Mountaineers take on Kentucky with NCAA title already secured

West Virginia hoists the 2015 NCAA Championship trophy in Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska - The University of West Virginia takes on the University of Kentucky Wildcats this evening at the Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, tonight. Despite the bravado of freshman guard Daxter Miles and his prediction of the Wildcats ending the season this evening at 36-1, experts say there's a better chance of finding life on Mars. But even if that happens (the Kentucky win not the life on Mars), West Virginia would leave the arena ahead of Kentucky in the 2015 NCAA title race.

How's that? Because they won the NCAA Rifle Championships less than two weeks ago at the University of Alaska's Patty Center.

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West Virginia secure four spots in NCAA Air Rifle Finals

Garrett Spurgeon from the University of West Virginia readies to fire at the NCAA Rifle Championships

Fairbanks, Alaska - After firing a 596, West Virginia junior Garrett Spurgeon has secured a spot in the final eight of the NCAA Air Rifle Championships. Finishing his relay with a top score of 596-50x, his run was easily one of the fastest of the day.

"He knows how to shoot," said one official. "He just goes up there and gets the job done."

More on qualifying for the NCAA Air Rifle Finals ...

Small caliber March Madness takes over Fairbanks with NCAA title run

Entrance to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks em>Fairbanks, Alaska - As you can see, it’s a cold one this weekend here in Fairbanks. As rifle teams from around the considerably warmer lower 48 gather for the 2015 Rifle Championships, competitors are doing their fastest penguin walk as they hustle from their cars to the University of Alaska’s Patty Center for the match.

Yesterday saw a number of surprises.

The University of Nebraska’s Rachel Martin hung on to win the Individual Smallbore Title. Our host, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, is currently 3 points in front of the heavily favored West Virginia Mountaineers. And on Monday those lucky enough to still be here in Fairbank will be enjoying a balmy 28 degrees in the sun.

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Sophomore Cornhusker waits to shoot the good shot in NCAA finals

Nebraska's Rachel Martin in the NCAA Smallbore Rifle Championships
Nebraska's Rachel Martin in the NCAA Smallbore Rifle Championships

Fairbanks, Alaska - Rachel Martin never wanted to learn how to shoot. But thanks to a little prodding from dad, she eventually found a passion for the sport. A passion that brought her the 2015 NCAA National Smallbore Rifle Championship.

“It’s a little overwhelming right now,” she exhaled after winning the title.

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Shots of the shots and the shooters who shot them

NCAA Rifle competitors shoot from the standing position at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks

Fairbanks, Alaska - All that's left for Day One at the 2015 NCAA Rifle Championships is the crowning of the champ. That should take place in about an hour or so. By then, the eight individuals who fired the highest scores of the day will gather once again to fire for the 2015 smallbore crown.

But those eight only represent a fraction of those who took to the range today. 17% to be exact as 47 shooters took to the line and fired away. So with a bit more success than others, some with a malfunction or two, and some that just couldn't bring the magic.

See shots from Day One of the NCAA Rifle Championships in Fairbanks ...

University of West Virginia feeling March Madness in frigid Fairbanks

Prone shooters at the NCAA Rifle Championships

Fairbanks, Alaska - In a move reminiscent of their 2014 national rifle title run, the West Virginia Mountaineers head into the final relay of the NCAA Smallbore Rifle Championships with a ten 10 point lead. It's a comfortable lead considering that West Virginia and the teams nipping at their heels - Nebraska and Texas Christian University - each have one competitor left to fire.

"Ten points is a lot to make up with one shooter," said one official. "It can happen, but I wouldn't hold my breath."

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Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Gray shares preparation secrets at Smallbore Championshipos

Fairbanks, Alaska - Olympic Gold Medal winner Jamie Gray meets with fans at the 2015 NCAA Rifle Championships in Alaska As the second relay of the day comes to a close, Murray State’s Ben Estes has all but guaranteed a spot in the 2015 NCAA Smallbore Rifle Finals. Also in the all but guaranteed group is Ryan Anderson of Alaska and Rachel Martin of Nebraska.

Though their first round scores are impressive, they are by no means an indication of how these competitors will perform in the finals.

“You need to be prepared for the finals like it’s a whole new match,” explained Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Gray. “It’s more difficult for those who shot in the first relay because by the time the finals start it’s almost 12 hours since you shot. That’s a lot of down time.”

Gray, a University of Alaska alum and two time Olympian (Gold at the 2012 Games in London), was kind enough to explain the process between earning a spot in the finals and actually competing in the finals.

As she explained, competitors have a number of approaches when it comes to dealing with down time. Some sit in the stands to encourage teammates, some catch up on homework, some nap, some eat, and some just hang out. But according to Gray, the main things you need to do is plan.

More on how to prepare for the NCAA Finals ...

Competitors begin their quest for the 2015 NCAA Rifle Championships

Flying into Fairbanks, Alaska for the NCAA Rifle Championships

Fairbanks, Alaksa - I’ve been 30,000 feet over Alaska for about two hours now. One more and we’re on the ground in Fairbanks. My first time in 49th State.

A quick glance outside a properly scuffed Alaska Air 737 window reveals towering mountains sprinkled with snow. Tiny specs of gray and green poke their way through the white blankets in a gasping effort to bake in the seldom seen sun.

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Huskers rifle team shooting for first in NCAA National Championships

The all-female Nebraska Rifle Team
The University of Nebraska's Rifle Team.

Lincoln, Nebraska - While most college fans are gearing up for a run at the hardwood, a carefully selected handful of college teams are readying for another championship - the Rifle Championship.

Taking place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' E.F. Horton Rifle Range and Patty Center, the Elite Eight is made of teams from schools such as West Virginia, Kentucky, TCU, and the University of Nebraska.

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