Amidst the 30-to-40 mile-per-hour winds in the high desert of El Paso, an unlikely hero arose for the men's track team at The University of Texas-El Paso Invitational. While his track career is far from set in stone, thrower sophomore Nick Williams has had a lot to live up to so far during his tenure as an Owl, as most expect him to be the star thrower that senior Alex Zinchenko has largely been during his near-finished career with Rice. While he has shown promise at times, Williams created his best memory as an Owl on Saturday as he stepped into the throwing ring for the hammer throw. Williams has scored well in the event, but not highly enough to be considered to be a threat for the Conference USA crown. However, all that changed with his throw of 49.63 meters, which now stands as the all-time record for the event in men's track history, beating Clay Baker's (Brown '10) throw of 48.54 meters three years ago. Williams' throw was good enough for sixth place overall, and the sophomore now has the confidence to believe that he can challenge for the podium at the C-USA Championship in two weeks in New Orleans. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) commented on Williams' seminal performance.
"The subject of the day was without question, the weather," Warren said. "There were 35 -to- 40 mile-per-hour winds, with gusts even stronger that blew in early in the afternoon. Prior to the winds, Williams set a new school record in the hammer while throwing four throws over what he did last week, which was, up to today, his best."
While the hammer throw was the highlight of the meet, there were a few other bright spots, as Rice did not bring half of the team due to the predicted adverse weather conditions, which ended up leading to the cancellation the pole vault. Zinchenko starred in the discus throw yet again, throwing for 52.59 meters to earn fifth place, while redshirt junior Clayton Chaney and freshman Chris Sanders were 12th and 15th place, respectively. Zinchenko's throw was of particular note, as he set a personal best yet again. The other field events were decent for the Owls, as redshirt junior Jack Spinks hit the 2.00 meter mark in the high jump for the first time this season to finish in 7th, while Chaney was a tenth of a meter below Spinks. Spinks was also the top Rice finisher in the javelin with a throw of 48.35 meters.
In the short distance events, junior Dylan Bradley clocked a time of 22.82 seconds in the 200 meter dash, while freshman Kyle Denny led the way in the 400 meter dash with a time of 50.14 seconds, ahead of senior Jordan Hmaidan and sophomore Breland Coleman. In the 110-meter hurdles, senior Lee Johnson was 11th, but his more noteworthy result was in the 400 meter-hurdles, where he and fellow senior Collin Shurbet tag-teamed for a 1-2 finish, as Shurbet ran the event in 54.61 seconds, while Johnson sported a team-high of 55.25 seconds. Warren talked about how his runners overcame the tumultuous conditions.
"We brought a very small team out here (no middle distance or distance runners) to what is normally a great meet for sprints and field events," Warren said. "We just had some bad luck with the weather. Everyone but the vaulters was able to compete and grow a bit. Conditions like this really test an athlete's character."
The Owls return to Houston for their final home meet tomorrow at the J. Fred Duckett Twilight meet on the Ley Track. With the conference championship looming in two weeks, this meet will be the last that showcases Owls in all events.