After finishing third at the Conference USA Championships, Rice women’s cross country  shined by finishing fifth out of 22 teams at the NCAA South Central Regional. The race was the third consecutive meet in which the Owls finished in the top five; Rice placed second out of 23 teams on Oct. 13 at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational.

On Friday, the Owls were led by sophomore Lourdes Vivas de Lorenzi, who earned her first career NCAA Championship berth. She qualified after placing 10th overall in the 6-kilometer race. As a team, the Owls tallied 162 points in their fifth-place finish, trailing (in ascending order) Texas A&M, Texas State University, UT, and Arkansas. Rice missed out on fourth place by just eight points.

Though Vivas de Lorenzi said the team didn’t achieve its overall goal, she also said the team ran well against many strong opponents.

“We wanted to place top-two as a team but we were 73 points away from second place,” Vivas de Lorenzi said. “However, it was a very competitive field and we still improved tremendously from 11th place last year to fifth place this year.”

Rice also received NCAA All-Regional performances from freshman Ryann Helmers (17th, 21:21) and junior Khayla Patel (25th, 21:36). The Owls’ youngest class made a statement on Friday, with freshman Ashley Messineo placing 42nd with a time of 22:05 and freshman Alyssa Balandran placing 74th with a time of 22:48. The next best finisher for Rice was sophomore Mary Claire Neal, who narrowly placed within the top 100 with a time of  23:22 in the 6-kilometer race. 

According to Vivas de Lorenzi, the freshmen’s race performance was particularly impressive.

“I am so proud of all our freshmen,” Vivas de Lorenzi said. “They all really stepped up to help the team and have been great in general. I’m really excited to see what we will do next year since we have such a young team and all of our runners will be back next season.”

Next Saturday, Vivas de Lorenzi travels to the University of Wisconsin to compete in the NCAA Championships. She said she was surprised but gratified to qualify for the nationwide competition.

“I never thought I would be making it to nationals as a sophomore,” Vivas de Lorenzi said. “I’m extremely excited to just go to Wisconsin, race to the best of my abilities, and enjoy the experience.”