CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It didn't make big headlines at the time, but West Virginia University's most successful athletic team collected another big-time trophy last weekend.
The WVU rifle team rode the strong shooting of senior Petra Zublasing en route to its 15th national championship.
Let that number soak in a minute.
It's hard for an athletic team to win even one national championship. Yet, since 1980, when the NCAA began recognizing rifle as an official team sport, the Mountaineers have captured 15 titles. That's 44 percent of all the first-place trophies ever awarded.
That number might have been even higher if the powers-that-be at the state's land-grant university hadn't misguidedly disbanded the team in April 2003.
Athletes who had been recruited to compete for WVU in officially sanctioned NCAA matches suddenly became highly disillusioned members of a rifle club, roughly on par with the university's field hockey, archery and roller derby clubs.
No matter that WVU's shooters had, by then, already collected 13 national titles and the Mountaineers were considered one of the top two rifle teams in the country. Of far more importance to athletic-department officials was scrounging up enough cash to keep Rich Rodriguez on the job as the Mountaineers' football coach, so they eliminated the school's rifle, indoor track, outdoor track, men's tennis and men's cross-country teams.
Fortunately, the rifle team had a lot more friends than they might have imagined. West Virginians had grown justifiably proud of the squad's past accomplishments, and they pitched an unholy fit. Within a year, key members of the state Legislature had forced WVU administrators to reinstate the team.
But the damage had been done. Marsha Beasley, who had coached the team to eight national championships in 16 years, resigned in 2006. Jon Hammond, a Scotland native who shot on the 2002-03 Mountaineer squad and later earned a graduate degree in sports management, took over the program.