Column - WVU to move on from second-place finish last year
Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 9, 2012 08:03
A bitter flavor has been overwhelming the taste buds of the West Virginia rifle team for almost a year now.
Day and night since its heartbreaking three-point 2011 NCAA championship loss to rival Kentucky, the pungent taste has remained.
"We did our job, we shot well, and we deserved to win, but we did not," said junior Petra Zublasing of last year's NCAA championships. "[Kentucky] shot over their expectations."
The Appiano, Italy, native finished No. 2 in last season's air rifle competition, just behind her WVU and Italian teammate, Nicco Campriani, so it's safe to say they did their job.
Unfortunately however, the 4-point day two air rifle win just wasn't enough of a rally to overcome the 7-point smallbore deficit from the first day.
Knowing they were literally millimeters from being crowned NCAA champions was the hardest part for this group.
"It made it pretty tough," said senior Justin Pentz. "We knew the whole time we had a really good chance of winning and to lose to that little bit was pretty heartbreaking."
A second-place finish and a team and individual air rifle title isn't such a terrible result and is even a coveted outcome for many programs.
That makes one thing clear: This team will not be satisfied by a second place finish – not last season, not this season, not any season.
This weekend, the two Mountaineer shooters retained from last year's counting team will have their golden opportunity to wash away the bitter aftertaste that has been fermenting for 364 days.
Another WVU veteran will have one last opportunity to shine this weekend.
Senior Mike Kulbacki finished No. 6 overall in air rifle at NCAAs in 2009, helping WVU to win its 14th national title.
This year, he was a late addition to the counting team and will be trying to evoke the magic from two years ago.
Aiding the three veterans will be two talented freshmen who would be raved about and most certainly dubbed "Diaper Dandies" by ESPN's Dick Vitale if he were covering the NCAA rifle championships.
The 2012 Great American Rifle Conference Rookie of the Year, Thomas Kyanko saw his scores dip a bit toward the end of the season, but has the potential to be a top-five air rifle finisher at NCAAs. Only four air rifle scores higher than the Wellsburg, W.Va., native's 594 have been shot all season long.
On the other hand, Taylor Ciotola was a notable snub at this year's GARC award ceremonies and comes in as one of the hottest shooters in the country after firing a personal best 1,174 at the GARC championships.
Even before GARCs, Hammond called the Pasadena, Md., native his most improved shooter over the season.
This team certainly has the talent to take home the title, but between the veterans and the youngsters, just how important is an NCAA championship to this team?
So important that you will not even find "Win an NCAA Title" on this team's list of goals.
For this program, that particular goal goes without saying.
"They're all aware of the history," said West Virginia head coach Jon Hammond. "Hopefully they all take pride in the history and tradition of the team, but when it comes down to them performing you have to put that to the back of your mind."
Hammond and his squad know that performance, not tradition, wins national titles.
So all season, they have approached every single match as a platform to
prepare for NCAAs. Since back in October, this team has been training and competing, all
to "peak" during this weekend.
Now, three famished veterans and their two secret weapon newcomers will take on the nation in Columbus, Ohio. For once, they won't be favorites, as No. 1 TCU and defending national champion Kentucky will share that distinction.
Could this be the perfect storm of both the capacity and desire to win?
It's going to be a three-way fight to the finish, but don't be surprised if these underdog Mountaineers return to Morgantown as NCAA champions.