CMP Collegiate Rifle Team Feature: University of Akron

CMP plans to feature each of our country’s great Rifle Teams and learn a little bit more about collegiate rifle marksmanship. Stay tuned this week as we feature the University of Akron Rifle Team!

The University of Akron Zips made their first NCAA Championship appearance as a team in March 2020 – topping a record-setting season that came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic emerged. The team was ranked in the Top 10 in the NCAA all season and reached a program-high No. 4. The Great America Rifle Conference No. 3 team ranking for 2020 was the highest finish ever achieved by the Zips in the GARC since joining the conference in 2015.

In 2016, the University of Akron played host to the first UA-sponsored NCAA National Championship, which included both smallbore and air rifle competitions at the same large venue range – held in the UA Fieldhouse. The range built by the Akron team for that inaugural championship now travels to the NCAA host site each year. Now going full circle, the range built by Akron returns to Akron for the 2023 NCAA National Championship.

Many Akron athletes have qualified to attend the NCAA national championships as an individual – highlighted by Jenna Compton winning the 2009 air rifle championship and Zips athlete Andre Gross reaching runner-up in the 2019 NCAA Rifle Championship smallbore competition.

Head coach Newt Engle has been with the team for over 45 years – beginning as an athlete in 1974 before taking his current position as head coach in 1977. Engle took over for Nancy Worsencroft, who coached the team from 1968 to 1977 and was the university’s first female rifle coach – garnering national attention as the first female head coach in the USA, with an all-male team.

In February 2023, Coach Engle and the Akron Zips members were awarded the Team Sportsmanship Award at the Great America Rifle Conference’s awards banquet, while Akron’s Connor O’Mara was named GARC Assistant Coach of the Year. Wrapping up a banner season of continuous record-breaking performances, the Zips finished with a 22-23 season as the No. 11 NCAA rifle team in the nation.

College Coach Questions

Name: Newt Engle (short for Noodle Head, it’s a long story)

Hometown: Canton, Ohio

College Coach for: The University of Akron (for a long, long time )

Were you an athlete before coaching? Yes, I was a member of the Akron team from 1974 to 1977, during which I was the two-time conference champion for the Lake Erie Intercollegiate Rifle Conference (LEIRC). I also spent the summer of ‘78 at Fort Benning with the Army Marksmanship Unit as a member of the ROTC 2nd region detachment, shooting highpower rifle. I started coaching at Akron (while a senior) in 1977 and joined the Police Department in 1979. Fortunately, the University made it convenient for me to wear the assistant Chief of Police hat while also wearing the Head Coach hat. Pretty cool!

Academically, I stumbled around a lot but managed to get an Associate Degree in Sales and Merchandising as well as an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, followed by a Bachelor’s in Political Science. I am also a certified USAS High Performance Coach.

Favorite reason for coaching: I love helping young people discover and even re-discover our sport of Olympic style rifle, especially working together in groups when, one by one, I can see the mental light bulb come on as they “get it.”

What is a day as your athlete like? 

6:59 a.m. – Wake up. (Lets be real, you know this is how it works.)

7:00 to 8:00 a.m. – Be at team physical conditioning with our assigned strength coach.

9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Attend classes and lunch.

Noon to 5:30 p.m. is where we are kind of different. Somewhere in that 5½ hour block, get 2½ to 3 hours of quality rifle training. This allows the athlete to keep going to classes as late as 3 p.m. and then train or come in at noon till 2:30 or 3 p.m. and then go back to classes. Can even come in and train for an hour, go to class and then come back to finish.  This provides a lot of training/class time flexibility.

5:30 to 6:00 p.m. – Attend a team meeting if not in class. One of the most important 30 minutes of the day.

6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. – Have dinner and then go out partying and have a good time until the wee hours of the morning. This is what everyone thinks, but the smart athletes know this will really have an adverse impact on grades and athletic performance. With a team GPA over 3.4 and being high performance athletes leading the team to consistent top 10 performances, their evening schedule is more like this:

6:00 p.m. – Make and have some dinner.

7:30 p.m. until a reasonable hour – Get homework done, study and relax.  Usually in bed by midnight at the latest.

What is your biggest challenge as a coach? Without a doubt, recruiting. Names and faces, faces and names, dates and times, which recruiting class, how old they are, how bad they want it, how they scored last week, who likes them, who doesn’t like them, what they want to study and so on. Makes my head spin. Thank goodness my assistant coach, Connor O’Mara, offered to be the primary recruiter for Akron. I’m still in the recruiting game, but he is doing all the heavy lifting and doing it quite well. It’s been a huge plus for our program.

Advice for junior athletes wanting to compete in college and for college athletes/graduating college seniors?

Juniors: Make yourself known. Be the squeaky wheel and get the coaches you are interested in to notice you. Never back away because your scores may be low in one gun or the other. All coaches I know look at the whole person, and score is simply one of several factors. You will never know if you don’t try. 

Graduating College seniors. I know it is cliché, but remember from whence you came. I know you are entering the busiest time of your life with employment and family, but every now and then, see if there is a way you can assist the teams and organizations that helped you get all the way through college. Financially is great, but your time is priceless. 

Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? Never ask an old guy if he has comments/stories/advice! You could open the door to pages and pages of stuff. Some of it good!  I will simply conclude by saying I have loved being with team Akron for the past 48 years and the last 45 as coach. I hope to keep the ball rolling so long as I can whisper, “sights, trigger, now squeeze.”

Assistant College Coach Questions

Name: Connor O’Mara

Hometown: Honeoye Falls, New York

Assistant College Coach for: The University of Akron (4th Season)

Were you an athlete before coaching? I was an athlete before I started coaching. I shot from 2013 to 2017 for The University of Akron while I was studying for my Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering. I registered a career best in air rifle of a 592 and a career best of 580 smallbore when I was a senior in college. I was also a MAC (Mid Atlantic Conference) conference champion in 2014 until Akron departed the MAC and went to the GARC (Greater America Rifle Conference). I moved back to Akron a few years after I graduated, and Newt had asked me if I could lend a hand for a few weeks due to the previous assistant coach leaving to pursue her dream of opening a bakery. I unintentionally fell in love with coaching this team, and the rest is history.

Favorite reason for coaching: My favorite reason for coaching is watching these athletes grow and succeed, both on the range and off the range. Success for them growing into the best athlete and best person they can be is a success to me.

What is a day as your athlete like? On Monday through Thursday, training is rather open ended with a block time from noon to 5:30 p.m. with the direction that they are to train for 3 hours during that time. Athletes are able to train at times that is convenient to their schedules this way. A short team meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Fridays have an abbreviated practice, usually around 2 hours long from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. with no team meeting. This is used for finals training and team wide drills. 

My biggest challenge as an assistant coach is trying to understand how to help each athlete. Every single one of them is different, needs different things and needs to be spoken to in a different way (sometimes multiple different ways). An honorable mention is recruiting. I’ve taken over recruiting over the past year, and it’s a handful trying to keep all my ducks in a row.

Advice for junior shooters wanting to compete in college and for college athletes/graduating college seniors? Some advice for juniors wanting to compete in college would be doing what you can to make sure you know how to study effectively and can maintain time management. This will benefit you for the entirety of your collegiate career and into your professional career. An additional piece of advice would be, as much as this is an individual sport, making sure you are the best teammate you can be because the culture/dynamic of teams is a critical thing.

For graduating college seniors, I’m going to reiterate what Coach Engle said. If it’s possible and convenient, do what you can to give back to the junior programs or NCAA programs that helped you get to or get through college.

Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? A piece of advice: good process and bad numerical outcome is a much better shot than bad process but a good numerical outcome. Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er.

College Athlete #1 Questions

Name: Jakob Rankin

Hometown/Junior Team: Granbury, TX / Granbury HS MCJROTC

What is your major? Physical Therapy. PT is a steppingstone for me to get into Athletic Training. My favorite class so far would be Exercise Physiology. 

Outside of rifle, are you part of any other organizations or clubs? I am a member of the Exercise Science club and the Engineers for a Sustainable World club.

How old were you when you got involved in rifle? I was 15, going into my freshman year of High School.

Favorite rifle? Air Rifle

What do you do outside of rifle to train and better yourself (workout, meditate, etc.)? Workout, read mental foundation books and get good amounts of rest/sleep.

Future plans/goals for rifle and life? Maybe take up a role in coaching in either a junior club or NCAA team somewhere, and continue shooting where I can.

College Athlete #2 Questions

Name: Andrew Duross

Hometown/Junior Team: Marlborough, MA/Reading Rifle Rebels

What is your major? I am majoring in Business Administration. My goal is to eventually start my own business, so I would like to learn more about how to run one and Business Administration covers most aspects of a business.

What is the most impactful piece of coaching advice you have been given? Don’t expect immediate results, just keep grinding and results will come.

What/who got you involved in rifle? I was participating in an archery program at Riverside Gun Club in Hudson, MA. I found out they had a junior rifle program and decided to try it. A couple years later, my father found out about the Reading Rifle Rebels, which I then joined.

How many hours a day, and days per week, do you practice? I practice five days a week for about three to five hours a day.

What is a week at college like? During a general week, Monday through Friday, I go to classes in the morning from around 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. I then go to the range and practice till around 4 p.m. Later in the day, I go to the gym and workout, about five to six times a week. On the weekends, I hang out with my teammates and other friends.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned from rifle? Just because you do not see progress does not mean you are not progressing. Keep working hard, and the hard work you put in will be rewarded in the end.

Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? If you are ever in a shooting slump, where your scores may have regressed, stay levelheaded and just know you will come out better, every single time. It gets frustrating, but you will always break out of it.

College Athlete #3 Questions

Name: Erin Schnupp

Hometown/Junior Team: Gorham, Maine

What is your major? My major is Political Justice because I want to go to law school. My favorite class is Constitutional Law.

What other clubs/sports/hobbies did you have in high school? I was part of the Robotics Club and Basketball Team.

What is the most impactful piece of coaching advice you have been given? “Even on the day’s that you don’t believe in yourself, there are always going to be at least two people behind you that do.”– Connor O’Mara and Newt Engle

Do you have a mantra or saying? What motivates you? My mantra when I’m shooting is “Don’t worry the next one will be a 10.”My motivation every time I go into a match is envisioning myself standing on the podium at the NCAA championship.

What is a travel match like for you? Travel matches are a lot of fun for me. I love going to ranges I have never been to before. We generally arrive the day before the match, get some dinner and then hangout at the hotel. On match day, we get to the range about an hour before we start first relay. After I am done for the day, I like to watch and cheer on my other teammates before we pack up to go home.

Advice for new competitors joining the sport? You don’t work for your equipment, make your equipment work for you.

College Athlete #4 Questions

Name: Samantha Shultz

Hometown/Junior Team: Fort Wayne, Indiana

What is your major? I am a junior at the University of Akron studying bio-medical science in the honors college, with the hope to attend medical school upon graduation. My favorite class that I have taken so far was Medical Anthropology because I had a really good professor that covered a wide range of medical procedures and topics from past and present to demonstrate how the medical practice and policies that are recognized today came to be.

Favorite junior match you competed at? My favorite junior match that I competed in was Winter Air Gun (WAG) when it was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). Winter Air Gun was my first experience getting to visit the OTC and shoot on their range. I remember looking in awe at all of the past Olympic awards in the cases on the walls and being super excited to shoot on the range against other athletes that have competed at a national level in both World Cups and Olympic events. This match was also a great opportunity to meet a lot of new friends and college coaches as WAG is a co-ed match that many athletes would travel to from across the country to compete in. Finally, I loved that Colorado has beautiful hiking grounds such as Garden of the Gods to explore in the evenings.

Outside of rifle, are you part of any other organizations or clubs? Outside of rifle, I work part time as a pharmacy technician in a hospital in Indiana. I work one weekend a month along with full time on breaks and holidays. When I’m not shooting, I enjoy going for hikes, watching movies, knitting and spending time with friends. The team is also very engaged with our community and routinely partakes in community volunteering events.

Do you have a lucky charm that you have on the line with you when you are shooting? While I don’t have a fun stuffed animal or special key chain to hang off my offhand stand, I do have a blue, smiley face stress ball that sits up on the line with me. This was given to me by my assistant coach, Connor O’Mara, and has been with me since my freshman year in college. To this day, it still joins me on the line for every match as a reminder to keep calm and relaxed while shooting.

What is a practice day like for you? A typical practice day for me would consist of choosing whether I wanted to shoot air or smallbore as Akron has a separate range for each, so both are always available. I would then pick out a drill or practice match format to follow for the day, along with picking a music playlist to play on the range speakers. Shooting is always more fun with music. At the end of every practice day, we conclude with a team meeting to keep up on all current events going on as well as some of the team’s personal goals and accolades from the day.

What has rifle taught you? Over the course of the years that I have competed in rifle, it has taught me a lot about patience, self-discipline and dedication. As every rifle shooter knows, most progress will not be made overnight or with a single practice, and the sport can take years for someone to master their technique. I think a fun thing about our sport is perfection is never truly achieved, so all athletes are always pushing to break new records and further the sport. I have also learned through years of competitions and travels that the rifle community truly is a big family that is very supportive of each other. I love traveling to matches, meeting up with old friends and keeping up with them to watch how their shooting journey progresses.

Any additional comments/stories/advice you’d like to add? One last piece of advice that I would like to give to any junior that hopes to continue their athletic career in college is to be personal and start your contact with college coaches early. Coaches love to learn about your academics and hobbies in addition to your current shooting averages and personal bests. While coaches cannot discuss their college or team with you until your junior year of high school, the earlier you introduce yourself or start reaching out through emails, the better chance you have of being noticed and building a relationship with that coach and team. I would highly encourage competing in college opens and other large matches that college coaches may be at such as WAG, Junior Olympics and Smallbore Nationals over the summer. Don’t be afraid to reach out to coaches or current college team members as most are extremely friendly and all have been where you are now.

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