While the Conference USA Cross Country championship has been characterized by the expected, 2011 was a different story for Rice, and not for the better. While the women expected to compete for first place and the men expected to finish in second or third, the Owls came away disappointed with their results from Monday's C-USA championship at the Wildcat Golf Club in Houston, Texas.
The ladies were too spaced apart in terms of their finishing teams to mount an effort to win the meet, despite seniors Becky Wade and Allison Pye finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. Fellow senior Halsey Fowler finished the five-kilometer race in 17:56 to capture 17th place. Sophomores Lindsay Miller and Farrah Madanay ran fourth and fifth for the Owls, running times of 18:20 and 18:33, respectively. Freshman Allie Schaich was two seconds behind Madanay and sophomore Laura Michel finished one minute behind Schaich. Ultimately, Southern Methodist University and the University of Tulsa had several of their top runners place within a few seconds of each other, which showed their superior team depth to Rice's. Head Coach Jim Bevan was impressed by the performances by the Mustangs and Golden Hurricane.
"We got beat by two really good teams in SMU and Tulsa," Bevan said. "It was the best that SMU has run all year. They someone who had not run earlier and they're a great team and they know what it's like to win and they want to win. Tulsa was the defending champion and they had a good day. We had a good race, but not a great race and, we were beaten by two great teams. We've got another race in 12 days at the regional and just like SMU surprised some everybody today we hope to do the same."
The men on the other hand were handicapped by the loss of junior Gabe Cuadra, who pulled up short during the race after re-aggravating a leg injury that had been bothering him. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) chose to pull Cuadra off the course when it was readily apparent that he would do more damage to himself by continuing. Still, the other top runners for the Owls did not stay with the fastest runners in the race, which doomed them to a fourth-place finish. Senior Michael Trejo was 18th overall, finishing the eight-kilometer race in 25:02 and was followed 16 seconds later by sophomore John Cavallo. Freshman Will Firth continued his stellar season by crossing the finish line in 25:19, while junior Matt Carey and sophomore Travis Roberts rounded out the scoring effort for Rice, which tallied 108 points, 37 points behind the University of Houston. Justice Chirchir of the University of Texas-El Paso won the race, but his team finished 13 points behind first-place Tulsa, which took the C-USA crown back from UTEP. Warren realized that the Owls allowed an opportunity to pass Houston slip from their hands.
"We did one of the best jobs all year of staying together as a pack," Warren said. "But we ultimately left too much space between our group and the top runners since we didn't have any elite performances."
He also knew that while having Cuadra, a top three runner for Rice all season, would have helped, the top three teams all had tremendous efforts.
Both squads must forget the results of the C-USA Championship and prepare for the NCAA South Central Regional on Nov. 12 in Waco. The women will be looking to return to the NCAA National Championship while the men will hope to play the role of spoiler and upset a few teams to steal a spot in the National Championship is a good accomplishment.