Oct. 5, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Army's rifle team, coming off its eighth straight appearance at the NCAA Tournament, makes its fall debut this weekend when it heads to the state of Mississippi for a pair of Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) matches. The Black Knights face Memphis Saturday in Oxford, Miss., and take on host Ole Miss Sunday.
Head coach Ron Wigger, owning an 84-37 mark as he returns for his 12th season, welcomed back his most seasoned team since 2008 with 10 lettermen returning to the fold. Five upperclassmen will help guide the team this year behind the leadership of team captain Tommy Carr, along with Kelly Buck, a first team NRA smallbore All-America.
Army is loaded this year because of the valuable experience gained by a young squad that peaked late last season placing eighth at the 2011 NCAA Championships following a third-place showing at the GARC Championships after closing out the season 6-6. The Black Knights' finish at the GARC was their highest since capturing the title in 2008.
Pleased with his team's performance at the GARC Championships after going 2-4 during the conference regular season, Wigger is looking to duplicate that effort this year.
"Finishing third last year at our conference championships was an outstanding achievement in a high-pressure tournament," noted Wigger. "Kentucky and West Virginia went on to place one-two at the NCAA Championships, and both return with talented teams once again this year. It would be quite an upset for us to better last year's finish, but it is attainable."
Despite last year's youth, Army turned in a strong showing at the Qualifier (4643) to earn one of the coveted eight spots to the NCAA Championships with the selection based on the average of the three highest regular-season aggregate marks added to formula.
Buck, who has competed all three years in both disciplines at the NCAA Championships, along with finishing among the individual leaders twice in smallbore, swept both air rifle and smallbore at the NCAA Qualifier in leading Army to a season-high 2339 mark in air rifle.
"We have a lot of experience returning with five members of the squad having competed at the NCAA Championships," said Wigger. "In addition to Kelly and Tommy, Will Mengon, Richard Calvin and Michael Matthews have been to the NCAAs for our most veteran group in four years.
"I fully expect the team to improve upon last year's standings at the NCAAs, and I would not be surprised to see us break into the top five."
Though ranking among the nation's leaders in smallbore (captured the NCAA title in 2008), Army has struggled the past few years in air rifle. The Black Knights placed third in smallbore behind a season-high 2333 (just four points off the school record) at last year's GARC Championships, but did not fare as well in air rifle
"Air rifle is not quite there yet, but we are making progress," stressed Wigger. "It is an area of concern that we are putting a lot of emphasis to improve upon in order to even out the two disciplines.
"Smallbore is extremely solid, and I feel we can shoot on any given day against any team in the country. Army is a team that could be very dangerous once we get our air rifle performance where we want it to be."
Buck will be asked once again to set the pace. Last year she broke the school smallbore mark behind a 591 that she fired against No. 1 West Virginia in tying for medalalist honors. Her score nipped the former Academy mark of 590 set in 2007, while her career-high 593 air rifle score in a double dual match with The Citadel and North Carolina State is just shy of the school record.
The senior from Reading, Mass., earned medalist honors six times in 2010-11, including four straight matches in smallbore. Buck earned first-team All-GARC honors in smallbore, just the fourth Black Knight named to that unit prior to the tournament, and went on to place third in the relay scoring and sixth individually in that event.
Buck led the way at the NCAA Championships in both disciplines where she was joined by Mengon, Calvin and Matthews. She placed seventh individually in smallbore, the second time she qualified for the shoot-off in that discipline, and just missed advancing in air rifle after firing a 590 in finishing 11th. Mengon and Calvin recorded the second-highest Army score in smallbore (575) and air rifle (581), respectively, in their first-ever NCAA meet.
Calvin turned in Army's highest air rifle score at the GARC Championships behind a career-high 589 in finishing sixth in the relay scoring and fourth individually following the shoot-off.. Matthews ranked among Army's top shooters in both disciplines, tying with Calvin for the third-highest Black Knight score of the season in air rifle (589), along with ranking among Army's smallbore leaders with Mengon as both fired 582s.
Buck, Matthews and Mengon are Army's top returning shooters in both disciplines with Carr and Calvin, along with sophomore Joseph Todaro, challenging to round out the top five scoring positions. Wigger considers Carr a "wild card" as the senior captain looks to set the example for the rest of the team in working his way back into the starting lineup with the form he displayed as an NCAA participant two years ago.
Mengon, Matthews and Calvin went on to turn in strong performances competing in the spring at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships. Mengon finished sixth in prone and ninth in the 50m three position, and just missed qualifying for the individual finals in the latter. Matthews earned runner-up honors in the 10m air rifle at the NJOS to earn a spot on the National Junior Rifle Team, while Calvin finished seventh.
Senior Chris Arnett, junior Chris Malachosky and freshman Alex Rivera will be looking to make their presence felt as they battle for the remaining eight traveling spots. Adding depth to Army's unit and continuing to develop are sophomore veterans Jacob Costa, Nate Davison and Zach Wells, along with newcomers Joe Bogar and Katie Fuller.
Rivera, a rising star among the newcomers, was selected to compete at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, as a member of the Puerto Rico National Team. Malachosky is coming off of strong air rifle performances last year and has the talent to work his way into the top half of the lineup this season. Arnett, who walked onto the team as a freshman and held onto that spot into his senior year because of his hard work and dedication, is expected to come into his own this season.
Army's 11-match dual schedule will test the Black Knights in the GARC as well as in non-league starting with the season opener in Oxford, Miss., for a pair of conference matches with Memphis and Ole Miss. The Black Knights, who edged the Tigers by five points (4586-4581) and suffered a three-point loss to the Rebels last year en route to a 2-4 regular-season conference mark, went on to finish higher than both at the GARC Championships.
"Memphis has improved and Ole Miss will be tough and challenging this year, but I feel we will be favored there as well as against North Carolina State, Murray State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Navy," stated Wigger. "Our schedule is tougher than last year and it will be difficult to get wins against last year's top three finishers at the NCAA, all on this year's schedule, in Kentucky, West Virginia, and TCU."
Following a visit to defending GARC champion West Virginia on Oct. 22 in closing out a three-match road slate, the Black Knights make their home debut hosting the President's Trophy Match on Nov. 5 at Tronsrue Marksmanship Center. Army will be in the hunt to defend its title for the third straight year and sixth time in the last seven years.
On the heels of that meet are a pair of GARC home dates with North Carolina State (Nov. 11) and Nebraska (Nov. 13), who the Black Knights split with last year. Army puts the finishing touches on the fall portion of its schedule on Nov. 19 with a double-dual match hosting TCU (2010 national champions) and Murray State, who finished third and fifth, respectively, at last year's NCAA meet. It is Army's first dual match against the Horned Frogs since 2009, while bowing last year to the Racers, 4654-4622.
Following a break for exams and the holidays, Army faces a busy winter slate when it returns to action on Jan. 14 in taking on defending national champion and GARC rival Kentucky in its regular-season conference finale. Army takes to the road for a visit to Ohio State (Jan. 21), host for this year's NCAA Championships, followed by the NRA Sectionals in Philadelphia (Jan. 27) and Annapolis, Md., for the annual "Star" match (Feb. 4) with arch-rival Navy in closing out the road portion of its schedule.
Army hosts the NCAA Qualifier and USP (Feb. 18) in closing out a six-match home dual slate before heading to the GARC Championships (Feb. 25-26). Last year the Black Knights posted a 4644 (second highest score of the season) in trailing leader West Virginia (4704) and runner-up Kentucky (4672), and hope to be among the challengers for one of the top three spots again.
Then hopefully it will be off to the NCAA Championships for the ninth straight year as Army looks to improve upon last year's eighth-place showing along with earning a few NRA All-America certificates.