MURRAY — The Murray State Rifle team has been through emotional turmoil this season. No one was sure whether or not the Racers would even qualify for the NCAA championship this year after losing six All-American shooters in the past two years. But on the last day of the regular season, they proved they have what it takes.
However, the Racers’ celebration was put to a stop yesterday evening when it was announced that the event would be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The fact remains that the Racers did prevail and qualify for the sixth year in a row. This is now the 34th time the Racers have qualified for the NCAA, meaning they stand as second in most all-time qualifications. West Virginia leads with 36.
Before the cancelation senior Meike Drewell said, “It’s definitely a relief that we finally made it and I think there may be some other people that are surprised, especially after the season that we had, but we’re not surprised at all because this is exactly how we’ve been training all year. We just hadn’t been able to put it together in a match yet. We all know that we still left points out on that board. We’re excited that we get the chance to play on the last day and show everyone just what we’re capable of and that we’re capable of so much more.”
The Racers knew all season long that they were capable of qualifying. They’ve been pointing to the end of the year since the season began and have been preparing for this victory.
Head coach Alan Lollar said, “They never quit. They never got discouraged when it was tough, and I have seen them getting better just in the last six weeks just when they needed to.”
Rather than leveling out, Murray State improved as the season continued. On the last day of the regular season, the aggregate score set a season record of 4,685, which beat the last record set at Ole Miss by six. The Ole Miss record had been 28 shots better than the season average.
“It’s one of the few teams that I’ve had at this time of the year that is getting better,” Lollar said. “Our other ones have always peaked sometime during the year. This team, I still don’t know how good they can be.”
Freshman Matias Kiuru accredits his team’s victory to its tough schedule.
“We’ve had one hard match after another, so that (their last contest) was no different for us, but for other teams that had easier seasons so far, they struggled a little bit,” he said.
Kiuru himself joined the team in the middle of the season and has been doing exceptionally well. He has even placed first individually at several contests.
“I’ve been training hard for many years now,” He said. “This sport is hard. I’m not surprised with those scores. There are still some points left for me to take going into the NCAA. I can definitely do even better — there’s no doubt about that.”
Drewell is inspired by the hard work Kiuru puts in day in and day out.
“It’s encouraging as teammates to watch as he comes in, and he works his butt off every single day,” she said. “He’s never happy or satisfied with how he’s doing. He always knows that he can give more, and I think that he’s a great role model for the rest of the team as well.”
However, according to the team, all along they expected nothing less. They have been training just as hard as the previous qualifying teams and have had the opportunity to see what was required of the past seniors to excel.
“It’s an honor, really, especially getting that passed down from senior classes in the past and the leaders on the team to know that we’re carrying on that tradition and that we’re capable of everything that our seniors did for us and that we were able to step up and fulfill that role, especially to do that after a really heart-breaking loss at conference,” Drewell said. “That was a struggle to get over, but to know that we are still able to do it, and we were able to do it on the last day.”
The Racers refused to crack under the pressure. They always knew that the season would come to the last day, and they have been feeling that pressure all season long.
“Every match has been a lot of pressure since the fall, just because we weren’t performing the way that we were wanting to or the way that we were training, so we were used to the pressure at this point,” Drewell said. “Since this is the sixth consecutive year we have gone, we expect to be at nationals. That’s an expectation for us, so we can line up on qualifier day, and we knew that we deserve to be at nationals. We deserve to play on the last day, and that gave us the confidence to go and put our best foot forward and know that we were able to do it.”
The competition that the Racers were about to endure gave them the opportunity to win it all — and they were ready.
“It comes down to how it works in a match,” Lollar said. “This match we’re fixing to shoot in is different from anything else. It has more distractions. It’s got banquets before. It’s got practice days that we don’t usually have. A lot of time you sit around and think about what’s going to happen. It’s a tough match. We just look for an opportunity. We just want a chance to make a run at it sometime during the thing. Then, we’ll do what we can do. This is a sport that you can’t stop another team from shooting well. If TCU, Kentucky, and Nebraska, West Virginia want to blow it up, they can. There’s nothing we can do to stop them. But — there’s nothing they can do to stop us either.”
Unfortunately, something will be stopping the Racers today: the coronavirus.