The West Virginia University rifle team has faced adversity all season, but through coach Jon Hammond’s leadership, the Mountaineers are currently undefeated and looking to continue their dominance on the range and win another NCAA Championship.
During the fall, their season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic after many student-athletes were unable to shoot for the majority of the summer.
“The mental uncertainty that went on from March [as] it was kind of a steady progression of things getting canceled to finally the realization of nothing’s going to happen for a long time,” Hammond said.
That didn’t stop Hammond from thinking about ways to get his athletes ready for the spring season, such as training exercises, virtual events and scheduling to try and get his team prepared.
“We did training we call holding or dry firing. You are training your positions and your body to just be still,” Hammond said.
In addition to these training exercises, Hammond had the athletes participate in virtual meets. These virtual meets helped them prepare for what meets would be like in the spring in real competition.
“We tried to create as much of a match environment as possible. You’ve got your time limit, you go through your pre-match routine and there’s a score that counts,” Hammond said.
Hammond has also talked about the importance of the athletes' attitudes, as well as their mental preparation and routine to try and help them succeed this season. Hammond has used his upperclassmen to “help promote the right team culture.”
“We've tried to maintain the positive in everything as much as possible, as there are still plenty of things to be positive and grateful for,” Hammond said.
Before the season started in January, Hammond added a match at Ohio State’s Lt. Hugh W. Wylie Range to get his athletes a chance to travel to the site of the NCAA Championships this season. By doing that, he said his team will hopefully be able to get a feel of the range and pick up a few things to hopefully give them some familiarity later on.
Hammond’s goal is to try to find the positives from every situation that his team has been put in this season and to have his team stay positive.
“It's too easy to turn everything into a negative, so in managing them, it's been as much on the mental state and trying to keep things upbeat,” Hammond said.
This leadership has put the Mountaineers in a good position heading down the stretch towards the end of the season. WVU currently sits at No. 4 in the country and has one more regular season match before heading to the postseason, where Hammond said he realizes the expectations are always high but that this team is always going to do the best they can to win matches and to improve.