While the 2011 men's track season was filled with the usual ups and downs, one thing that Head Coach Jon Warren and his team could take away from last year was the ability of the team to improve drastically from the indoor to the outdoor season, as evidenced by their sixth-place finish at the Conference USA Indoor Championship and a fourth-place finish at the C-USA Outdoor Championship. With the majority of their main scorers heading back to the track for Rice, the Owls are looking toward 2012 as a season with plenty of promise.
The jumping events, however, will not return their top scorers as Ikechi Nnamani has transferred to the University of Pennsylvania and Ugo Nduaguba (Hanszen '11) has graduated. Nnamani's sixth-place finishes in the high jump in both championships will be sorely missed and Nduaguba's four years saw him become one of the best in C-USA in the long jump and triple jump, culminating in a trip to the NCAA West Regional last year. Filling Nduaguba's place in the triple and long jump will be sophomore Justin Gross, who arguably had the best season of any freshman last year, finishing ninth and fifth in the long jump at both the indoor and outdoor conference meets in 2011. Gross will also be competing in the heptathlon. In the high jump, juniors Jack Spinks and Tyler Wiest will try to rank amongst the top-10 jumpers in C-USA yet again and push into the top five.
In the multi-events, Gross and junior Clayton Chaney will lead the way for Rice, with sophomore Ben Pressley looking to show improvement from his freshman year. The man that will be missed is Philip Adam (Jones '11) who graduated as one of the most decorated decathletes in Rice's history, having finished first or second in both the decathlon and heptathlon at the C-USA championship for three straight years. Additionally, Adam starred at the national level, finishing 21st in the nation in the decathlon last year, ninth in 2010, and 14th in 2009. Gross was seventh in the indoor heptathlon last year in C-USA, while Chaney was second in both the heptathlon and decathlon at the C-USA championship. Chaney will also continue to try his hand at the long jump and 60-meter hurdles, having strong showings at the C-USA indoor meet last year in both of those events.
Turning to the throws, the Owls will miss a stalwart competitor in Will Meyers (Martel '11), who consistently was a top-15 finisher in the shot put, discus and hammer throw at the conference level. However, senior Alex Zinchenko is poised to dominate the conference in all throwing events, after winning the shot put at the 2011 C-USA outdoor championship and 10th in the discus. A 21st-place finish at the NCAA West Regional in the shot put shows Zinchenko is ready to become one of the nation's best as well. Sophomore Nick Williams saw solid action in several meets last year and freshman Osaki Bilaye-Benibo will contribute as well.
The pole vaulters failed to make Rice fans forget about Jason Colwick (Martel '10), with junior Alec Hsu the only returning vaulter, who posted a career-best mark at last year's C-USA indoor championship to take second place. Hsu was injured for the outdoor season, however. Freshman Chris Pillow is the only other vaulter on the roster.
The Owls are happy to see junior sprinter Donte Moore return. He posted an impressive fourth-place finish in the 200-meter to end his season at the 2011 C-USA Indoor Championships. At the 2011 C-USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Moore finished sixth in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.61 seconds. Also returning for the Owls is Chaney who finished fifth in the 60-meter hurdles at the Indoor Championships with a time of 8.22 seconds. Besides Moore and Chaney, four other sprinters are returning including senior Lee Johnson, junior Dylan Bradley, sophomore Breland Coleman and sophomore Will Beasley. There are two new freshman sprinters for the upcoming season: Alberto Bremauntz and Santano Rosario.
For middle-distance runners, senior Dan Sloat hopes to improve on his third place finish he had at last year's championships. He posted a time of 1:54:75, which was two seconds behind his indoor best time of 1:52:72. Also returning for the Owls includes senior Jordan Hmaiden, junior Mike Troop, junior Alex Weinheimer and sophomore Wyatt Doop. There are three new middle-distance runners: freshmen Kyle Denny, Henry Giles, and Zach Watterson.
For the long-distance runners, senior Michael Trejo is returning for a fifth season after he finished fifth in the 3,000-meter run at the Indoor Championships. He posted a time of 8:20:60, which is five seconds behind his personal best. Including Trejo, the Owls had five people who finished in the top 20 of that race including sophomore John Cavallo, junior Gave Cuadra, sophomore Travis Roberts, and junior James Llamas. All five are returning for the Owls and hope to help lead the Owls to a better finish in conference. In the mile race, juniors Sammy Abuhamra and Weinheimer finished 12th and 14th respectively. They are returning for the Owls along with junior Matt Carey, junior Zach Casias, junior Anthony Lauriello, sophomore Josh Chartier, sophomore Troy Kellers and sophomore Anthony Urbanelli. Rice has six new distance runners this year: freshmen Chris Chuckran, Meron Fessahale, William Firth, Andrew Jacobson, Weston Novelli, and Reed Thornburg.
While the men have not suffered as devastating losses, Adam, Meyers and Nduaguba were all athletes that competed at the highest level at their events, events in which freshmen and underclassmen will need to fill the void left behind if the Owls expect to improve on last season's showing.