LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Kentucky rifle team road a school-record team score to a 4696-4680 win over No. 1 West Virginia, clinching the 2010-11 Great American Rifle Conference regular-season championship, on Saturday at UK's Barker Hall.
“I was really proud of the team, they really did great,” UK head coach Harry Mullins said. “This was the first step in our journey this year. We wanted to win the regular-season championship and I am excited that we were able to meet that goal. But now we need to get focused on the second leg in the journey, because the postseason is here and there are two more trophies that are bigger than the regular-season.”
Kentucky (10-1, 6-0 GARC) completed an undefeated season in conference action with the win, besting the 2008-09 NCAA Champion Mountaineers, who also entered the match undefeated in league play and needing a win over UK to clinch the title. West Virginia is led by world champion Nicco Campriani - who recently recorded a perfect 600 total score in air rifle. The Mountaineers owned the highest team score recorded on the season, leading to a No. 1 national ranking.
“To win the regular-season conference championship in the last conference match against the No. 1 team in the nation, the team should feel pretty satisfied,” Mullins said. “They had to earn that. It wasn’t by default, they had to earn it. Both teams were 5-0 in the combined and individual guns entering the match and the winner was going to win the league. To go toe-to-toe with a great team and have a better day then them, the kids should be proud.”
With the win, UK has clinched its fourth all-time regular-season GARC Championship and its first since the 2008-09 season.
“This was the first step,” Mullins said. “The tournament trophy is going to be bigger than the regular-season trophy. It is the first step for our postseason. It is important that we are showing ourselves that we can come in day in and day out and stay strong.”
Kentucky's 4696 total team score eclipsed the school-record, set earlier in the year when the Wildcats totaled a 4691 win over Memphis in Oxford, Miss., on Jan. 21.
In smallbore, UK posted a 2322-2320 advantage, led by Henri Junghänel’s 582. Freshman Emily Holsopple, fresh off a trip to compete in Munich, Germany, totaled a 581, with senior Logan Fox totaling a 584 and Heather Greathouse adding a 575. Ethan Settlemires rounded out UK’s smallbore team with a 569.
“Anytime you shoot a 2320-plus in smallbore, that isn’t a bat day at the office,” Mullins said. “Up until today, we hadn’t really had it put together. It was great to see so many people shoot well and for our whole lineup to carry us, instead of just one or two people.”
In air rifle, Junghänel – who was celebrating his birthday on Saturday – had a team-best 595, with Holsopple and Settlemires each charting a 594. Greathouse had a 591 and Megan English added a 589 to round out the air rifle team. As a team, UK’s 2374 score in air rifle also set a new school record.
“It’s about a group effort,” Mullins said. “We struggled at times. Ethan really struggled in kneeling early. But, he made it up in air rifle. He didn’t give up. He didn’t let any bad shots in kneeling destroy his day. Emily, Henri and Heather, they were all dialed in and shot so well. I am just really proud of the whole team.”
West Virginia was led in smallbore by Campriani, who had a 589.
The Wildcats will return to action on Feb. 12, hosting the NCAA Qualifying Round at UK's Barker Hall. UK will face West Virginia twice more on the year, at the GARC Championships (Feb. 25) and at the NCAA Championships (March 9).
“They are believing in themselves a little bit more,” Mullins said. “They are working hard and trying to work out some of the kinks and increase the mental intensity that it takes to perform at this level. We need to stay within ourselves and continue to work on things. It’s nice to win but we still have lots of goals we need to achieve.”