On March 12, the West Virginia University Rifle Team won the NCAA Championship in Akron, Ohio, marking its fourth, incredible, consecutive NCAA Championship. With three team members also thriving as College of Business and Economics students, B&E is more than proud.
“We are honored to call these talented student athletes our own,” Interim Dean Nancy McIntyre said. “We value our well-rounded and unique students. They are not only accomplished shooters on the range, but also smart and articulate students in the classroom. We are happy B&E is a part of their life stories, and the College is excited to see what their futures hold.”
Our own accounting senior Garrett Spurgeon, marketing sophomore Elizabeth Gratz and accounting and finance double major freshman William Anti are members of the NCAA title-holding squad, making this the team’s 18th national win overall.
Spurgeon, a resident of Canton, Missouri, and the team captain, has been a member of the team for the past four winning seasons, and said he feels a sense of accomplishment with this notable triumph.
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily set in yet. I know that when I got done shooting that day, I didn’t necessarily have the best day, but usually in the NCAA, nobody has their best day when they’re there,” he said. “It’s a really hard match. I was on the last relay, so when I got done, it was pretty much at that time unofficial [that we won]. Scores were pretty much done. I wanted to see where we were. It was pretty emotional when we got done. There were a lot of hugs and things like that.”
This tournament is clearly nothing new for the 11-time All American. He said the team prepared like it was any other match.
“As a team, we just prepare for the next match. We try not to put any emphasis on it being a championship or necessarily being somebody’s last championship. We work a lot with sports psychologist Dr. Raymond Prior, who graduated from WVU. Coach [Jon Hammond] is really good about getting us prepared for this match,” Spurgeon said. “I think as a team, we go into matches like this and we try to focus on ourselves. At the end of the day, we add up our individual efforts.”
As this was his final collegiate match, Spurgeon was excited with the outcome, but nostalgic looking back on his time on the WVU rifle team.
“It was a little bit different. Going into air rifle on Saturday, when I was probably halfway through the last half of my match, it was the hardest 30 shots of my collegiate career. It was really hard to finish, and kind of emotional,” he said.
During the tournament, five shooters from each team compete in both small bore and air rifle. Out of those five people, the top four scores in both forms determined the final scores.
While Spurgeon, the team captain, was the only B&E student to actually participate in the tournament, Gratz and Anti were in attendance to support their teammates.
“It was really good to be there and be able to watch the five counting people shoot. It was pretty awesome because last year, it was in Alaska, so we were just watching on the Internet. It was good to be able to travel to Akron and watch in person,” Gratz said. “It’s actually more stressful to watch them compete, I think. Most people think that because you’re shooting, you’re just focusing on the process, what you need to do to shoot well. But when you’re watching, you can’t do anything about it.”
“I don’t watch a ton of shooting matches because most of the time I’m usually shooting, so it was a different experience. It was pretty nerve-racking actually. It was a close match, so I was doing a lot of math to see where we were standing the whole time,” Anti said.
The final score of the match was a combined 4703 out of 4800, with Spurgeon’s shot of 592 in air rifle. The team finished the season with a 12-0 overall record and an 8-0 record in the conference.
Each of our B&E Mountaineer shooters have their own story of what lead them to the hills of West Virginia. The WVU Rifle Team and the business school were at the top of their lists.
“The rifle team is really good. That was definitely one of the main drivers, and the business school is very good as well. I knew it would give me a lot of opportunities to improve, and learn academically and athletically,” said Gratz, the resident of Sigel, Illinois, and a NRA Honorable Mention awardee.
Beginning his shooting career at eight years old, Spurgeon is now known as a top shooter in the nation. This year, he was named to the NRA Air Rifle and Small bore First Teams and the CRCA All-America First Team. A major goal brought him to WVU.
“The deciding factor was that I wanted to go somewhere where I could win a national championship. Ultimately, I couldn’t have gone any better place to win four of them. I know I made the best choice coming here,” he said.
Originally from Georgia but now calls Colorado home, Anti earned two junior finals finishes at the 2014 USA Winter Airgun Championships. He finished fourth in qualifying for the 2015 USA Junior World Championships Team in small bore and fifth in air rifle, just short of a roster spot. And his journey to WVU has a little legacy behind it.
“[WVU is] the number one ranked shooting school in the country, which played probably the biggest role. And the coach, Jon Hammond, he’s probably the best coach in the country also. As for the business school, I obviously think it’s a great school,” he said. “My dad is also a competitive shooter. He also shot for West Virginia and graduated from the business school back in the ‘80s, so that’s probably how this all started for me.”
Anti’s father is Michal Anti, a four-time rifle All American and national champion, and a 1987 graduate of B&E.
A student athlete’s schedule can be demanding, but these students are thankful for B&E’s encouragement.
“It seems like all of my professors are willing to work with me, especially with being gone with the team. They are all willing to work with me, and they are all very supportive of the team,” Spurgeon said. “Former and current professors have stopped me in the halls to tell me congratulations. That’s what I like. It’s very personable. They really care about you.”
The collegiate season might be over, but these Mountaineers still have some major rifle shooting and career plans in the near future. Gratz and Anti have the Junior Olympic trials in mid-April, and all three will take part in the Olympic Trials in June.
“I am currently looking for an internship this summer, and then I will shoot the Olympic trials in June,” Spurgeon said. “After that, I will finish up my degree in the fall.”