Kentucky Set to Begin 2023 NCAA Championships
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The four-time NCAA national championship University of Kentucky rifle team – which has claimed the last two titles in 2021 and 2022 – are set to compete in the 2023 NCAA Championships on Friday and Saturday inside James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron, Ohio.
The national event will feature individual and team competitions in smallbore Friday, March 10 while air rifle competition will be on Saturday, March 11. Live targets, live scores and live video are all available online at NCAA.com.
Kentucky, which is currently ranked fourth nationally and were regular-season Great American Rifle Conference Champions, has won the national title four times – 2011, 2018, 2021 and 2022 – with six runner-up finishes.
The Wildcats traveled six athletes to the event – five countable competitors and one alternate. The five countable athletes are expected to be super seniors Will Shaner, Mitchell Nelson and Richard Clark, along with sophomore Allison Buesseler and freshman Martin Voss. Senior Emmie Sellers is with the team as an alternate. GARC Freshman of the Year Sofia Ceccarello will not compete in the NCAA Championships due to a previously made obligation with the Italian National Team that will play a significant role in her solidifying a spot in the 2024 Olympics.
“This weekend is what all the training and hard work the past few months is for and I am excited to take this group up to Akron and watch them compete the next few days,” head coach Harry Mullins said. “We have known for a little while that this was the group we were going to have and they have really locked in on the training to make sure we are ready to go out there and represent this program extremely well. It is unfortunate that Sofia will not be able to be with us, but she could not miss the opportunity to solidify an Olympic bid and everyone in our program understands and supports her. The competition and standard we have built in this program is for the next person in line to step up and help the team. I am confident that is what will happen.”
UK qualified as one of eight teams for the event after a combination of season averages and NCAA qualifying scores. UK’s three scores it counted as part of its NCAA qualifying score was its 4742 at home vs. Navy and North Georgia on October 29, an impressive 4741 fired at Ole Miss on Nov. 19 and its 4739 vs. Georgia Southern in Alaska on Jan. 15. Adding UK’s 4716 qualifying score and UK’s total for NCAA selection was 9456.67, which seeded the Wildcats fifth. TCU is seeded first at 9498.67 with WVU second, Alaska Fairbanks third and Murray State fourth. Ole Miss, Nebraska and Air Force conclude the eight-team field.
Kentucky is averaging a 2341.73 in smallbore and 2378.47 in air rifle for a season aggregate average of 4720.20. Kentucky has the second-best air rifle team score in the nation this season, earning a 2392 back in November at Ole Miss. Earlier this month, Kentucky defeated West Virginia for the fourth straight season to earn its fourth straight Great America Rifle Conference Regular-Season Championship. In its last competition, Kentucky finished third in the 2023 GARC Championships behind WVU and Ole Miss.
Ceccarello leads Kentucky individually this season averaging 589.333 in smallbore and 598.231 in air rifle. Clark, Shaner and Nelson are right behind her with strong averages. Clark is averaging 586.929 in smallbore and 594.214 in air rifle, while Shaner is earning 584.083 in smallbore and 594.25 in air rifle and Nelson is posting a 583.214 in smallbore and 591.143 in air rifle. Freshman Martin Voss averages a 583.643 in smallbore and 590.714 in air rifle, while sophomore Allison Buesseler is earning a 581.929 in smallbore and 591.643 in air rifle.
Sellers, Thompson and Hamilton are having good seasons. Sellers is earning a 579.769 in smallbore and 589.231 in air rifle, while Thompson is averaging a 575.25 in smallbore and 587.5 in air rifle and Hamilton is posting a 575.25 in smallbore and 584.667 in air rifle. Sophomore Kayla Kalenza and Tori Kopelen are averaging 577.923 and 574.625, respectively in smallbore and 589.538 and 586.714, respectively in air rifle. Freshman AJ Hotko is earning a 567.75 in smallbore and 584.25 in air rifle.