March 12, 2014
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Army's sixth-ranked rifle team puts the finishing touches on the season with a trip to the NCAA Championships, its 11th straight, being hosted by Murray State Friday and Saturday (March 14-15) at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range and CFSB Center, in Murray, Ky.
Among the teams Army will be competing against are 2013 champion and No. 1 ranked West Virginia, along with the 2012 and 2011 champions, TCU and Kentucky, respectively. Rounding out the rest of the eight-team field are Alaska Fairbanks, Jacksonville State, Memphis and Nebraska. The Black Knights captured the NCAA title in 2005, along with second-place finishes in 2007 and 2008 and a third in 2006.
Army, which finished sixth at the NCAAs last year, heads to the meet with a team consisting of two upperclassmen and three underclassmen.
Seniors Michael Matthews and Joseph Todaro are making their fourth and third consecutive trips, respectively, to the NCAAs with sophomore Alyssa Gestl making her second straight appearance. Sophomore Olivia Nardone and freshman Danielle Cuomo will be competing for the first time and will write their names, along with Gestl, into Army's history annals as the largest Black Knight female counters at the NCAAs.
Matthews is looking to duplicate his performance at the 2012 NCAAs when he finished runner-up in smallbore to become just the third Black Knight to place among the top two at the championships. He has ranked among Army's leading scorers throughout his career in that discipline, and joins classmate Todaro, who has fired the top score this season, as the pace setters for the team having led the Black Knights in a majority of the matches.
Todaro recorded a career and team-best smallbore score of 586 in a meet against Ohio State followed by a 585 against West Virginia, with Matthews' top two marks a 585 (vs. Murray State) and 584 recorded twice. Matthews' career-high 589 was fired at the NCAAs in 2012 and duplicated in 2013.
Matthews' career best in air rifle is a 592 with Todaro's career mark a 591 recorded this season. Army's strength has been air rifle and four of its team members have fired in the 590 range. Nardone posted the highest mark this season among the Black Knight contingent with a 592 in a triangular sweep at the NCAA Qualifier in earning medalist honors for the first time. Gestl was Army's top scorer in air rifle at the GARC Championships with a 590, and Cuomo's season-best is a 587.
The Great America Rifle Conference (GARC), which Army is a member of, is well represented at the NCAAs with over half the berths held by its members led by defending NCAA champion No. 1 West Virginia, along with No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 6 Army and No. 8 Memphis. The Wildcats were runner-up at the NCAAs the past two years after winning the title in 2011.
West Virginia captured its fifth straight GARC Championship in its last outing with Kentucky earning the silver followed by third-place Nebraska and fourth-place Army in rounding out the top half of the nine-team field.
"You build all season towards the NCAA Championships," noted Army head coach Ron Wigger, who has been the architect of Army's success." Obviously you have to qualify which is a major accomplishment any year. That we have been able to do it eleven years in a row says a lot about our cadets who have come through the program and maintained that consistency.
"Our goal all season was to perform at our highest level and peak at the NCAA Championships and give our best performance possible. I don't want to go in there thinking we are going to finish in a certain place, we just want to go out and put up our best performance; the outcome takes care of itself.
"We have a lot of potential, but the competition is stiff with Kentucky, West Virginia and Alaska performing at a very high level."
Four of Army's five dual losses this season were conference matches against the Mountaineers, Wildcats, Cornhuskers and the Tigers, and the tough competition resulted in top team and individual scores for the Black Knights. Army's high mark in air rifle was a 2356, which is just one point shy of the school record set in 2013.
The championships open with the smallbore competition on Friday, 8 a.m., in the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range with the individual finals staring at 4:30 p.m. Saturday's air rifle competition will take place in the main arena of the CFSB Center at 8 a.m. with finals slated for 1 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/Ncaa.
Live stats are available by clicking on the Championship Central.