leather-and-canvas outerwear.

Scores from each team's top four shooters are compiled to form that team's aggregate in each discipline. Each shooter aspires to perfection, or 600 (60 perfect 10s).

The top eight shooters in both team sessions advance to the individual finals, a 10-shot round.

As for targets, those perfect-10 centers are the size of a pencil lead.

"It's tense and it's competitive, but it's a great atmosphere when you see the kids afterward because they're all friends," Kentucky coach Harry Mullins said. "The elite ones travel in the same circles on the different national teams and see each other in international competitions. While they're here on the range, it's definitely competitive, but off the range, a lot of them are friends."

As for Zublasing, she's going to miss her teammates.

"It's very sad," she said of her impending graduation. "I fight with them like brothers. I love them -- I hate them sometimes [laughs]. It's going to be different. ... I might just come back next semester to see how they're doing because I'm going to miss them. I'm going to miss them badly."