AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - The Akron rifle team is usually ranked in the top 15 in country. Always a good program, they had never been able to crack the NCAA tournament. This year, they have. The top eight teams go, and the Zips have spent the entire year ranked in the top five. “Everybody started just working together as a team,” said Wyatt Openshaw, a junior at Akron. “Before, everybody might have had their own thing going on.”
As one of six seniors on the team, Lauryn Cinadr definitely sees a difference. “This past weekend I didn’t shoot my best smallbore, but our team came together. They were like ‘I know that wasn’t your best, but there is another day.’ The next day, the air rifle day, we killed a team record." The team finished third in the Great American Rifle Conference, which is the best conference in the country.
That kind of thing has lead this team to the tournament, and they are thrilled. “To make the NCAA’s, I think it’s pretty cool to finally get an opportunity and bring the university with us,” said Openshaw. Their coach, Newt Engle, is just as excited. “This has been a really long road for me. This is my 43rd year coaching the team, counting the three years I was on team, this is 46. This is the hightest we’ve ever been ranked."
After more than four decades on the job, it means a lot to the student-athletes to finally get Engle to the tournament. “It’s the least we can do. He does so much for this team, for us, so much for the past teams that have graduated, it’s just the least we could do,” said Cinadr.
The team-first attitude has helped them put this kind of season together. Their depth has also played a huge role. In previous years, Engle would have two or three shooters that could lead the charge, but needed more. You send five to the tournament. This year, he has more than enough. “Even some of my fellow coaches on other teams have told me they are worried about us because I can’t help but pick the right five because they are all good.”
Engle has started telling his team “We are the big dogs now" because his team is competing with the best of the best and holding their own.
They are not just deep, they also have youth. Six of their 16 members are seniors. But they have others that can shoot. Openshaw is one of their top shooters and is only a junior. Sophomore Andre Gross placed second in the nation last year at the NCAA tournament in smallbore. His chance at a national championship came down the final shot. Gross qualified as an individual, the Zips as a team did not get in. Still, seeing Gross come that close fueled his teammates. “Seeing that, that somebody from our team went there, made it, and ended in second place showed us all that we could do it," said Openshaw.
It has been a season of uncharted waters for this program. Between their depth and their youth, they appear to have a very bright future.