Climbing Back

West Virginia's rifle program was swept from its position as a national power when the program was discontinued in 2004. After a four-year rebuilding period, are the Mountaineers positioning themselves to regain their former dominance, which included 12 national titles over a 15-year span?

Dynasties of that magnitude might be out of reach in today's heightened competitive atmosphere, but head coach John Hammonds' rebuilding of the once-dominant Mountaineer program appears headed in the right direction. Following a sixth-place finish at the NCAAs a year ago, WVU is 4-0 this year after crushing Mississippi by 90 points on Sunday. West Virginia is also 2-0 in conference play, and appears primed for a return trip to the nationals it once owned. Whether WVU is ready to compete for a national title is still a question to be answered, but the progress the Mountaineers have shown over the past four seasons is one of steady improvement.

WVU was 3-8 in its first year back after a one-year hiatus, and improved to 4-7 the following season. Hammond came on board in 2006-07 and produced a winning 6-4 mark, and that improved to 8-3, and WVU's first NCAA trip since 2002, one year ago. The resulting 6th-place finish in the nation didn't receive a great deal of notice, but it now appears to be another solid step forward in WVU's attempt to climb back into the nation's elite.

Powered by a strong over-all performance from freshman Justin Pentz, the team defeated Ole Miss by the score of 4655-4565.

The Mountaineers (4-0 overall, 2-0 GARC) scored their second-straight conference win in two days in convincing fashion, out-performing the Rebels in both air rifle (2336-2318) and smallbore (2319-2247). WVU, which defeated Army 4659-4616 on Saturday, now owns a 4-3 series advantage over Ole Miss.

"This weekend was definitely a good weekend for us," said Head Coach Jon Hammond. "It was nice to shoot some good scores on the road. I was happy with the consistency across the board."

The Mountaineers again watched the school records fall, an emerging trend for the 2008-09 season.

WVU's smallbore score of 2319 bested the program's top mark by one point, while Pentz shot personal bests in both air rifle (587) and smallbore (584) to match the school-record aggregate score 1171, set by sophomore Andy Lamson in yesterday's victory.

"Justin had an outstanding day today," Hammond said. "I think our freshmen (Pentz and Michael Kulbacki) are coming on strong after getting the first match of the season out of the way. Hopefully they can keep on working and keep their scores up."

Sophomore Kyle Smith bested his own kneeling school record with 199 points. The smallbore All-American tied Pentz's match-high smallbore score of 584, including two 100 strings.

Individually, junior Bryant Wallizer led the air rifle field with 590, one point off his personal-best and school-record mark. Sophomore Tommy Santelli equaled his air rifle personal best (586) for the third time this season, while Lamson equaled his smallbore personal best (582), also for the third time.

Smith (584), Lamson (583), Santelli (574) and sophomore Brandi Eskew (579) combined for the smallbore school record.

The Mountaineers return to the WVU Rifle Range next weekend to host TCU on Saturday, Oct. 25, at 8 a.m. Fans are encouraged to attend throughout the day, as the match will play into the afternoon.

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