#5 UAF Rifle returns to NCAA Championships, a familiar stage for the successful program

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 7:40 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - This time last year, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ decorated rifle program discovered that they did not qualify for the NCAA National Championships for the first time in 32 years. When UAF, a mainstay at the championships, learned that they would be absent from the big stage, changes within the program were imminent and necessary.

Following the resignation of 10-year head coach Layne Lewis in May, the Nanook Administration hired someone who was familiar with that big stage; Will Anti, a two-time national champion with West Virginia University (2016, 2017).

On Tuesday, the #5 Nanooks (6-3) gathered at the Patty Center Gym on campus for the NCAA Selection Show, where they saw their names as one of eight teams competing at the NCAA Rifle Championships March 10-11 in Columbus, Ohio. UAF’s celebration was tamed with a simple round of applause for their accomplishment, knowing that there is still unfinished business. The return to the NCAA Championships after a one-year hiatus was something Anti envisioned when he first saw his team perform at the E.F. Horton Range on campus.

“Right from the get-go being ranked 14th, I walked in a thought, there are a lot of talented shooters here, and they certainly should be at the National Championships,” said Anti after the Selection Show. “We needed to work on the culture a bit and get to a place where we were feeding off one another and really, each day working to help the person next to us, while helping us out.” he added.

The UAF shooters took the guidance of the first-year head coach and parlayed it into one of the best seasons in program history. In their nine-match slate, the Nanooks averaged over 4,700 points per match, the most ever out of the UAF Rifle program which includes their 10 National Championship seasons. That average is also a Patriot Rifle Conference regular-season record. The ‘Nooks have reached that benchmark in three consecutive matches, concluding with 4,710-point performance in a win over the University of Texas at El Paso at the NCAA Qualifiers Saturday, propelling them to the championships. With some UAF athletic program competing and others not, senior Haley Castillo wanted to make the most of her final year of collegiate shooting.

“It was pretty important to me, I wanted to go out making sure I was working hard and I did,” said Castillo. “I think everybody is happy with themselves and I am happy with everyone else, everyone has been putting in their all, so I couldn’t ask for more.”

Through the ups, downs and uncertainties surrounding a season, the Fairbanks community has not stopped backing its Division I Rifle program.

“Fairbanks in general has been very supportive,” added senior Morgan Erickson. “I think we are unique in that sense because it is a pretty small community and everybody knows the rifle team, everybody supports the rifle team and it is just really good to see.”

The other seven programs competing at the National Championships includes Air Force, the 2019 champions, the University of Kentucky, the University of Memphis, the University of Nebraska, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), Texas Christian University (TCU) and West Virginia, who have the most NCAA Rifle Championships at 19, two of which coming during Anti’s collegiate career. The Nanooks have the second most NCAA Championships at 10, with the most recent coming in 2008. In their last appearance at the championships, the ‘Nooks placed eighth as a team in 2019.

UAF’s quest for their 11th National Championship begins at 8 a.m. March 10 at the LT. Hugh W. Wylie Range at The Ohio State University.

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