Not even a lightning strike could deter the Rice men’s and women’s cross country teams on Friday. After their races were delayed due to a nearby storm, both teams responded with strong performances in the season-opening Norry Hersey Rice Invitational. The men’s team emerged victorious with a win over second-place University of Houston, while the women’s team finished second only to perennial powerhouse University of Texas. 

Both teams competed on a course constructed upon several of Rice’s intramural sports fields. The layout, unusual for a collegiate meet, featured many tight turns and several laps around the perimeter of the fields. The distances of the races were also irregular: the men’s race was four miles long, and the women’s was four kilometers (about 2.5 miles). According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, the course’s compact layout contributed to a fan-friendly environment. 

“The course layout works well as an early season, shorter-than-normal race,” Warren said. “I think it makes the race much more fun for the spectators and this translates to a great competition atmosphere.”

Texas headlined Rice’s competition in the women’s race, which kicked off first. Though UT ran in both races, many of their top male runners sat this race out; the women, on the other hand, brought their team at full strength. Nonetheless, the Owls held their own, placing four runners in the top seven on their way to a second-place finish. Sophomore Lourdes Vivas de Lorenzi and junior Khayla Patel finished third and fourth, respectively, and freshmen Ryann Helmers and Ashley Messineo each turned in a top-ten performance in their first collegiate meet.  

Women’s head coach Jim Bevan said he was impressed with the promise that the Owls demonstrated through their racing. 

“I was exceedingly impressed with this group of freshmen,” Bevan said. “[Patel and Vivas de Lorenzi] are providing great leadership: we have no seniors on the team for the first time in 27 years, and this young team will get better. We have the potential to close on Texas.”

Though the women’s team lost to UT by a significant margin, there are a couple of factors that could increase Rice’s standing the next time the two teams face each other. Freshman Caitlin Wosika ran unattached in her first career race, but would have been Rice’s fifth (and final scoring) runner if she had been competing under the Owls’ banner. Additionally, sophomore Madeline Forbes — one of the Owls’ top runners last season — did not run in the invitational due to illness. 

With UT’s top runners out of the picture, the men’s team dominated in its race. Though the Owls placed just one runner in the top five, the runners worked as a pack, pushing each other forward and burrowing their way into the leading group on their way to finishing with five runners in the top 12 overall. Senior Clay Musial led the charge with a fourth place finish, followed closely by sophomores Hociel Landa and Alex Topini. Redshirt junior Adolfo Carvalho and redshirt senior Bradley Dohner rounded out Rice’s scorers. Warren said he was pleased with the team’s showing and execution of their race strategy. 

“This was a really exciting race for Rice,” Warren said. “We were hoping to get five or six [runners] in the top 10 to 15 and a few more in the top 20 and the guys did it.”

Following his performance, Musial was named the Conference USA Male Athlete of the Week for cross country — his first such honor during his four years at Rice. According to Musial, the team played a large part in his receiving the award.

“It’s not so much of an individual honor as it is a representation of Rice’s victorious output,” Musial said. “It was a really good performance for us; I think we had a really solid showing, and [the win is] an important stepping stone for us starting the season.”