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Rifle and engineering: a match made on the range

Jean-Pierre Lucas, Ginny Thrasher and Meelis Kiisk

Jean-Pierre (JP) Lucas, Ginny Thrasher and Meelis Kiisk.

It’s safe to say that no West Virginia University sports team favors a particular major quite like the 18-time NCAA Championship Rifle team.


Throughout the years, a majority of team members have been engineers.

There’s no concrete evidence as to why so many of WVU’s shooters end up in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, but coach Jon Hammond thinks there are a few ties that bind the disciplines.

“Shooting is a very mechanical sport and you’re dealing with a lot of adjustments and analysis, it’s very problem-solving based,” said Hammond. “In that respect, a problem-solving minded person is going to adapt well to the sport. These are also the people that make great engineers – problem solving is what engineers do.”

Three of eight current shooters on the team are engineering majors, following in the footsteps of many team members that came before them. One of those shooters is Ginny Thrasher, a freshman engineering student hoping to major in biomedical engineering from Springfield, Virginia.

“I am very interested in biomedical engineering because of the great variety of opportunities it can offer me professionally,” said Thrasher.

Thrasher is coming off an exceptional first season with the Mountaineers, being named the Great American Rifle Conferences’ 2016 Rookie of the Year and earning the NCAA Championships’ Top Performer Award for her clean sweep of the smallbore and air rifle individual titles held this past weekend. She is the second Mountaineer engineer to earn this accomplishment, following in the footsteps of Petra Zublasing, a Statler College civil engineering alumna.

Thrasher could end up competing against Zublasing in the 2016 Olympics if she has her way. She’ll compete in the upcoming Olympic trials for smallbore and air rifle in April and June, respectively.

Thrasher first started shooting while hunting with her grandfather. When she entered high school, she joined the varsity rifle team and came to WVU for summer rifle camps.

“It was my sophomore year of high school when I started coming to WVU for rifle camps and what really stood out to me was that team members helped coached,” said Thrasher. “I remember meeting them, some of whom are team members now – JP (Lucas) and Meelis (Kiisk) – and being inspired by them.”

Lucas and Kiisk? They’re engineering students, too.

Lucas is a junior petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Speers, Pennsylvania, who chose the field based on his love of math, geology and the outdoors.

“I liked the idea of coming up with new ideas,” said Lucas, of his decision to major in engineering. “When it came time to decide what type of engineer to be, I knew I liked problem-solving, math and geology and I had to be outside. Petroleum and natural gas engineering just fit.”

Lucas and Thrasher will carry the rifle-engineering torch as they say goodbye to teammate Kiisk this May.

A senior, Kiisk, from Paide, Estonia, came in second place in the individual small bore competition behind Thrasher this past weekend. The teamwork skills from the rifle range and the lessons learned in the classroom will undoubtedly help him in his pursuit of a career in computer and electrical engineering.

“The job hunt starts now,” said Kiisk, acknowledging his focus switch now that the NCAA Championships have ended. “Before I joined the rifle team, I didn’t really know how to be part of a team and what teamwork meant. Now, I really do.”

As the team says goodbye to four seniors this year, they’ll welcome a new group of freshman to join the remaining four members. If the past is any indication of the future, there will be a few more engineers joining the team.

“Good, ambitious students that have focus, concentration and the mental skills needed to succeed are attracted to engineering,” said Hammond. “Good athletes also have that skill set. While there are different avenues and interests that make our athletes chose their majors, the ambition of athletes and engineers is definitely a common theme.”



For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, contact our Marketing and Communications office:

Phone: 304-293-4135