The final eight teams to compete for the NCAA championship will be announced Thursday afternoon. While the field won’t be known for sure until 5 p.m. on Thursday, it can be assumed what teams will make the cut by examining last weekend’s qualifying results.
One thing is for certain: The No. 1 Mountaineers will qualify, and they should have the top seed. The top team in the country led the nation in scoring this year and was one of only three teams to break the 4,700 mark this weekend. The other was No. 5 Alaska-Fairbanks, who the Mountaineers faced in last year’s national championship match and defeated again just three weeks ago.
"Rifle is a sport where you are a little bit of a perfectionist, but I think we will keep our focus as we move into the next match," said WVU head coach Jon Hammond. "We have to put this one behind us and focus on the conference championship. I think everyone still has things to work on, so it is all about keeping that focus and consistency throughout the next couple of weeks."
The high qualifying scores by the two teams, combined with their performances throughout the season, could easily set up a championship matchup between West Virginia and Alaska-Fairbanks for a third consecutive year. The two storied programs have combined for 28 of 35 NCAA rifle championships. Since NCAA rifle began in 1980, one of the two teams has participated in the national championship match all but two years.
While West Virginia will easily be the favorite to win, the Nanooks are not a shoe-in for the final. The team has had a sub-par year, shooting its way to a 7-2 record.
The other teams expected to qualify for the final field are (in order of qualifying score): No. 2 Murray State, No. 6 Air Force, No. 3 TCU, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 3 Kentucky.
Of the seven teams expected to qualify alongside the Mountaineers, TCU is the only team the Mountaineers did not face and defeat this season. While TCU would be a normal matchup for the Mountaineers in any other sport, the Big 12 conference does not exist in rifle, and TCU is not a member of the powerhouse Great American Rifle Conference.
Having faced every team expected to be in the field and having already shot this season at Akron, the home of the NCAA championships, the Mountaineers shouldn’t have many worries.
The team has had no real competition this season, and as long as the team performs as they have thus far, a fourth consecutive national championship should be all but guaranteed for West Virginia.
Before the Mountaineers can focus on winning another national title, the team will attempt to win the GARC title in Oxford, Mississippi this weekend.