The University of North Georgia (UNG) claimed the 2017 Southern Conference (SoCon) Rifle Championship on March 5 in Charleston, South Carolina, the first time a conference champion has been crowned since 1985.
"The Nighthawk Nation is extremely proud of the season-long accomplishments of our nationally acclaimed rifle program," UNG Athletic Director Lindsay Reeves said. "The SoCon championship and individual accolades punctuate a great year that included a top-20 national ranking and winning both the Senior Military College Championship and Georgia State Championship."
UNG turned in an aggregate team score of 4,564 – 51 points higher than second-place finisher Virginia Military Institute – on Sunday after competitions in air rifle and smallbore at the Citadel's Inouye Marksmanship Center.
Two UNG team members also racked up multiple individual honors. Ruthanne Conner, a junior from Colville, Washington, earned both Air Rifle Athlete of the Year and Smallbore Athlete of the Year honors for the conference; the award is determined by averaging league shooters' top three regular-season finishes from different locations with their championship scores. Conner also received the Pinnacle Award, given to the student-athlete with the highest GPA on the championship team.
Andrew Abernathy, a senior from Marietta, Georgia, who placed second in the individual air rifle competition, was named to the All Conference Teams in both air rifle and smallbore – one of only two student-athletes at the meet to achieve that distinction.
UNG placed second in the air rifle competition, falling to Georgia Southern by two points, but won smallbore on March 4 after taking first- through third-places in the individual competition. Conner took the top spot, with Tobin Sanctuary, a freshman from Alstead, New Hampshire, in second and Abernathy in third. Brianna Shaw, a sophomore from Agra, Kansas, also took seventh place for UNG.
Head Coach Tori Kostecki, in her fifth year at the helm of UNG's rifle program, competed for UNG from 2007-11 and won individual air rifle and team national titles as a senior, when UNG was a club team. She became the program's first full-time coach when it achieved permanent NCAA standing in 2011. The Nighthawks won five Southeastern Air Rifle Conference titles as a club team, doing so each year from 1996-1999 and again in 2001.
Eight teams vied for the first team championship awarded since the co-educational sport was reinstated in the Southern Conference for this academic year: University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Citadel (co-ed and women's teams), Georgia Southern University, UNG, Virginia Military Institute (co-ed and women's teams) and Wofford College. The Southern Conference previously sponsored rifle from 1956-85.For complete results and scores from the championship meet, visit the UNG Athletics website