First off, congratulations to Texas Christian University, this year's NCAA rifle champions. The Horned Frogs battled back from a five-point deficit after the smallbore competition to fire an excellent air rifle tally and vault past defending champion University of Kentucky for its second in the past three years. You can read a recap of the championships here.
TCU's squad was paced by individual smallbore champion Sarah Scherer, who qualified for the final with a 589 and shot an excellent 99.6 in the 10-shot final to hold on for the win. I took the opportunity to view the shot-by-shot final live on NCAA's website, and it was quite exciting to watch the standings change with each shot. (I covered the smallbore final on Twitter, so if you're interested, follow me at @jscottrupp and you can go back and view all the Tweets from the final.)
I was a collegiate rifle shooter back in the late '70s and '80s, and I know it makes me an old fart to say so, but, man, things sure have changed — for the better. Instead of full-course smallbore three-position, competitors now shoot a half-course 3P and a 60-shot air rifle match. And, as mentioned, the championships have adopted the finals event in which the top eight shooters from the regular course of fire go head to head for an additional 10 shots to determine the winner. This approach is the same used in the Olympic Games and other international competitions and adds an element of excitement that had always been lacking in smallbore and air rifle.
Hats off to the NCAA to devote the resources to video the championships live and post it on their website obviously something we didn't have 30 years ago. And with the advent of social media, you can now follow your team, coach and/or favorite shooter and stay up to date throughout the season.
Another thing that's changed since my college days is the dominance of women shooters. Both squads I shot on (West Virginia University and Eastern Kentucky University) were co-ed, as were most of the teams back then, but the men tended to post higher scores than the women. The TCU championship squad? All women, and coached by Karen Monez, a great shooter in her own right. As I mentioned, Sarah Scherer was the individual smallbore champion; WVU's Petra Zublasing was the individual air rifle champion. Seven of the top 10 smallbore scores were turned in by women; six of the top 10 air rifle shooters were women.
The teams have changed, too. Decades ago, rifle teams were dropping like flies due to budget cuts (my squad at EKU was a victim in 1985), but now it seems number of universities fielding NCAA teams is actually growing. Old-line powerhouses such as WVU, UAF, Murray State and Army are still to be reckoned with, but these days they're joined by schools such as TCU, UK (which was a club team when I last shot in college), UTEP, Jacksonville State, Nevada-Reno, Ole Miss and more.
And that's just the NCAA side of the collegiate rifle coin. Starting today and running the rest of the week, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, GA, is hosting the first of its kind Army Strong Collegiate Shooting Championships. The event will draw top college and junior shooters from across the country and encompass four distinct championships, including the NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championship for those schools whose rifle teams are on the club level.
Back in my day (go ahead, kids, roll your eyes) collegiate club teams never had such an opportunity. It's just another example of why collegiate rifle's future looks bright.