NCAA runners-up release 2009 Rifle Schedule

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Following a second-place finish in the 2008-09 NCAA Rifle Championships, the Kentucky rifle team has released a challenging 2009-10 schedule, UK head coach Harry Mullins announced.

Kentucky finished the 2008-09 season with the Great American Rifle Conference regular season and tournament championships, finishing just shy of the NCAA title. This year, the Wildcats will host seven matches in Lexington at UK's Barker Hall. UK will also hitting to the road for five regular-season matches, in addition to trips to the GARC Championships in Oxford, Miss., and the NCAA Championships, held in Fort Worth, Texas.

"We are really excited about our 2009-10 schedule," Mullins said. "We had an excellent season last year, but are looking forward to taking the next step. Our schedule will feature a challenging slate of matches, against some of the top teams in the nation. We are looking forward to testing ourselves against the best."

Kentucky will open its season with a pair of matches, beginning with N.C. State on Oct. 9 in Lexington, before hosting Memphis Sunday, Oct. 11.

"N.C. State has had a good recruiting year," Mullins said. "They have been getting stronger and stronger every year and they are going to make a hard push to move up in the conference this year. It is not very often we open up with a conference match and this will put a test to our team right out of the gate.

"Just like N.C. State, Memphis has been on the rise. They are going to come into Lexington to make a big push to make a statement in the conference. Their smallbore team has gotten stronger and their air team had always been a big asset. I look for both of these matches to be a solid test to where we stand in the conference this year."

After the pair of home matches, UK will hit the road for a Saturday, Oct. 17 match against TCU in Fort Worth, site of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 NCAA Championships.

"We are working on starting the travel season at TCU and ending it there," Mullins said. "TCU will be the host for this year's NCAA Championships and they have added depth to their team this year. They have a very strong senior class returning and one of the best incoming recruiting classes in the country. TCU's depth will play a major role in the match and it will probably come down to a few points between the teams. We are going to have to work very hard prior to this match for those points to come down on our side."

UK then stays on the road for an in-state battle, facing Murray State in Murray, Ky., on Saturday Oct. 24.

"MSU has probably had the largest recruiting class this year coming in," Mullins said. "They are in a rebuilding year and Coach Lollar has done a great job in placing MSU back into the top 10 schools in the nation. They will be out to swing the state rivalry in their favor. The MSU match has always been one where there is a lot of emotion among the teams because both are in state."

Kentucky will wrap up October with Jacksonville State on Oct. 31, welcoming JSU to Barker Hall.

"Jacksonville State finished third at last year's NCAAs," Mullins said. "They will be out to prove a point this year during the regular season. This will again be a close match between the two schools and I think that it will also be a test of our endurance coming off the fifth match in three weekends."

A two-match month of November will challenge the Wildcats, beginning with Ohio State on Nov. 8 in Lexington.

"Ohio State signed one of the top prospects last year and they are defiantly a team on the rise," Mullins said. They will come into our house looking for a strong win. The match should be very close and exciting. I think that OSU is going to push this year to break into the top eight and they will have the personnel to do this. Look for this match to come down to air rifle, but OSU has a very strong smallbore team."

Arguably the highlight of the season is a road tilt in Morgantown, W.Va., facing the defending NCAA Champion West Virginia on Nov. 21. UK edged league-foe WVU twice during the 2008-09 season but fell by a narrow margin on the final day of the NCAA Championships.

"This will be one of our benchmark matches of the season," Mullins said. "For us to take two out of three from WVU last season was a good achievement yet we came short in the NCAA championships. WVU will come out strong to defend its championship and to win the GARC Championship. Both teams will bring its best game of the fall for this match. If the athletes perform like they should it will be a nail biter from start to finish. The match will also measure where we are at during the halfway point in the season."

After the November test with the defending NCAA Champion, UK will travel to face Army in West Point, N.Y., on Jan. 16, kicking off the winter season.

"Army has reloaded with a lot of young talent," Mullins said. "They will be hungry to get back into the top-four and will be making a strong run at a regular season conference championship. This will be a good match. It will be a good start on the direction we will be heading in the spring."

After facing Army, UK will host Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 19 in Lexington. Last year, UAF – the 2006-07 and 2007-08 NCAA Champions, handed UK its only regular-season setback.

"The Alaska match is always one of our highlight matches of the season," Mullins said. "It was the only regular season match loss last year. They had a really good recruiting class and some strong shooters returning. This match will be very close all the way through."

After facing Alaska, UK will host Ole Miss on Jan. 23, before traveling to Lincoln, Neb., on Jan. 31.

"Ole miss is a team that is on the move," Mullins said. "Getting back into conference competition will bring some pressure to this match. This again will test our endurance as it will be our third match in seven days. I think it will be important for us to close out the three-match series with a strong performance.

"This will be our last regular season match before we go into the NCAA qualifier and the conference championships. We will really have to hit on all cylinders during this match to get ready for the upcoming post-season events. Nebraska will come out strong with two solid recruits and a good team returning. This match will again come down to air rifle like it has done in the past."

After the regular-season wraps up, UK will kick off postseason with the NCAA Qualifier in Lexington, Feb. 13-14.

"This match will be 50-percent of our qualifying team score to get to the NCAA championships," Mullins said. "The other 50-percent will come from the highest three matches during the regular season with no more than one coming from each location. We will have to be at our best during this match in order to have a chance to get back into the top four going into the NCAA Championship. It is also an opportunity for some of our individuals to qualify for individual competition."

The defending GARC Tournament champion, UK will defend its league crown Feb. 20-21 in Oxford, Miss., hosted annually by Ole Miss.

"This will be a really close match," Mullins said. "Our conference typically has three-five teams out of the final eight in the NCAA Championships. All of the teams will have improved through the year and the competition for the conference championship will be very close. It will take two days of solid performance to win this event this year. It is normally a great prelude to the NCAA Championships."

The season will wrap up in Fort Worth, the site of the 2009-10 NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year. Last year, UK finished just shy of the title as West Virginia soared from behind to claim the title.

We have to qualify for this match with 50-percent from the NCAA Qualifier and 50-percent coming from three matches throughout the season," Mullins said. "I think that if we do qualify, we have the experience to try to make a solid run in this match. It will again come down to air rifle on the final day on the final relay for the team to come out ahead. With the talent pool returning and new recruits coming into the sport, this will be one of the most exciting championships in recent history."

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