No. 2 Rifle Honors Three Seniors, Hosts NCAA Qualifier Saturday

No. 2 Rifle Honors Three Seniors, Hosts NCAA Qualifier Saturday

by Evan Crane

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The postseason is here for the No. 2 University of Kentucky rifle team as the Wildcats will host a NCAA Qualifier with Morehead State inside the UK Rifle Range on Saturday. There will be multiple relays with the first getting underway at approx. 8 a.m. ET.
Spectators are invited to watch smallbore scores up in Barker Hall and enjoy free breakfast starting at 8 a.m. ET. The range will be open to spectators for air rifle. All spectators are required to be masked while inside Barker Hall or the UK Rifle Range. Admission is free.
Kentucky will honor three seniors between relays Saturday. Richard Clark, Mitchell Nelson and Will Shaner will be honored for their hard work and dedication to the UK program at approx. 11 a.m. ET inside the UK Rifle Range.

“It’s postseason time and I am excited to see our team can achieve together over the next couple of weeks,” UK head coach Harry Mullins said. “The NCAA Qualifier is always exciting because you get a chance to lock-in a spot in the NCAA Championships, but bittersweet as well as we honor our seniors for all they have done for our program. This group has been very special. Will, Richard and Mitchell have given this program so much and I would love for our team to put together a great qualifying score to make Saturday that much more special.”
All three athletes have had great careers since arriving in Lexington, including helping the program win a national championship in 2021 and three straight Great America Rifle Conference Regular-Season Championships. As sophomores, the group helped Kentucky to the GARC regular-season and tournament championships while UK put together an undefeated regular season and had the top seed heading into the 2020 NCAA Championships, which were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clark is having a monster season for Kentucky, averaging 585.1 in smallbore and 594 in air rifle for an aggregate average of 1179.1, which ranks third best on the UK squad. The native of Jackson, Michigan, has set career highs this year in both disciplines with a 592 in smallbore vs. Murray State and 598 in air rifle at Army. Last year at the NCAA Championships, he shot a 585 in smallbore and 594 in air rifle to help UK clinch the title. He was named All-GARC Smallbore Honorable Mention last season.
Nelson, who was an alternate for Kentucky at last year’s NCAA Championships, is averaging 581.5 in smallbore and 589.7 in air rifle this season. His aggregate average of 1171.2 ranks fourth on the team. He also secured career highs in both disciplines this season, earning a 587 in smallbore vs. Navy and 595 in air rifle at Army.
Shaner is leading Kentucky in aggregate average this season at 1187, averaging a 590.25 in smallbore and 596.75 in air rifle. The native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, set a career high smallbore score this season when he posted a 596 at Army, while he has tied his career best air rifle score of 599 twice. Last season, Shaner was the NCAA Air Rifle Individual National Runner-Up while earning Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association All-America honors in smallbore, air rifle and overall. Last summer, he became the first American male to win gold in men’s 10m air rifle, setting an Olympic record score (251.6) in Tokyo.
Saturday’s NCAA qualifying score will be the last factor determining the field for the 2022 NCAA Rifle Championships. Each team’s three score aggregate average – the score based on each team’s highest three regular season scores fired at three different locations – has already been recorded. This weekend’s qualifier score will be added to that average. The teams with the eight highest combined scores will qualify for the NCAA Championship.
UK’s three scores it will count as part of its NCAA Qualifying score are its school-record 4752 at Army on January 16, an impressive 4741 fired at Murray State on Jan. 22 and its 4736 at Navy on Oct. 30. The impressive scores currently place UK second in the NCAA qualifying standings at 4743 with Alaska-Fairbanks sitting first at 4750.
Kentucky is coming off a come-from-behind win at No. 4 West Virginia last Saturday, earning a share of the GARC Regular-Season Championship. It was the third straight season that the Wildcats have earned at least a share of the conference regular-season title. This is the first time UK has earned back-to-back-to-back titles since winning the regular-season championship three-straight times from 2011 to 2013. UK shares the title in 2022 with WVU and Ole Miss, who also had one loss in GARC action.
Kentucky earned the win at West Virginia and thus a share of the GARC title with a 2325 in smallbore and 2377 in air rifle for a total aggregate score of 4702. West Virginia led Kentucky after smallbore with a 2329 in the discipline but fell short of UK’s air rifle total with a 2371 for an aggregate of 4700.
Leading Kentucky this weekend into the NCAA Qualifier will be the three seniors mentioned above and seven other athletes that are having great seasons. Junior Mary Tucker is averaging 589.125 in smallbore and 597.75 in air rifle, while fellow junior Jaden Thompson is earning 579.25 in smallbore and 589.125 in air rifle. Two other juniors are performing well this season in Emmie Sellers and Mason Hamilton. Sellers is averaging a 577.111 in smallbore and 588.9 in air rifle, while Hamilton is posting a 579.3 in smallbore and 583.778 in air rifle. UK’s three freshman have performed well this year. Allison Buesseler is averaging a 571.778 in smallbore and 590.9 in air rifle, while Tori Kopelen is earning a 577 in smallbore and 584.143 in air rifle. Kayla Kalenza is averaging a 570.167 in smallbore and 582 in air rifle.
Following this weekend’s NCAA Qualifier, Kentucky will participate in the GARC Championships next weekend in West Point, New York. Competition begins Friday, Feb. 25 and will conclude Saturday, Feb. 26. The NCAA Championships are scheduled for March 11-12 in Colorado Springs.
For more information on the Kentucky rifle team, visit UKathletics.com or follow UKRifle on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  

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