Kentucky Rifle Qualifies for 2022 NCAA Rifle Championships, Seeded No. 2
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky rifle team has qualified for the NCAA Rifle Championships for the 28th time in program history as the Wildcats were one of eight teams selected to compete in the 2022 championships.
The national event will take place from March 11-12 inside the United States Air Force Academy’s Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Individual and team competition in smallbore is scheduled for Friday, March 11 while air rifle competition will be on Saturday, March 12.
Kentucky, which is currently ranked second nationally and were regular-season Great American Rifle Conference Co-Championship, has won the national title three times – 2011, 2018 and 2021 – with six runner-up finishes.
“Excited to be heading back to the NCAA Championships next month,” said head coach Harry Mullins. “The level of competition from top to bottom at the championships should be fun to watch this season. There are some amazing teams and phenomenal athletes. We are excited for this weekend’s GARC Championships and then will turn our attention to NCAAs.”
Last Saturday’s NCAA qualifying score was the last factor in 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 – was already recorded prior to last weekend. The NCAA qualifier score was then added to that average and Kentucky along with Air Force, Alaska Fairbanks, Murray State, Navy, Ole Miss, TCU and West Virginia had the eight highest combined scores, thus qualifying for the NCAA Championship.
UK’s three scores it counted as part of its NCAA Qualifying score are the 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. Kentucky then fired a 4735 in qualifying for a final total of 9478. Alaska Fairbanks was the top qualifier at 9490. TCU was third at 9477.33, followed by Air Force, Ole Miss, WVU, Navy and Murray State.
Kentucky is averaging an aggregate score of 4720.73 this season thanks to a 2343.73 smallbore average and 2377 air rifle average. It has been a year full of school records as the Wildcats set new program marks in smallbore, air rifle and aggregate. All three marks came in UK’s win vs. NC State at Army. The match started with Kentucky earning a school-record team score in smallbore of 2360, besting its previous best of 2358. The Wildcats topped that in air rifle with a school-record 2392, which was one better than the previous best of 2391. The two high marks totaled a 4752 aggregate team score, which was not only a school record but a NCAA record. Both TCU and Alaska Fairbanks scored 4752 team scores in succeeding weeks.
The Wildcats are one of two teams in the nation that have scored two team smallbore scores of 2359 or higher this season. UK has the second and third highest air rifle team scores in the nation this season as the only team to score over 2390 in the discipline twice. Overall, the Wildcats along with TCU and Alaska Fairbanks are the only teams to score team aggregate marks of 4740 or better this season.
Senior Will Shaner, who won a gold medal in air rifle in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, leads Kentucky averaging a 1186.889 aggregate this season with a 590.222 in smallbore and 596.667 in air rifle. Junior Mary Tucker, who earned a silver medal in Tokyo, is earning a 1186.778 aggregate this season behind a 589.556 smallbore and 597.222 air rifle. Senior Richard Clark is having a great season for the Wildcats, earning a 585.182 in smallbore and 594.182 in air rifle. Fellow senior Mitchell Nelson is earning a 580.818 in smallbore and 589.909 in air rifle.
Freshman Allison Buesseler has performed well for UK in the last few months and earned her first spot in both lineups last weekend, scoring well in both disciplines. On the season, she is averaging 573.4 in smallbore and 591.091 in air rifle. Junior Jaden Thompson and Emmie Sellers are having strong years. Thompson is averaging 578.889 in smallbore and 588.333 in air rifle, while Sellers is earning 577.1 in smallbore and 589.364 in air rifle. Fellow junior Mason Hamilton is earning a 578.818 in smallbore and 583.7 in air rifle. Freshmen Tori Kopelen and Kayla Kalenza have started their college careers strong. Kopelen is averaging 578.889 in smallbore and 584.5 in air rifle, while Kalenza is 571.714 in smallbore and 582.25 in air rifle.
UK’s last event prior to the national championships is the annual GARC Championships. Competition begins Friday, Feb. 25 and will conclude Saturday, Feb. 26 in West Point, New York.