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National title a long-time coming for Mullins

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1661019.jpegIn his 26-year tenure as head coach of Kentucky's rifle team, Harry Mullins has accomplished a great deal. The program produced All-Americans and Olympians. His teams won conference championships and perennially contended on a national level.

With four second-place national finishes and four third-place finishes, saying that his tenure had been successful would have been an understatement, but something was missing.

At the 2010-11 NCAA Championships in Fort Benning, Ga., the Kentucky Wildcats gave Mullins that title he had been seeking for so long.

"To be able to explain it is kind of tough," Mullins said of UK's national championship, the first in school history. "We've put ourselves, the last few years, in contention to win national championships and fallen short. For this group to be able to achieve that, it's hard to find words to try to explain how that feels, just the pride in them."

The Wildcats delivered that national title in grand fashion. Their overall team score of 4700 is the highest ever recorded in the NCAA Championships. In the air rifle portion of the competition on day two, the Wildcats held off the top-ranked and hard-charging West Virginia Mountaineers.

UK was headlined by smallbore national champion Ethan Settlemires, whose score of 590 also set a NCAA Championships record, but it was a true team effort that brought the crown to Lexington.

"We don't dwell on the numbers as much as the performance," Mullins said. "That's why I'm so proud of the group. They really believe in themselves. It's about having that trust that, if I'm putting myself out there and giving 110 percent, we will be successful."

Mullins views the championship as a culmination of the efforts of all of the people involved in the program over the past quarter century. The program has come a long way in that time, but one tipping point came when Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart arrived at UK in 2002.

Upon Barnhart's arrival, Mullins' duties as head coach were only part time. Mullins worked as a bartender to supplement his income, but Barnhart quickly realized what Mullins was building and made a full-time commitment to him and the program.

There was never any doubt about whether the commitment to Mullins and UK rifle was worthwhile, but winning a national title is a testament to just what it has meant.

"If Mitch had been there, I would have given him a great big hug," Mullins said. "Mitch and (UK President) Dr. (Lee) Todd and the administration on both sides, as far as academics and athletics, does nothing but give great support to all the sports, but especially to us."

That support has helped the Wildcats build an unprecedented following. In the final moments of the competition, Mullins said he was forced to put his cell phone out of reach because of the constant stream of texts, calls and tweets from all around.

If you were on Twitter at all today, you likely saw evidence of that outpouring of support, which was particularly clear immediately after the Wildcats won the title. Barnhart, John Calipari, Matthew Mitchell and countless other UK coaches and athletes offered congratulations. The meaning of those gestures is not lost on Mullins.

"It means so much to the kids," Mullins said. "There are people out there that care just as much about what we're doing as we do. That's a great feeling to have."

While so much of Mullins' satisfaction comes from seeing his athletes perform in the way that they did, this championship is very meaningful to him personally.

His father, Alger, was Kentucky through and through before passing away six years ago.

"He was a Kentucky boy," Mullins said of his father.

Alger Mullins shared with his son a great love of rifle and had a chance to see him build a program at the university they both loved.

"He was always proud when we would finish in the top four or five," Mullins said. "He understood the competitiveness of it and the effort, drive and dedication you have to have."

The site of the NCAA Championships was meaningful as well for Mullins. Alger Mullins was a sergeant in the military and eventually settled with his family in Fort Benning, Ga., where Mullins competed in rifle for the prestigious Fort Benning Junior Club.

"There was a little soft spot in my heart with being able to win a national championship where I got started," Mullins said.

Mullins hopes that a national championship tradition at UK will eventually be able to trace its roots back to the area.

"Hopefully we'll be able to continue that streak of starting things in Fort Benning," Mullins said, ever mindful of continuing to build the program he has led for so long.

For more on the rifle's teams national title, check out the following story from McClatchy Newspapers.

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Good stuff, Guy! Very happy for everyone at UK. Well deserved!

Congratulations, Harry and the UK Rifle Team!!!
It has been a long time coming and a very well-deserved Championship!! Years of dedication and hard-work has brought UK Rifle to a wonderful place.
Contined good fortune in the seasons to come!

Fondly, Gary and Kaye Strawn
Justin and Melody Cook Rinker and Jared and Crystal Hamilton Rinker's Grandparents from WV

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  • Gary and Kaye Strawn: Congratulations, Harry and the UK Rifle Team!!! It has been a long time coming and a very well-deserved Championship!! Years read more
  • Cat Scratches Fan: Good stuff, Guy! Very happy for everyone at UK. Well deserved! read more