Meelis Kiisk and Garrett Spurgeon Hope to Cap West Virginia Rifle Careers With Another Title

It's not often that a prime member of a pair of national championship teams will take a redshirt year for circumstances not involving injury or academics, but that's exactly what redshirt senior Meelis Kiisk did for the West Virginia rifle team.

Imagine, if you will, a two-time All-American basketball player taking a year off after helping lead his team to back-to-back Final four appearances. Or an All-American QB who, after winning the national title, staying on the sidelines the following year. Unthinkable, right? That's just what Kiisk, who redshirted last year after helping WVU to a pair of national championships in 2013 and 2014 while earning six All-American honors, did in the 2014-15 season.

The choice was a mutual one -- a decision borne out of his personal circumstances. Awaiting the birth of his first child, while also facing the rigors of academics, Kiisk, along with head coach Jon Hammond, decided that a year away from competition counting at WVU was the best path to follow. (Imagine, also, a Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney approving such a move.) All of that points out the huge differences between a sport such as rifle and those like football and basketball, but it also speaks volumes to the way in which Hammond runs his program, and to Kiisk's sense of responsibility to his family.

Kiisk believes that the time off helped him mature as a person and improve as a shooter.

"It's a unique experience to do that in the middle of your career, but it was an opportunity to get better," the soft-spoken native of Paide, Estonia said as he and the team prepared for the 2016 NCAA National Championship, which well be held in Akron, Oh. "It helped me a lot, because I have a child, and it gave more more flexibility when she was born. Now, I feel like I'm shooting a lot better. It gave me time to grow as a person." 

That personal growth, along with the leadership, put Kiisk right back in the spotlight this year. One of the two team captains, he will help lead WVU this weekend in their pursuit of an NCAA-record 18th national title.

"It seem like we lose a couple of great shooters every year but we seem to come back more motivated to work even harder," he said of the determination and work eithic that has kept the Mountaineers at the peak of the NCAA rifle heap.

Kiisk, along with his wife Kristina, is expecting another daughter shortly after the NCAA tournament. He would like nothing more than to celebrate her arrival, and his graduation from WVU, with another NCAA title. It would be the Mountaineers' fourth consective title, matching the streak they recorded from 1995-98, but still two short of the program-record six consecutive crowns of 1988-93.

Fellow senior Garrett Spurgeon is also set to cap a stellar careet at West Virginia. An eight-time All-American, Spurgeon has been a counter for all three of WVU's previous national champions, and would join an elite group of shooters in doing so for a fourth time if WVU can come out on top in Akron. He discussed the community of shooting competitors that meet seemingly year after year, and the way in which head coach Jon Hammond runs the program to keep West Virginia on top.

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