With the Conference USA Championship Meet less than a month away, both the men's and women's teams have hit the part of their schedule that puts them up against top regional and national competition. The men will face the top teams in the nation on Oct. 16, when they will head to the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind. On the other hand, the women faced their top competition last Friday at the Notre Dame Invitational, where they took 14th place out of 28 teams. Also in attendance were third-ranked Florida State University, which took first place at the meet; 11th-ranked University of Arkansas; seventh-ranked University of New Mexico; and 20th-ranked Pennsylvania State University – just to name a few. If that wasn't enough, the weather made the course even more difficult for Rice. Used to the heat and humidity of Houston, along with a lack of rain thus far, the Owls had to adjust to the howling 20- to 30-mile-per-hour winds and damp conditions due to rain earlier in the week. Still, the Owls persevered and were able to turn in respectable times.

After a week off from competition, the senior tandem of Becky Wade and Allison Pye once again led the Owls, finishing 24th and 36th overall, just nine seconds apart. Coming in third for Rice was senior Halsey Fowler, who finished the five-kilometer race in 18:09. Sophomore Farrah Madanay and junior Heather Olson finished up the scoring effort for Rice, coming in 119th and 128th, respectively. The three remaining runners for Rice were freshman Allie Schaich, sophomore Lindsay Miller and sophomore Aaren Pastor. All of the Rice runners finished within two minutes of each other, with the scoring runners less than a minute apart. Head Coach Jim Bevan praised his team's effort in a new and difficult environment, especially against stiff competition.

"I am very happy with our improvement today and our performance," Bevan said. "This was the premier race in the country, and we beat some some very good teams, including C-USA foes SMU, UTEP and UAB, as well as Baylor, Texas A&M, Georgia, UCLA and Washington State."

Like Bevan said, Rice was the top team from Conference USA at the meet, with SMU, UTEP and UAB all finishing behind the Owls, an excellent sign at the midpoint of the season. Bevan was also excited about the mix of upperclassmen leading the way and underclassmen providing support as the fourth and fifth runners.

"It was good for Becky and Allison to face top competition," Bevan said. "They are great competitors, and they are getting back into it. It was a much better race for Halsey and Heather. Farrah continues to be steady as a rock, and this was a great performance for her as our fourth. Her diligence and hard work are really making an impact on our team."

As for the men, the Grass Routes Grand Prix in Austin proved to be excellent training ground for their trip to Indiana later this month, as the Owls finished second out of nine teams in the first year of the race. Lamar University once again had Rice's number, finishing first with 44 points, while Rice was 22 points behind with 66. The University of Texas sent their "B" team to compete, which finished in third place, with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the University of Houston rounding out the top five. For the individual Rice runners, seniority was restored as senior Michael Trejo and junior Gabe Cuadra finished first and second for the Owls and third and 10th overall, with times of 25:32 and 25:54 for the eight-kilometer race. Sophomore John Cavallo continued to assert himself as one of the top three runners on the team, crossing the finish line eight seconds behind Cuadra in 14th place. Freshman Will Firth and junior James Llamas were the fourth and fifth runners for Rice, with Llamas finishing just 52 seconds behind Trejo. Other runners were junior Matt Carey and sophomores Travis Roberts, Tony Urbanelli and Wyatt Doop. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) applauded the team's effort in the night race.

"Michael Trejo had a great race and he barely was third, and Gabe Cuadra led a lot of the race and looked really good, while John Cavallo worked his way up, and William Firth looked solid," Warren said. "I am really happy by the team's performance."

With Cavallo vacating the freshman phenom role this year, it appears as if Firth will step in to fill that position, giving the men —like the women —a good balance between veterans and rookies. The sixth through ninth runners had solid performances, allowing Warren to feel more confident about his safety net below his top five harriers.

Both teams will look to continue their winning ways today at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Baptist University Puma Invitational.