If you fancy yourself a fan of West Virginia athletics chances are you're probably aware of the tradition and excellence that has become second nature to the Mountaineers' rifle program.
Just last week West Virginia (12-0, 8-0 GARC) dominated competition, shooting a total score of 4725 and taking home a GARC (Greater American Rifle Conference) conference title, the eighth consecutive year the Mountaineers have done so. Shortly afterwards, the team took a few days' rest before returning to practice, this time with its eyes set on the NCAA Championship.
The prospect of winning a national championship is nothing new to the Mountaineers, however, as the rifle program has brought home 18 or West Virginia University's 19 NCAA titles (the lone exception is a 1938 boxing championship) and is working on earning its fifth title in a row. With numbers like that, it's safe to say that head coach Jon Hammond has a pretty good recipe for success. Hammond took over the head coaching position in the 2006-2007 season and has seen the Mountaineers place first in the NCAA championships five different times in that period. So, what is the key to sustaining such success? According to Hammond, it's all about preparation and having a proper mindset.
"Our preparation stays pretty similar," said Hammond. "We want to keep it pretty similar to the rest of the season and what we have been dong. Our philosophy is that its the next match and its another match. We don't want to try to change too much from (what the Mountaineers have done all year). There are a couple of things we will try to do to prepare the shooters for this match but at the same time we want to be as consistent as possible."
In other words, if it isn't broken, don't fix it; and in West Virginia's case, it certainly isn't broken. The Mountaineers are undefeated on the season and have already beaten five of the other eight programs that will join them in the NCAA championships next weekend. While Hammond spoke on the importance of preparing for the NCAA championships like any other match, he also dove deep into his team's overall mindset entering the competition. So much is often made about the culture and mindset of the championship teams in sports (Alabama football, the New England Patriots, the John Wooden led UCLA Bruins, etc.) so it comes as no surprise that West Virginia's Rifle dynasty has developed a proven process of its own.
"The mindset of the team members is crucial to go in there and feel like they're prepared and ready to go compete their best in that environment," said Hammond. "I'm sure that's had an impact on our success and the preparation that we do and the mindset we're trying to go into that competition with."
This year's team has impressed Hammond and from listening to him speak one gets the impression that it may have even exceeded some of his expectations. Sure, there are shooters who have competed and won in international competitions (Gold Medalist Ginny Thrasher comes to mind) but there is also a mix of inexperienced shooters as well, as the Mountaineers will bring four shooters who have never competed in the NCAA championships to Columbus next weekend. However, the four freshman have wowed Hammond with their ability to seamlessly transition into the culture and success that West Virginia Rifle is accustomed to.
"A few years ago I knew this would be a transition year with the amount of seniors that we had last year," admitted Hammond. "As a coach it's really motivating to keep the standards that we have and we have some great young shooters that have come in here. It's been more of an overall process this year but they have all worked really hard.
"The older (shooters) have helped the younger ones. The talent has always been there, it was just a matter of getting everyone settled into our culture and team expectations. They have worked great and while we're a young team we're really coming together over the last couple of months. We're looking forward to taking these kids to championships."