Oct. 5, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Army's rifle team opens its 86th varsity season Sunday morning hosting three-time defending GARC (Great America Rifle Conference) champion West Virginia at Tronsrue Marsksmanship Center at 9 a.m.
The Black Knights finished fourth at last year's NCAA Championships, two spots ahead of the Mountaineers. West Virginia, ranked No. 2 heading into the NCAAs last year, ranked higher than Army in the preseason CRCA (Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association) poll in listing third, two spots ahead of the Black Knights.
Army captured the smallbore crown at the 2012 GARC Championships with a 2318 to nip West Virginia by three points.
The Mountaineers overcame that three-shot deficit to win the GARC title with a combined score of 4681. WVU is the only program to win three straight conference titles, having also won from 1998-2000. The Black Knights took an early lead at the NCAA Championships behind runner-up honors in smallbore.
"West Virginia had a good recruiting class," said Army head coach Ron Wigger, who is just seven wins shy of reaching the 100-win plateau as he heads into his 13 year at the helm. "It is hard to predict what to expect in the first meet of the season. You have to rely on your training, and there are always first match jitters.
"In the past, our teams always rose to the challenge going against opponents of the same level or higher. West Virginia is very strong in air rifle, and we are looking to perform at a higher level this season in that discipline. That could be the difference in the meet."
Fans will be able to follow the match through live stats available on Army's website at www.goARMYsports. The link is accessible by navigating to the rifle schedule page. Twitter updates will also be provided via the official handle of Army rifle (@Army_Rifle).
Coach Wigger's team has some big shoes to fill following last year's showing at the NCAA and GARC Championships in smallbore. Graduation claimed three-time All-American Kelly Buck, who closed out her collegiate career as Army's top shooter in smallbore and ranked among the leaders in air rifle.
Don't count out the Black Knights as they look to earn their 10th straight trip to the NCAAs in 2013.
Five of the six Black Knights who competed at the 2012 NCAA Championships are among this year's returning letterwinners in senior team captain Will Mengon and juniors Michael Matthews, Richard Calvin, Joseph Todaro and Zachary Wells.
"We have a solid nucleus back this year, but obviously we need those returning NCAA veterans to take it up a notch," said head coach Ron Wigger. "We also need the younger members on the squad to add to the team depth."
Smallbore has not only been Army's strength the last few years, but has ranked among the nation's top teams in that discipline. Though Buck's presence will be missed (she holds Army's school mark in smallbore), Wigger will look to Mengon, Calvin, Matthews and Todaro to be the pace setters in that discipline.
An area that has been of a concern to Wigger, and one that he has put a lot of emphasis on this year, is air rifle.
"In order to improve upon last year's fourth-place showing at the NCAAs, we have to make progress in air rifle," stated Wigger. "Kelly (Buck) was a force in both events and was an All-American in air rifle, so I need others to step up."
The difference in that discipline this year could be just as simple as new air rifles that Wigger is expecting to make an impact.
"We are also testing different pellets in our air rifles and feel that could add a few more points to our scores."
Mengon, one of two seniors on the team, will provide the leadership in his role as captain.
"I feel that he will do an outstanding job in that role," noted Wigger. "He is a top notch leader who has shown a lot of initiative working hard the last three years to reach the level he is at."
Wigger has nine returning veterans (eight letterwinners) along with two newcomers who will be in the thick of battle for one of the top five spots in each discipline.
Matthews and Calvin tore up the collegiate and national circuit in smallbore and air rifle, respectively, in 2011-12, and will look to set the pace in their both events this year.
An NRA All-American in smallbore, Matthews was runner-up at the NCAA Championships in that discipline. He captured the 2012 National Junior Prone title, and was a finalist for the Olympic Team and a medalist in the men's 50m smallbore three-position at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships.
"Michael had a heck of a year," noted Wigger. "He won the Junior Olympics in the spring by 15 points and was successful at the Olympic Trials in June where he finished in the top eight and was the high shooter in the junior division.
"I expect him to have a super year as he has potential to be a first team All-America in both events along with winning an NCAA title."
Matthews, Todaro, Calvin and Mengon, part of last year's NCAA unit that finished second in smallbore, have nailed down four of the five counting positions with the final fifth spot wide open.
Junior Jacob Costa and sophomore Alex Rivera are among the top challengers heading into the season with junior Robert Oberle and freshman Alyssa Getsl looking to contribute in same capacity as well.
Calvin set an Army air rifle record at Tronsrue Marksmanship Center with a 595 (one shy of the range mark) last year and finished third in men's 10m air rifle at the 2012 National Junior Championships.
Ranked among Army's leaders the past two years in air rifle, Calvin fired a 590 and 589, respectively, at the GARC Championships and the NCAAs, respectively. He just missed qualifying for the individuals (top eight) in both events and is looking for this season to be his strongest.
Todaro and Matthews were also among Army's contingent at the NCAAs in air riflet. Matthews is expected to be a major force this year along with Todaro and Wells. Wells qualified individually for the NCAAs in air rifle last year and ranked among Army's top shooters after firing scores of 590.
The next spots are up for grabs with Malachosky looking to take on a larger role with three years of experience to draw upon. Gestl could push for a counting spot with Costa, Oberle, Rivera and freshman Olivia Nardone.
Army's schedule has three teams that went to last year's national championships to include 2011 champion Kentucky and West Virginia, both GARC rivals, along with Jacksonville State.