Rifle Heads To NCAAs With High Hopes

NCAA bound

NCAA bound

March 6, 2013

WEST POINT, N.Y. - The No. 6-ranked Army rifle team will look to surprise by taking a shot at a top finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships being hosted this weekend by Ohio State (March 8-9) at the Converse Hall and French Field House. The Black Knights, who are making their 10th straight appearance, finished fourth last year (their highest finish since 2008) and return the majority of that squad.

Heading to the NCAA Championships are senior captain William Mengon, juniors Richard Calvin, Michael Matthews and Joseph Todaro, along with freshman Alyssa Gestl. The four upperclassmen are no strangers to the NCAAs as it is the third straight year that Mengon, Calvin and Matthews are competing with Todaro earning his second trip and Gestl her first.

The Black Knights are coming off a fourth-place finish at the Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) Championships last weekend. They are among four members of the conference to earn a trip to the NCAAs with West Virginia and Kentucky ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, along with No. 7 Nebraska, who edged the Black Knights for the bronze at the conference championships.

The two-day competition will have a live stream of the competitions and fans can follow live results at www.NCAA.com and can access relay assignments at Army finished second in smalbore at last year's NCAA Championships, with Matthews earning runner-up honors in that discipline, in jumping off to a strong first-day start. The Black Knights did not fare as well the next day in air rifle (sixth) to finish fourth overall with a 4568 in trailing the second and third-place teams by three points.

The Black Knights' smallbore unit has ranked among the nation's leaders the past several years, but has had its ups and downs this season. However, air rifle has been a pleasant surprise and has been solid throughout the season. Army tied the school air rifle record with a 2357 in a triangular with No. 5 Jacksonville State and Ole Miss, but lost by a point to the Gamecocks after firing a season-high 4675 aggregate.

Army's three dual losses were to teams ranked in the top five in West Virginia, Kentucky and Jacksonville State en route to posting a 10-3 mark for its highest win total since 2007-08.

"To be selected for the NCAA championships 10 years in a row says a lot about the current team and the previous teams," stated Army head coach Ron Wigger, who has been the mastermind behind the program's success since taking over the reins 13 years ago. "This is a great achievement for our program and the Academy.

"We are very capable of finishing among the leaders, and it is a matter of us putting it together in both events. We have shown flashes in each event. If we can have a complete match, we can be very dangerous."

Army proved to be a dangerous team in 2005 when the Black Knights, paced by a young squad, pulled off a upset in winning its first-ever NCAA title. Army posted second-place NCAA finishes in 2007 and 2008 sandwiched around the bronze in 2006. The Black Knights' fourth-place showing last year was its highest since 2008.

Army's contingent at the NCAA is capable of not only finishing among the team leaders, but also qualifying for the individual finals in each of the disciplines. Calvin has been Army's top air rifle specialist the past two years, setting a career-high 595 in 2011-12. A two-time All-GARC selection in air rifle, Calvin is coming off a seventh-place finish in the individual finals at the conference championships. He has posted scores of 590 or above eight times and just missed it twice with his highest score a 593 against Kentucky. Matthews lists among Army's leaders in air rifle having fired a career-high 592 twice. Mengon, Gestl and Todaro have all fired career marks of 589 this season.

"It is rare that teams make it to the NCAAs this often," commented Calvin, who has been a participant since his freshman year. "We just need to go out and show what we are capable of. I think we can make it to the top of the standings if we put all our effort into it."

Matthews, who earned first-team All-GARC honors in smallbore, was a second team selection in air rifle along with earning honorable mention in the combined scoring, has been Army's top point producer in smallbore.

He tied his career mark of 589 set in his signature event last year at the NCAAs. Matthews finished first in five meets along with a second and third. Todaro, who earned All-GARC honorable mention honors in smallbore, and Mengon have posted career marks of 585 and 586, respectively, while Army's season high this year is a 2319 fired against Murray State in the fall. The Black Knights' highest mark in the second half of the schedule is a 2318 tallied against Ole Miss and Jacksonville State.

It is a challenging field as No. 1 West Virginia will be looking to capture its 15th NCAA title and first since 2009. The Mountaineers outpointed Kentucky, the regular-season GARC champion, by 15 points in capturing their fourth tournament title. No. 3 TCU won the NCAA crown in 2010 and No. 4 Alaska Fairbanks has been a perennial power in rounding out the top four teams in the field. The Nanooks, who earned their 26th straight NCAA bid, are looking to be in the hunt for their first national title since 2008. No. 5 Jacksonville State, No. 6 Army, No. 7 Nebraska and No. 8 Air Force round out the field.

2012-13 Team Accomplishments

*Defeated Navy for the fourth straight year

*Heads into the NCAAs ranked No. 6

*10th straight year earned an NCAA bid

*10-3 dual mark equals win total set in 2007-08

*Three losses were to No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Kentucky and No. 5 Jacksonville State

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