As West Virginia heads to Akron for the NCAA Rifle Championships, head coach Jon Hammond is still in teaching mode. That, even though the Mountaineers have only this two-day competition remaining in their 2022-23 season.
"There are lots of little things that we can build upon, and having the experience of being in a big arena like (the WVU Shell Building) and being in this, which is in a lot of ways an identical experience to the NCAAs," Hammond said after the Mountaineers took the Great American Rifle Conference title the weekend before last. As always, Hammond has been striving for the proper balance between training and rest, both mental and physical, in preparation for the ultimate collegiate event in his sport.
"We gave the kids a day off (on Monday) and then we had a light but a focused week of practice. We check in with each team member and see what they need, and do all the little things we can plan and prepare for.
"On the physical side, this is not an explosive sport, but their bodies are tired after a long weekend of competition. Back, hips, knees (all get stress). Some of them were with the trainers, and everyone goes through stretch and gets that physical recovery."
Rifle, like few other sports, also has a huge mental component.
"The mental recovery, we want to make sure they have gotten that, and try to manage any other stresses they have. Anything they have that may be affecting them, we try to help with that, and give them whatever support they need, whether it's academics or personal life or whatever it may be."
Having just stashed the school's 15th conference championship trophy in the bulging displays in the Shell Building, Hammond knows getting a 20th NCAA trophy will be much more difficult.
"Every little thing we do adds on to the history and tradition of our program, but we aren't going to go (to the NCAAs as the favorites, but we want to go and compete our best. It's all stats and numbers at the end of the day, but it's always nice to be a part of it and be a part of the history of the program."
"The sport has really taken a jump forward, and I think we are in a much better place than we were in last year. If you are the favorite you have everything to lose. We have to use that as much to our advantage as possible."
TCU and Alaska are the top two seeds, with WVU third. Kentucky and Mississippi are also capable of earning a podium slot.
The two-day event begins Friday. Mar. 8 with smallbore competition, with the call to the line at 8:45 a.m. ET and live targets at 9:15. Two relays will be held, with individual finals set to run from 3-4 p.m.
Saturday, a similar schedule plays out for air rifle, with the team event set to conclude at 12:45 p.m. and individuals at 3 p.m.