The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team has won eight national championships. Until Saturday, no other UK athletics program had won more than one.
The Kentucky rifle team claimed its second national championship when it captured the NCAA finals at Charleston, S.C., on Saturday.
Kentucky previously won the rifle championship in 2011. Saturday’s victory ended a streak of five consecutive national titles by West Virginia.
The rifle team’s victory gave UK athletics 11 national championships all time: Eight for basketball (2012, 1998, 1996, 1978, 1958, 1951, 1949, 1948), two for rifle (2018, 2011) and one for women’s cross country (1988).
“Absolutely incredible!” Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart posted on Twitter. “I am so proud of this team and coaching staff. They worked so hard to bring this one home.”
Kentucky scored 2,345 points in Friday’s smallbore competition and 2,372 in Saturday’s air rifle portion for a winning total of 4,717 points in the eight-team competition. The total marked Kentucky’s highest score this season. West Virginia was second with 4,708, followed by TCU (4,701) and Murray State (4,684).
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” UK head coach Harry Mullins said. “The team worked through obstacles to enhance their performance. Their embracement of facing the challenge and overcoming things all season was a large part of their success this weekend. Throughout the whole tournament, they never panicked and pushed for every point. I knew we had a special group from top to bottom at the beginning of the season.”
UK’s team in Charleston included Henrik Larsen, Hanna Carr, Billy Azzinaro, Hailee Sigmon, Cathryn Papasodora, Jenna Bethea, Morgan Duerr, Ian Foos, Carmen Fry, Mason Joachim and Jason Spaude. The Wildcats were the fourth seed. West Virginia was No. 1 entering the championships.
In addition to Kentucky’s team national championship, Larsen, a freshman from Norway, won the individual NCAA title in air rifle on Saturday. Larsen scored 249.4 points in the finals to become UK’s first national champion in the event since Connor Davis in 2014. Larsen’s father traveled from Norway to watch his son win the title Saturday.
“Henrik’s infusion helped a lot this season,” Mullins said. “To win a national title as a freshman, that’s big. He’s working to be a world-class athlete. Having him on the squad has helped push some people and gave them confidence throughout the course of the year. I couldn’t ask for any more from him.”
Sigmon finished eighth and Carr ninth in air rifle. Carr helped position Kentucky for its title by finishing second in Friday’s smallbore competition. Larsen was third in smallbore.
Mullins took over the Kentucky rifle program in 1987, when it was a non-scholarship sport, and led the team to national runner-up finishes in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2009 before finally winning the school’s first NCAA Rifle Championship in 2011.
“Our coach, Harry Mullins, has made @UKRifle what it is today,” Barnhart added on Twitter. “I am so happy for him and his assistant coach, Rena Goodwin.”
Mullins wanted to be sure the national championship was shared by everyone tied to UK Athletics.
“In terms of the teamwork — this is an individual sport, but when you get to this tournament, everyone wants it for the team,” he said. “It was a team effort from start to finish, including the parents, support staff, strength and conditioning and everyone involved in the program. Even some of the other coaches in our department like Nick Mingione and Rachel Lawson sent us videos congratulating us. It really showed their support and how much they care about the kids. To me, that’s the best thing about being a Wildcat and having the culture that we have — you feel the pride in it. This (championship) was for the Kentucky Wildcats, not just Kentucky rifle.”
NCAA Rifle Championships
Final team scores
1. Kentucky 4,717
2. West Virginia 4,708
3. TCU 4,701
4. Murray State 4,684
5. Air Force 4,669
6. Alaska Fairbanks 4,667
7. Ohio State 4,664
8. Nebraska 4,655