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Mountaineer Rifle Team on the Mark

MORGANTOWN – Ask many college sports fans the teams they think about first when talking about West Virginia University and they will quickly mention the successes of the football and men’s basketball programs over the years.

But, ask the “true” fan of the Mountaineers and they will point to the school’s nationally acclaimed rifle squad.

And, why not?

Led by veteran head coach Jonathan Hammond, a 2002-03 member of the WVU rifle team who returned to Morgantown in 2006 and began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant with the Mountaineers, West Virginia captured its fifth straight and nation-best 19th national title at the 2017 NCAA Rifle Championships on the campus of Ohio State University last March.

The success of the 2016-17 season was a combination of goals set by the team, a positive mindset and a work ethic that was unmatched.

“It’s hard to say if you ever met all of your goals, but I think we did a great job to the best of our abilities,” explained Hammond, who was in his 11th season at the helm of the Mountaineer program.

Yet another undefeated regular-season record (12-0, 8-0 GARC) allowed the Mountaineers to capture the program’s eighth straight Great American Rifle Conference crown and ignited the team’s efforts during the postseason.

The program, which first appeared on the WVU list of athletics in 1951, will enter its 68th season and 12th under Hammond.

Five Mountaineers added a combined 14 All-America awards to the program with the performances at the National Championships while nine National Rifle Association All-America honors and five College Rifle Coaches Associations All-America accolades were collected along the way.

West Virginia also added a pair of Olympic gold medals to its long list of accomplishments as junior-to-be Ginny Thrasher earned the first Olympic gold medal awarded at the 2016 Rio Olympics while former WVU national champion Nicco Campriani captured a pair of Gold medals.

The WVU program doubled its all-time Olympic Gold medal count in Rio, with the total now standing at six. Since the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the WVU rifle program has earned nine Olympic medals.

“It’s been a dream Olympics for the WVU rifle program,” Hammond said upon his return from Rio. “We had so much representation in Rio and so many great performances. To have a representative in every final was amazing, and three gold medals is incredible.”

Major John Nicholas got things rolling for the Mountaineers with a 10-0 mark in 1951 while Captain Charles Means brought home the program’s first National Rifle Association’s Championship in 1961.

The first NCAA title came to Morgantown in 1983 under the guidance of head coach Ed Etzel, who also led the Mountaineers to titles in 1984, 86 and 89.

Marsha Beasley became the only female leader of the Mountaineers in 1990 and led the program to eight NCAA crowns and saw the program survive a 2004 purge which almost witnessed the demise of WVU’s most successful athletic program.

However, thanks in great part to overwhelming support from the Mountain State’s Legislature as well as thousands of alumni and friends, the team survived under Beasley until she left the program in 2007 and turned it over to longtime assistant Hammond.

And, the best news of all for Mountaineers fans is that the future looks just as bright at the past.

Thrasher as well as sophomores-to-be Morgan Phillips and Milica Babic return as does senior-to-be Elizabeth Gratz as WVU looks to make it six straight crowns and added David Koenders, the reigning European Junior Champion in the 10m air rifle mixed team and a six-time German champion, to the squad.

“We are really excited to add David to the team next year,” Hammond said.

“Whenever we add an international team member, they bring diversity with their experience and culture. David is no different in this respect.

“He has international shooting experience with the German Junior National Team, and that experience should help us add depth to our squad. He will be ready to compete with the best shooters in NCAA rifle, and I look forward to working with David and integrating him with our Mountaineer team.”

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