It was a tale of two meets for the men's and women's cross country teams at the NCAA South Central Regional held last Saturday in Waco, Texas. On one hand, the women's team fully expected to place among the top three to four teams and have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship Meet on Monday, while the men were just hoping to crack the top 10. Unfortunately, the women were on the outside looking in, finishing one point out of fourth place, while the men's sixth-place finish came as somewhat of a surprise considering the team's tough Conference USA Championship meet.
Senior Becky Wade came through and did her part for the women, running a blistering time of 20:25 in the six-kilometer race to cross the finish line in second place. Fellow senior Allison Pye was 14th and 49 seconds behind Wade, and redshirt sophomore Farrah Madanay was 27th overall. Senior Halsey Fowler followed in 36th place, and redshirt sophomore Lindsay Miller was 50th overall. All together, Rice's 129 points put them one point behind Southern Methodist University, which Head Coach Jim Bevan noted was an improvement over their run at the C-USA Championship.
"We put together a better race today, coming within one point of [C-USA] champs SMU and finishing fifth in a region that consists of all the schools in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. [Madanay] had her best race of her career as our third runner, running 21:52, which is a huge improvement over her previous races. Overall, we ran the best race of the year for us at the last championship race, and that's what you hope for," Bevan said.
The men's cross country team apparently used its fourth-place finish at the C-USA Championship to motivate them to a sixth-place finish at the NCAA South Central Regional, the team's best finish since 2008. While he has been somewhat hindered by a lingering injury, redshirt junior Matt Carey picked an excellent time to have his best race of the year, leading the way for Rice with a 32nd place finish and a time of 31:57. In his last cross-country race, senior Michael Trejo was 37th and crossed the finish line nine seconds after Carey. Sophomore John Cavallo finished up a stellar campaign with a time of 32:20 in the 10-kilometer race, and freshman Will Firth followed shortly after to finish fourth amongst Owls. Redshirt junior James Llamas was 20 seconds behind Firth to finish 53rd and sophomores Travis Roberts and Wyatt Doop finished up the Rice effort in Waco. Perhaps what was most impressive was that the team finished so high without the services of redshirt junior Gabe Cuadra, who has been a top-three runner for Rice all season long and continues to nurse a leg injury sustained before the C-USA Championship. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) talked about the team's performance after the race.
"We changed our strategy for this meet and it worked out pretty well," Warren said. "To finish in the top six in this region is a great accomplishment and within our goals that we set at the start of the season. The team ran smart, and we had a tight pack from start to finish. [Carey] had his best race of the year and [Trejo] ended his cross country career on a high note."
Unfortunately, neither team will meet their goal of advancing to the NCAA Championship on Monday, but Wade will go to the event in Terre Haute, Ind. to compete as an individual.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season for the men, only Trejo will leave due to graduation and Warren's bunch will start next year with high expectations, much like this year. The three redshirt juniors — Cuadra, Carey and Llamas — will all return for their final campaign and will surely make up three of the top five members of the team. Cavallo enjoyed a breakout season this year and will certainly be a leader for the Owls for the next few years, along with Roberts and Doop. Firth had one of the best seasons for a freshman in recent memory and will provide depth for the team, along with his fellow freshmen.
On the other side of things, the outlook is not as rosy for the women, who will lose three seniors who made up three of the top five runners to graduation. Fowler, Wade and Pye will all graduate, leaving Miller and Madanay to lead the way for Rice next year. Junior Heather Olson and freshman Allie Schaich will look to consistently fill roles among the top five runners for Rice next year.