The newly constructed George R. Brown Tennis Center hosted its first official matches this weekend as the Rice men’s tennis team begins its 2015 season. On Friday, the Owls (1-1) lost 4-3 to the University of Texas, San Antonio (1-1). On Sunday, the Owls defeated Cornell University (1-1) 4-1.At the beginning of Friday’s game, the UTSA Roadrunners won the doubles round and the Owls were unable to come back. Sophomore Zach Yablon, freshman Jamie Malik and sophomore David Warren won their singles matches, but senior Srikar Alla could not hang on to a 4-1 lead in the third set against UTSA senior Thomas Stillman. Stillman went on to win the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8), and the Roadrunners clinched the 4-3 victory.On Sunday, the Owls faced off against nationally-ranked No. 60 Cornell University. The Owls took control and won the match when Alla delivered the clinching point against Cornell senior Sam Fleck. Head coach Efe Ustundag said the Owls were disappointed after losing their home opener in Rice’s new venue.“The nerves just got too much out of us,” Ustundag said. “The energy that was built up since last semester just came out differently than we had hoped for.”According to Ustundag, the team was able to rebound on Sunday by focusing less on previous mistakes and more on what could be improved.“We got better at not letting those opportunities that got away from us affect us,” Ustundag said. “Today, having that first match out of the way, we could come out and focus on the small details like the energy and intensity.” According to Ustundag, the Owls have a long a way to go before they can consistently compete with teams like Cornell’s.“We still [need] a lot of improvements,” Ustundag said. “I think this was a nice preview of how good we can be when we are clicking on all cylinders.”The $8 million George R. Brown Center differs in its design from the Owls’ previous home at the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. Instead of having a concentrated seating area around the center court, the new center allows fans to move from one court to another as dictated by the play.Ustundag said the fan-friendly design contributed to the Owls’ success.“I think it’s phenomenal,” Ustundag said. “Just being able to turn around and have four guys and three roommates of each [player] just standing right behind them and supporting and pushing, I feel like it makes a huge difference.”The Owls now go on to face another two games next weekend against Incarnate Word University on Friday and Old Dominion University on Sunday.
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Redshirt junior defensive tackle Christian Covington has decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. Covington is a native of Vancouver, Canada and three-year starter for the Owls. He is on track to graduate in May.Covington is projected to be a late round draft pick by CBSSports.com after missing most of the season due to injury. On Nov. 1, he sustained another injury when he dislocated his left kneecap against Florida International University. This injury required surgery and sidelined him for the remainder of the season. In the seven games he played this season, Covington recorded 20 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks. In his 2013 All-Conference USA season, Covington recorded 59 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and four sacks, including a memorable sack of Texas A&M University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. At the time of injury, his timetable for return was six months, which would keep him out of play until April. He projects to be unavailable for the NFL Combine in February and Rice’s Pro Day, which is usually held in March. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Covington entered the 2014-15 season as a consensus All-Conference USA selection. Early mock drafts and draft projections expected him to enter the draft after this season. He received some late first round and second round chatter from various draft analysts including CBS Sport’s Dane Bugler, who compared his skill set to that of former Florida State University defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. After the injury setbacks that he suffered this year, however, his spot in mock drafts has fallen significantly. Draftsite.com projects him as a 5th round pick. He is currently rated the seventh best defensive tackle in the draft by CBS Sports. Covington asked for an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which issues one of three grades to underclassmen prospects — first- round projection, second-round, or a recommendation to stay in school for another year. According to the Houston Chronicle, Covington received a recommendation to stay in school for another year. The change is part of an effort from the NFL to urge underclassmen to stay in school longer after an all-time high of 98 underclassmen declared for last year’s draft. In an official statement released by Covington, he thanked the football program, his coaches, friends and teammates for his time at Rice.“I want to thank Rice University and the Rice football program for the honor and privilege of suiting up for the Owls,” Covington said. “My four years at Rice have marked some of the best years of my life, and I am truly blessed to have been able to attend such a prestigious university with amazing people and play with such incredible teammates.”Covington, whose decision to forgo his senior year could cost him a significant difference in his draft selection and rookie contract, said his choice was not easy or taken lightly by him.“The decision for me to leave was not an easy one,” Covington said. “Through the help of a lot of prayer and the help of family, my decision to declare became clear.”For the Rice football team, this means another starting spot to fill for Defensive Coordinator Chris Thurmond, who will lose seven other defensive starters to graduation. According to Thurmond, Covington’s departure will be a setback for the team, but the defense will adjust and prepare for next season with other personnel.“We’ll just continue to move forward,” Thurmond said. “ Any time you lose good players, it is just something that is part of the business and something you have to deal with.”Thurmond, who learned of Covington’s decision in the days following the 30-6 victory over Fresno State University in the Hawai’i Bowl, said he believes that Covington is ready for the challenges of the NFL.“Christian is a talented guy,” Thurmond said. “He has good athletic ability and I’m sure he’ll make a place for himself.”If Covington is selected in the NFL draft, which will be held April 30 through May 2, it will mark the fourth consecutive year that a Rice player is selected. Covington is the first player to leave early for the draft since tight end James Casey in 2009.
Last weekend, the Rice University volleyball team (23-10, 11-5 C-USA) lost in the final round of the Conference USA tournament in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.In Friday’s quarterfinal match, the fourth-seeded Owls swept Marshall University 3-0 behind sophomore setter Chelsey Harris’s 15 kills and sophomore setter Sara Blasier’s 41 assists. The next day, the Owls took on the tournament’s top seed, the University of Texas, San Antonio. The Owls, who had lost in both regular season matches against UTSA, began the game strong and never lost a set. With a 3-0 sweep of the Roadrunners, the Owls advanced to the C-USA Championship for the first time since 2009.The championship match against the tournament’s second seed saw the Owls lose to Western Kentucky University (30-5, C-USA 15-1). After trading the first four sets, the Owls took a 13-11 lead in the final set. However, WKU capitalized on Rice’s errors and managed to pull ahead 14-13. After a kill by senior middle blocker Jillian Humphrey off an assist from Blasier, the score once again was tied at 15-15. However, WKU scored three of the final points and won the set 18-16. WKU, led by tournament MVP Heather Boyan, now advances to the NCAA Tournament held in Oklahoma City.Despite the tournament loss, many Owls earned individual accolades over the weekend. Harris and senior defensive specialist Daniela Arenas were named to the All-Tournament team for their performances in the conference tournament. Humphrey was named to the All Conference-USA first team, while sophomores outside hitter Leah Mikesky, Harris and Blasier were all named to the second team. Freshman middle blocker Portia Okafor was named to the All-Freshman C-USA team.
This weekend at Tudor Fieldhouse, the Rice University volleyball team’s regular season came to an end with two losses against conference opponents. On Thursday, the Owls (21-9, C-USA 11-5) fell short 2-3 against Marshall University (16-15, C-USA 10-6). On Saturday’s senior night, the Owls suffered a 0-3 sweep at the hands of the University of Texas, San Antonio (19-8, C-USA 15-1).In Thursday’s loss against Marshall, right side hitter Chelsea Harris led the Owls offensively. Despite her career-high 21 kills, Marshall managed to pull off the upset behind the performance of their defensive specialist, Allie Kellerman, who recorded 25 digs. Head Coach Genny Volpe said she blames defensive play and mental errors for the team’s struggle against Marshall. “I think against Marshall we were pretty hesitant and tight,” Volpe said. “I was not happy with our pursuit of balls on defense and Marshall capitalized on some of our errors. Even with all of that we battled to five sets and just couldn’t make the plays that mattered at critical times.”On Saturday’s senior night, the Owls faced a rematch against conference-leading UTSA. The seniors could not secure a final home win to end their careers at Rice. Although the Owls kept it competitive in all three sets, they could never manage to maintain their leads, falling 25-19, 25-21, 25-22. UTSA took advantage of Rice’s mistakes for a sweep that earned them the first seed in the conference tournament.Volpe said offensive struggles and inconsistency were the key reason for Saturday’s loss. “Against UTSA, we played much better defense and pursued balls with authority,” Volpe said. “Our offense is usually very sharp and it was a little bit sketchy. Chelsey Harris and Jillian Humphrey were pretty consistent, but we win matches convincingly when all of our hitters are contributing.”Saturday’s home game included a pre-game ceremony to honor the senior class consisting of Daniela Arenas, Lizzy Bache and Jillian Humphrey, in their final home game as Owls. Volpe said she has nothing but praise for all the members of the senior class for their leadership and ability.“The senior class as a whole has been amazing,” Volpe said. “All three seniors have provided us with different strengths and a sincere desire to win. Hands down, this class is just so full of talent and desire. They have definitely set the standards high for the future seniors on this team.”Humphrey will end her career at Rice as one of the top players in recent history. Humphrey, a middle blocker, will go into the Rice record books ranking in the top five in Rice history in block assists (407), total blocks (499), solo blocks (92) and hitting percentage (.295).Volpe said Humphrey is a central part of the team’s games and their opponent’s defensive strategy.“Jillian, from day one, has proven that she is one of the most physical players in the conference and is at the top of her game right now,” Volpe said. “ She can dominate a match and our opponents have to gameplan around her.”Bache, also a middle blocker, will end her Rice career with 180 blocks and 646 digs in her four years on the team.Volpe said Bache’s resilience in overcoming injury has her ready to make an impact in postseason play. “[Bache] is the most versatile player we have had in years,” Volpe said. “Unfortunately, she suffered a pretty severe injury this season, and before that, she was leading the conference in hitting percentage. But she is also another extremely team-oriented player and has bounced back from her injury and is ready to go for the conference tournament in any capacity that we need her.”Daniela Arenas’s four-year tenure at Rice will place her among the top defensive specialists in the team’s history. Her 1,708 career digs as well as her 3.79 digs per set rank second in Rice history.According to Volpe, Arenas’ enthusiasm and leadership, in addition to her notable defensive play, have been a great contribution to the team.“Daniela has a spirit about her that is unlike any other,” Volpe said. “She too is having the best year statistically, but not only that, she is the ultimate team player and wants nothing but the best for the team. She has been a solid leader.” The Owls will now head to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to participate in the Conference USA tournament as the fourth seed. The tournament winner will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Championship Tournament. The Owls will face a rematch with Marshall, the fifth seed, in the first round of the tournament. The game will be held at Southern Mississippi University’s Reed Green Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.Volpe said she has high expectations for the team in the tournament as they look to rebound from their only back-to-back losses during the regular season.“At this point in the season, we need a strong focus on competing and fighting for points,” Volpe said. “There is no doubt in my mind that this team has something special and is probably the most talented team we have ever had at Rice. When we have that killer instinct, nobody can stop us.”
As fall intramural sports come to a close, the College Freshman Flag Football season enters the playoff season. Six colleges are left seeking the Freshman Flag Championship and President’s Cup points. Will Rice College and Hanszen College, historically top colleges at freshman flag, once again lead the pack this year — both completed perfect regular seasons and earned a bye in the first round of the six-team playoffs. This is the first year that freshman flag is using a six-team playoffs system, a change from the traditional four-team bracket used in the past. Outscoring their opponents by over 100 points on their way to a 5-0 record, Will Rice has put up points behind the play of quarterback Ben Herndon-Miller. En route to their No. 1 playoff seed, the freshmen shut out three of their five opponents, including two mercy rule victories to open the season against Lovett College and Martel College. Will Rice coach John Robertson said the winning culture at Will Rice is due to the team’s dedication and performance. “We’ve got a really close-knit group of guys who all take a lot of enjoyment in playing with each other and representing Will Rice,” Robertson, a senior, said. “The level of enthusiasm we play with is simply not matched by any other team out there, especially in our relentless flag-pulling. Going into the playoffs, our level of confidence is very high, and we expect to finish off the season the way we want to. We know we have a target on us as Will Ricers, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” Wiess College finished off the season with a 3-2 record, with losses against Will Rice and Sid Richardson College. Wiess sports a strong offense, which is focused around speedy quarterback Abhijit Brahme. This year, the Wiessmen improved from their one-win season last year and will be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. Baker College, coming off a winless freshman flag season in 2013, managed to secure the fourth seed in the playoff with a 3-1 record. Characterized by an explosive offense that recorded the largest single game point total of any team with a 35-0 victory over Brown College, the Bakerites’ only loss came against Hanszen in the final week of the season.Team Captain Lucas Jayne said he is looking forward to the team’s upcoming games and is looking for the team to show improvement. “We haven’t been playing to the best of our capabilities,” Jayne said. “But we’re starting to practice and gain chemistry as a team.”Hanszen has picked up right where they left off last year to clinch a No. 2 seed with their undefeated regular season record. Leading the league in defense by allowing only 12 points all year, Hanszen’s defense has been a force in their 4-0 regular season. After losing their opener 34-0 last season and forfeiting their remaining games, Sid Rich has rebounded this season. Sid Rich began the season with a perfect 4-0 record that ended with a shutout loss to Will Rice. Regardless, the team earned the third seed in the playoffs. Sid Rich Captain Sameer Allahabadi, a wide receiver and safety, said the team’s unity and chemistry was essential to their season. “This season has been a blast,” Allahabadi said. “We came in as a whole bunch of students just looking to get some exercise but have become brothers on and off the field. We are excited about the playoffs. We are going to go far.”Jones College joins the playoff picture as the sixth and final seed and the only north college in a playoff bracket consisting of five south colleges. After an 0-2 start, Jones won their remaining two games and got the final spot in the playoffs. Playoffs are set to begin Saturday, Nov. 14, at 12:30 p.m. when Baker will take on Wiess for a spot in the semifinal against Will Rice. At 1:30 p.m., Sid Rich and Jones will face off for a chance to match up against Hanszen in the other semifinal. Both semifinal games will then be played on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. For students wishing to support their colleges, all games will take place at IM Field 5, located behind the Rec Center.
The Rice University volleyball team (20-6, 10-2 C-USA) earned two victories in Florida this weekend against conference opponents Florida International University (6-20, 3-10 C-USA) and Florida Atlantic University (17-9, 8-5 C-USA). The first victory came on a Friday matchup in Miami, Florida against FIU. The Owls faced an FIU team riding a seven-game losing streak. The Owls broke a 16-16 tie in the first set and a 22-22 tie in the second to narrowly pull away with the first two sets, 25-18 and 25-22. Despite FIU taking the third set and avoiding the sweep, the Owls prevailed in a 3-1 victory and, with the win, clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament. On Sunday, the team traveled north to Boca Raton, Florida to take on the FAU Owls. With consistent and balanced play on offense and a defense that held FAU to a .200 hitting percentage, the Rice Owls completed their 13th 3-0 sweep of the season. The win also secured their place among the top Rice volleyball teams in recent history by becoming the 13th team to reach 20 wins in a season.Head Coach Genny Volpe said she was pleased with the resilience the team showed after a relatively poor start against FIU. Volpe also said she was happy with the way they overcame the difficult start to beat FIU on Friday and then defeated a tougher team in FAU on Sunday.“We started out a little bit rocky at Florida International but managed to pull out a win with pretty average play,” Volpe said. “Against Florida Atlantic, we knew we had to step up our game because they are a stronger team and we did.”Right side hitter Chelsey Harris recorded double-digit kills in both games with 16 against FIU and a team-high 13 against FAU. Volpe said Harris played a valuable role in the perfect weekend“Chelsey Harris did an awesome job for us over the weekend,” Volpe said. “She was extremely dependable checking for us on the right side.”In addition to Harris, Volpe said she was impressed with the job freshman Katie Steel has done as setter, stepping in for injured sophomore Sara Blasier. “Katie has really come through being put in a very important position quarterbacking the team while Sara has been out with injury,” Volpe said. “I have been so impressed with her ability to focus and work through some tough match situations. Katie’s assist numbers have been stellar, and I think the team and she deserve a lot of credit for pulling together and gelling like they have these last two weeks.”The Owls now sit at third place in the Conference USA standings with a 10-2 conference record with the two losses coming from the current leaders in the conference — the University of Texas, San Antonio and Western Kentucky University. With four matches left in the season, the Owls are trying to climb in the Conference USA standings as they prepare for the conference tournament on Nov. 21. Volpe said the team is looking to finish the season strong and carry the winning streak into the C-USA tournament in order to receive a spot in the NCAA Tournament.“We want to obviously [win] out the rest of our matches in conference play and then continue that momentum into winning the conference tournament,” Volpe said. “We have that ability and we know what we need to do. The team is committed. We honestly have the best offense in the league and need to capitalize on that to keep winning out.”The Owls now have four conference home games in the next two weeks. This weekend features a 6 p.m. Friday matchup against the University of North Texas, followed by a 1 p.m. Sunday game against Louisiana Tech University. Volpe said the importance of these final regular-season home games are critical for the team’s confidence and momentum going into postseason play.“We need the support of the Owl fans,” Volpe said. “We would absolutely love to see the members of the Rice community come out and support this awesome team. We hope that the student body comes out in full force and gives us the home-court advantage. We have been on the road a lot this season, and so I know the team is looking forward to playing in front of their fans.”
The Rice University volleyball team completed an undefeated weekend by winning two matches against conference opponents. On Friday, the Owls faced Middle Tennessee State University, winning 3-1. The team ended the weekend with a 3-0 victory over the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The Owls have now won seven of their last eight matches.Freshman setter Katie Steel and junior outside hitter Andi Bawcum were named Conference USA Setter of the Week and Offensive Player of the Week, respectively. Steel, in her first career start, tallied 95 assists for the weekend in replacement of the injured Sara Blasier as the setter. Bawcum, who recorded a season-high total of 22 kills on Friday night, also earned her first career C-USA Player of the Week award.Senior defensive specialist Daniela Arenas also recorded 38 digs recorded over the two weekend games. According to Volpe, Arenas has been an important senior on the team who has led the younger players, despite not receiving much glory.“Arenas has been awesome not just this weekend, but all season,” Volpe said. “She has been a steady leader for us and has been a big reason for our success. The things she does [do not] always show up on a stat sheet, but she does so much for our team.”As the team comes close to wrapping up the season and preparing for the conference tournament, Volpe said she is still looking for improvement.“We always are looking [to] improve,” Volpe said. “We are definitely a strong passing and defensive team, which is helping our offense, but we need to continue to improve in certain areas defensively to help us win the C-USA tournament.” According to Volpe, the team is focusing on improving its serving heading into postseason play.“I’d also like us to continue to serve more aggressively,” Volpe said. “That can be a very strong part of our team that I don’t think we have quite yet maximized.”The Owls will now finish their road schedule as they head to South Florida next weekend for a Friday matchup against Florida International University on Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. and a Sunday morning matchup against Florida Atlantic University on Nov. 2 at 11 a.m.
Last week, the Rice University volleyball team won three consecutive matches against conference opponents. On Wednesday, the Owls faced off against the University of North Texas, winning 3-1. The Owls then bested the University of Texas, El Paso and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte at home on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
As the rain poured down at the Midlands Racquet Club, the Rice University men’s tennis team played in their first tournament of the fall season, which did not count toward the team’s overall record. Team play will begin in the spring semester.
As Rice University students begin to make plans for a day trip to College Station, the Rice football team is taking advantage of their bye week to prepare for an in-state showdown. The game against the Associated Press no. 7-ranked Texas A&M University Aggies is on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. After the 48-17 loss at Notre Dame, the Owls are returning to the field against another high-profile opponent.