The first few weeks back at Rice University bring varying levels of stress. While most students are simply trying to figure out which of their classes they will be able to skip the most, Head Coach Jim Bevan and the women's track team are beginning their indoor season today at Yeoman Fieldhouse for the Leonard Hilton Invitational. The team, while rife with potential talent, will need to replace key performers in nearly all events.
Arguably the most difficult piece of the puzzle to solve is how the team will replace pole vaulter Ari Ince (Brown '11), who placed first and second at the Conference USA Indoor and Outdoor Championships, respectively. Additionally, her second-place finish at the C-USA Outdoor meet and 14th place at the NCAA West Regional in the javelin will be missed. In the pole vault, senior Cleona Oliver and junior Casie Wilson are the only experienced athletes on the squad. Oliver has shown great promise over her three seasons and was neck and neck with Ince at several key meets in 2011, finishing sixth and third in the C-USA Indoor and Outdoor meets, respectively. From 2009 to 2010, she finished in the top three at all four conference meets she participated in, demonstrating her ability to keep an Owl as the best pole vaulter in C-USA in 2012. Wilson has finished in the top 10 for nearly all of her meets the past two seasons and looks to take the step of becoming one of the best pole vaulters in C-USA. Rounding out the vaulters are three freshmen: Marielle Brisbois, Alicia Janke and Chaney Turney.
Turning to the other field events, the Owls will have to do with just one Robinson sister this year. Tina Robinson (Sid Rich '11) was one of the best throwers in the conference, securing top ten finishes in the four throwing events (shot put, discus, hammer throw, weight throw) in both the C-USA Indoor and Outdoor meets. However, her younger sister, junior Sharae was a strong competitor at the C-USA Outdoor meet last year, placing second in the discus throw and 11th in the hammer throw and will look to take her sister's place as the premier thrower on the team. Senior Brittany Brown has consistently finished in the top 20 in the throwing events of every conference meet she has participated in, and will look to excel in her two best events, the weight throw and discus. Three freshmen, Olivia Williams, Claire Uke and Alyssa Dugar will compete for the Owls this year in the throws as well.
Sarah Agara (McMurtry '11) departed from Rice after top-five finishes in the triple jump and long jump at the conference meets last year, and senior Kiri Kendall will need to step up her performances in the long jump, high jump and triple jump from last season, where she only finished in the top 20 at the conference meets. Senior Bridget Ugoh and junior Lilian Nwora figure to contribute in the long jump.
In the short-distance events, the Owls will attempt to remedy a unit that has struggled in recent years. Junior Candace Springer and sophomore Simone Martin will be the leading ladies in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, while sophomores Larissa Ikelle and Sidney Cauthorn, along with senior Maya Kirk will be the main competitors in the 400-meter dash. Freshmen Tyneisha McCoy and Precious Knighton are expected to push the upperclassmen for spots in the meet.
Middle distances feature seniors Keltie John and Sophie Peeters along with sophomores Kathleen Abadie, Nicole Johnston and Sojourner Brown. John finished eighth in the 800-meter run in the C-USA Indoor meet last year.
The long distance events will be buoyed by the return of seniors Allison Pye and Becky Wade, who finished up a stellar cross country season in November. Senior Marie Thompson, junior Johanna Ohm and sophomore Farrah Madanay will reprise their roles in the 3,000-meter run, while junior Heather Olson, sophomore Aaren Pastor and freshman Meredith Gamble will race in the 1,600-meter run.
The Owls are a few years removed from the time when they were at the top of C-USA but, with the strong possibility of underclassmen stepping up to the plate, those days of glory may not be as far in the rearview mirror as they may appear.