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Soccer splits opening weekend series

(08/27/15 12:36pm)

The 2015 Rice women’s soccer season officially began as the Owls hosted No. 5 Texas A&M University on Friday, Aug. 21. With a squad returning seven of its 11 starters from the 2014 Conference USA championship season, Rice came out strong, opening with a 2-1 lead over the Aggies by halftime. The scoring began in the 22nd minute when Rice junior defender Jenny Fichera was brought down inside the penalty area and awarded a penalty kick. Her shot connected with the back of the net to give Rice the early 1-0 advantage. The Aggies quickly responded by scoring just four minutes later to tie the game at one apiece. The Owls would retake the lead on a deflected shot at goal redirected by the boot of true freshman Dominique Mazero in the 29th minute. With the halftime lead, Rice looked to secure an upset against a top-ranked opponent, but the Aggies charged back to score three goals in the second half and went on to win by a 4-2 margin. Head Coach Nicky Adams, entering her fifth full season as head coach of the Owls, said she was pleased with the effort her team gave and the way they battled to open the 2015 season. “I think it was an unbelievable opportunity for us to start our season against the No. 5 ranked team in the nation [because] it showed that we have the capability of playing with a team like that,” Adams said. “I was really happy with the kids [and how] they battled, but at the end of the day they are number five for a reason. ... It’s just something we aspire to be as well.” Senior forward Lauren Hughes said the Owls can be dangerous to any opponent throughout the year, regardless of ranking. “We were up 2-1 in the first half … And it’s exciting to see that we can go forward, we can score goals against teams like [Texas A&M],” Hughes said. “They had a lot of good things to say about us and it was just good to play them… It exposed what we need to work on so we can fix that in time for conference.” Following the Friday night defeat to Texas A&M, the Owls had a quick turnaround to play San Jose State University on Sunday, Aug. 23. With a heat index in the triple digits, the Owls allowed a goal in the 21st minute of the match. As the match dragged on, the Owls continued to look for the equalizer and ultimately scored in the 81st minute when senior Jasmine Isokpunwu rose up and headed the ball into the back of the net to tie the match up at one goal each. After regulation and one 10-minute overtime, the game appeared to be headed toward a draw. However, with just three minutes remaining in the match, Hughes received a short cross from fellow senior Danielle Spriggs and maintained control of the ball in front of goal. A quick strike to the bottom-left corner of the net won the game for the Owls and clinched an opening weekend record of 1-1.Coach Adams said she was proud of how the Owls found a way to get the victory and battled as she claims the team always does. “Today, I expected with how hot it was and us playing at a high pace on Friday … that we were going to have some slow legs a bit,” Adams said. “But what I love about this team is that they’re fighters and they don’t give up. They’re going to find a way to mvvake sure that we battle, especially on our home field. We knew it was going to be a tough game and I’m so proud we finished strong, especially in overtime.” The Owls will be in action once again this weekend when they head to face Texas A&M, Corpus Christi on Friday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. Following the match, the Owls will return to Houston on Aug. 30 to face Sam Houston State University at the neutral site of BBVA Compass Stadium. Kickoff for the matchup is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Baseball takes non-conference series against Arizona in extra innings

(02/25/15 10:06am)

Following a 5-2 home victory over Houston Baptist University on Feb. 17, the Rice University baseball team traveled to Tucson, AZ to face the University of Arizona. Rice won both the Friday and Sunday games, giving them the series victory and improving Rice’s record to 5-3.Junior pitcher Kevin McCanna started Friday night, pitching 6.0 innings and allowing three runs on four hits. The Owls’ offense connected for fourteen hits and drove in eight runs. Rice senior duo of Ford Stainback and John Williamson led the charge offensively. The two combined for five hits and three RBIs on the afternoon. Owls junior closer Matt Ditman came into the eighth inning with the bases loaded in an 8-5 ballgame and secured a crucial two-out strikeout. He went on to pitch a scoreless ninth inning to clinch the victory by the same score and grant McCanna his first victory of the season.Saturday’s matchup featured a similar start to Friday’s game when the Owls scored two runs on a bases-loaded single by junior Connor Teykl in the top of the first inning. The Owls later tacked on one more run in the third inning off an error to take a 3-0 advantage. With a 6-5 lead headed into the ninth inning, the Owls committed four errors in the inning and conceded a steal of home plate to lose 7-6. On Sunday, back-to-back doubles by Stainback and junior shortstop Leon Byrd helped manufacture two runs for Rice in the first inning for the third straight game. In the seventh inning, a costly error by senior catcher John Clay Reeves allowed the tying run to score, and the game was even at 4-4 through seven innings. In the top of the 10th inning, freshman Ryan Chandler hit a leadoff double and scored after a throwing error by Arizona at third base. Reeves added an insurance run in the inning, giving Rice a 6-4 lead. Junior Austin Orewiler earned the win for the Owls, shutting down the Wildcat offense for the final 3.1 innings, allowing one hit and walking zero batters.Despite the loss in Saturday’s game, assistant coach Pat Hallmark said the Arizona series was important for Rice’s ranking.“[Road wins are] the best kinds of wins you can get,” Hallmark said. “Anytime you can go on the road and win a series it’s a huge boost in terms of where our RPI will be. We understand that it’s just one weekend … but it was a major boost for the team.”Hallmark said the team’s habit of trying to do too much led to the 10 errors over the weekend.“On defense, we need to play more relaxed and a bit more confident,” Hallmark said. “We know physical errors are part of the game, and we have to forget [them] as soon as they happen. They do not come from a lack of talent, because I feel we are super talented at every position.”Rice totaled 43 hits in the series, keeping the streak of averaging double-digit hits to start the season. Williamson said having a complete lineup that can drive the ball is a huge advantage for the Owls. “Hitting is contagious and … having a stacked lineup from start to finish is huge for us,” Williamson said. “If we ... get people in scoring position and execute the way we are taught to, we have been hitting the ball real well and driving guys in.”As a senior, Williamson said this team has the best team chemistry he’s seen.“We’ve faced some adversity in terms of having close games,” Williamson said. “That is really going to pay dividends in the postseason.” The Owls host Stephen F. Austin University on Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m. before hosting a four-game series this upcoming weekend at home against Stanford University. First pitch is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. 

Baseball splits weekend series against Texas Longhorns

(02/18/15 4:04pm)

In a matchup of two of the nation’s top baseball programs, the no. 13 Rice Owls and no. 10 University of Texas, Austin split a four-game series played this past weekend at Reckling Park. Both Rice victories came on the same day as Rice swept the Saturday doubleheader, giving junior pitcher Blake Fox and freshman pitcher Ricardo Salinas their first wins of the season. The Longhorns, who trailed in both Friday’s and Sunday’s games, battled back to claim the two victories. Rice is now 2-2 in the season. The Owls scored first in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by junior shortstop Leon Byrd to take a 1-0 advantage. The Owls’ Friday night starter, Kevin McCanna, struck out six Texas batters through his first four innings of work while allowing zero runs. However, the Owls’ inability to execute with runners in scoring position would come back to hurt them, and Rice did not see another runner cross home plate the rest of the game. Despite out-hitting Texas 10 to five, the Longhorns defeated Rice by a score of 3-1. Looking to even up the series at 1-1, Rice scored six runs on seven hits in the first inning of the first game of the Saturday doubleheader on their way to a 10-9 victory. Senior catcher John Clay Reeves hit his first home run of the season with a two-run shot, and fellow senior second baseman Ford Stainback recorded four hits on the afternoon with two RBIs. Junior pitcher Matt Ditman closed the game, pitching 3.0 innings while striking out seven batters to earn his first save on the year.In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, true freshman pitcher Ricardo Salinas took the mound for his first career collegiate start. Salinas threw 6.0 scoreless innings while his teammates scored five runs through the first half of the ballgame. Senior left fielder Kirby Taylor led the offense, going 3-4 on the day with 3 RBIs. The Owls won the game 5-2.For the first four innings of the final game, both teams were deadlocked at zero runs, but quickly changed in the fifth when the Owls put three runs on the board. For the second day in a row, the Owls’ starting pitching kept the Longhorns off the board for the first six innings of the game. However, Texas broke through in the seventh inning after a costly error in the outfield allowed two runs. With the game tied at three runs apiece, the two teams headed into extra innings where the Longhorns would go on to win by a score of 4-3 to even up the series. True freshman pitcher Glenn Otto appeared twice in the series and faced a total of eight Longhorn hitters, of which he struck out seven. In total, Rice struck out 17 batters in Sunday’s game. Otto said he felt the pitching staff was prepared all weekend thanks in part to pitching coach Patrick Hallmark. “I think Coach Hallmark did a really good job getting us ready to go out there and compete,” Otto said. “Overall, [our pitchers] had a remarkable opening weekend, and we hope to keep it up all season.” Hitting Coach Clay Van Hook said he was proud of his hitters, who recorded double-digit hit totals in all four contests. He credited aggression and swinging at good pitches for the .343 batting average on the weekend. “Our hitting was successful due to the fact we were aggressive at the plate, and when we got good pitches to hit, we didn’t miss them,” Van Hook said. “Our walk-to-strikeout ratio was very good, meaning we were disciplined enough to handle Texas, who has really good [pitchers].” Taylor led the offense over the weekend, hitting .643 with two doubles and four RBIs. Taylor said he was satisfied with the play of the younger players. “As a senior, I am very satisfied with where we are at … because we could have been 4-0 this weekend if not for a few mistakes we made ourselves,” Taylor said. “Being an older guy, you definitely want to see the younger kids and the freshmen play well and compete, [and] I’m really looking forward to Arizona because they will be another big test for us [as a team].”The Owls travel to Tucson, Arizona this upcoming Friday to play the University of Arizona in a three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 4 p.m.

Perfect Pitch: Baseball goes for 20th straight title

(02/11/15 7:10am)

Coming off their 19th consecutive conference championship and 40-win season, Rice will compete to earn their 20th straight trip to the postseason and advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Rice, selected by Conference USA coaches as the unanimous favorite to once again win conference, has not been to Omaha since their three-year run ended in 2008.The 2015 Owls completed a 42-20 season last year (23-7 in Conference USA play) and earned both the regular season and C-USA tournament championships in 2014. With preseason rankings of no. 13 on and no. 15 on Baseball America, many believe the Owls will be able to continue their conference streak.This season, Rice returns a slew of high-profile pitchers, including junior all-conference pitchers Blake Fox and Matt Ditman. Last season, Rice ranked second in C-USA with a 2.56 team ERA, compared with the conference’s average of 3.41. Rice looks to build upon those pitching statistics and allow the pitching staff to lead the team deep into the postseason. Starting Pitchers Fortunately for the Owls, the Rice Owls pitching staff is returning nearly all of their 2014 rotation and is expected to be one of the top programs in the country. Last season, right-handed pitcher Zech Lemond was drafted in the third round of the MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. With the exception of Lemond, a multitude of pitchers have returned to the roster.Now in his 10th season with Rice, Pitching Coach Pat Hallmark said the team’s pitching staff will help the team win a lot of games.“We got a lot of guys back from last year, which means we expect to add to last season’s success,” Hallmark said. “They [all] have good stuff, [and] the biggest thing with our guys is to always throw strikes. If we get a lot of strikes from our pitchers, we feel very confident that they will have good games.” Hallmark said he knows two of his most reliable and experienced pitchers, juniors Kevin McCanna and Blake Fox, will be on the mound for the opening series against Texas.“We think Kevin and Blake will certainly be in there somewhere over the weekend,” Hallmark said. “The other two we are not sure about but we do know they will be very capable and compete at a high level.” 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore pitcher Jon Duplantier looks to have solidified a spot in the weekend rotation, having had a successful summer playing in the California Collegiate League. With a fastball capable of hitting 95 on the radar guns and a power slider, he was named the top prospect of the CCL and will be heavily relied on this season.Additionally, right-hander McCanna, who spent much of last year as the Friday night starter, is back and has shown command in intrasquad games thus far. He went 8-3 on the mound last year and was second on the team in both wins and innings, pitching behind only fellow teammate and All-American Blake Fox. Fox is coming off a season in which we went 12-0 (9-0 against Conference USA opponents) and was a finalist for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year. This year, Fox was named the preseason favorite for Pitcher of the Year in C-USA.  Closer Junior reliever Matt Ditman was the surprise story of 2014. Ditman emerged as a dominant pitcher for the Owls last season. The former bullpen catcher appeared in 26 games for Rice and had nine saves on the year. His 1.83 earned run average and opponent hitters’ batting average of .198 on the season earned him preseason All-Conference honors this year. He is the only relief pitcher to have made the list. Ditman discussed being recognized by the conference for his achievements, and said he believes the important accolades come when the preseason honors can become postseason. “I am honored and happy to have gotten [recognized],” Ditman said. “But at the same time, I’d rather see postseason all-conference as opposed to preseason. I really want to focus on receiving postseason accolades for the sake of my teammates.” When Ditman looks at his fellow pitchers, he sees experienced guys who have tasted success. According to Ditman, he feels the Owls have the potential for another strong season. “When you look at our pitching staff, it’s a lot of guys who have already displayed success and have the capability to succeed at this level,” Ditman said. “We have a lot of potential to do something really special as a pitching staff.” Other notable pitchers for the Owls include juniors Ryan McCarthy and Austin Orewiler, who are midweek starter candidates. Additionally, junior Jordan Stephens is set to return from Tommy John surgery this season. In 2013, he led the Owls in innings pitched with 118.2 and recorded 100 strikeouts. Notable freshman standouts this year have been Ricky Salinas and Glenn Otto, who have the potential to see significant action.  Hitters On the opposite side of the ball, the Owls have many gaps to fill, having lost five of their nine offensive starters last season. Seniors Keenan Cook (RF), Michael Aquino (LF), Shane Hoelscher (3B), Chase McDowell (DH/RHP) and junior Skyler Ewing (1B) were either lost to graduation or drafted by MLB teams. Hitting Coach Clay Van Hook, in his fourth year as the Owls’ coach, talked about the highly restructured lineup for 2015. According to Van Hook, replacing the departed players will not be easy, but he believes the team has the talent to continue its winning tradition.“You know it’s always tough to replace four out of your top five hitters, not just from [the] hitting standpoint, but from the leadership that a lot of those guys had,” Van Hook said. “We feel we brought in a very athletic group of kids that we know will have a good future here at Rice.” Ahead of facing no. 10 ranked Texas, Van Hook said he needs his hitters to remain calm and realize that, in the game of baseball, composure in all situations is a must. “In terms of preparing the guys for Texas, it’s opening weekend and the juices are going to be flowing, [and] the adrenaline is going to be there,” Van Hook said. “The biggest thing for the young guys is to keep [their] composure and stay in the moment. I think the guys are prepared and [have done] a good job hitting in practice and intra-squads, so hopefully they are ready.”  Infield Returning for the Owls is the sure-handed duo of middle infielders, junior shortstop Leon Byrd and senior second baseman Ford Stainback. Both are effective runners and excellent hitters capable of hitting the ball to all areas of the field. Rounding out the infield is junior Connor Teykl at first base and junior college transfer Grayson Lewis at third base. In his first year with the Owls, Lewis said he is excited about being part of a team he claims is the most talented he’s ever been on.“It’s all been very exciting and really different from junior college [playing for Rice],” Lewis said. “This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on and is an honor to be a part of it. They continue to amaze me with all their talent on the field … [and] I feel lucky to be on a club that has such great team chemistry.” Outfield The outfield for the Owls has considerable depth, thanks in part to the addition of talented freshmen. Returning from last year’s squad is Charlie Warren, who is expected to transition to right field after spending most of his time last season at center field. The other two outfield positions are undecided as of yet as multiple Owls ranging from freshmen Ryan Chandler and Tristan Gray to seniors John Williamson and Kirby Taylor have each received significant reps at left and center field. Sophomore outfielder Dayne Wunderlich has also emerged as a hard-hitting sophomore with athleticism and speed who may prove to be a real weapon for the Owls.  Chandler projects to see significant playing time for the Owls. Entering his first season for Rice, he said he has learned much about the game at the collegiate level. “It’s a lot different [from] high school because the competition is much better,” Chandler said. “When you consider that everybody here was the best player on their high school team, you must turn it up a notch. You have to grind and give it your best every single day.”According to Chandler, the constant message he receives from his coaching staff and fellow teammates is to always remain confident at the plate.“The thing they have preached to us is being confident every time you are out there,” Chandler said. “It has really changed me personally as a hitter. Trusting them and trusting my teammates to help me and hold me accountable for what I’m supposed to do on the field has been key.”  Catchers Senior John Clay Reeves and junior Hunter Kopycinski will share the duty behind the plate this season. Reeves is arguably the best hitter on the roster with a 2014 batting average of .317 and was named the Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year. Entering his senior season, Reeves will be a threat on both sides of the ball, especially when it comes to two of the most important aspects of the game: Calling pitches for the pitching staff and power hitting. Kopycinski is a defensive-minded catcher capable of catching multiple innings. Coaches agree he has shown improvement this offseason and Kopycinski has made a case to be inserted in the lineup on a more consistent basis this season.  Outlook The Rice schedule includes notable non-conference games against many notable non-conference opponents. A few of these top-tier teams include Texas, Stanford University, Texas Christian University, the University of Arizona, the University of Houston and Sam Houston State University. Head Coach Wayne Graham, who earned his 1,000th Rice victory last season, said he enjoys playing these elite teams because it tests where Rice stands on a national scale. “You find out by playing good teams where you are and where you’ve got to go,” Graham said. “We think we can compete with [these top teams], and aside from these games being developmental it gives you a good power rating for later.” Entering his 24th year as head coach, Graham said he realizes the Owls streak of 19 straight conference championships and 20 straight NCAA tournament appearances is remarkable, but is not the ultimate goal of the season.“We always want to keep the string going because obviously it’s hard to get a streak like that going,” Graham said. “But we’d rather get to Omaha and win the national championship.” The 2015 season is set to begin this upcoming Friday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m, when the Owls take on the University of Texas, Austin at Reckling Park.The last time the two teams played was the 2014 NCAA regional matchup where the Longhorns defeated Rice 3-2 in 11 innings and gave Rice their first of two losses in the regional tournament.

Baseball sweeps Conference USA preseason awards

(02/04/15 4:06pm)

The Conference USA coaches’ poll unanimously announced Rice as the favorite to be crowned 2015 C-USA champions on Jan. 28. Additionally, Rice junior pitcher Blake Fox was named the preseason Pitcher of the Year and senior catcher John Clay Reeves was named preseason Player of the Year. The Owls are currently ranked no. 13 in the nation on and no. 15 on Perfect Game. Reeves made an immediate impact last season in his first year with the Owls. He was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year after starting 56 of the 62 games as catcher and designated hitter, and was among the top players in the Conference in multiple hitting categories with seven home runs, 41 RBIs and a .439 slugging percentage. Reeves said the seniors on the squad are focused on teaching the younger players what it means to be a part of Rice baseball and have a drive to win in the postseason.  “I think like every other year you want to win, and not just our conference, but go deep into the [NCAA] tournament,” Reeves said. “With this great group of guys and multiple seniors on the team, we want to lead by example and teach the younger guys how to uphold the Rice baseball name.” Reeves said individual awards are nice but do not take away from preparing and working hard day in and day out.“It’s always nice to be recognized, but every year is different, so we [have] to remain focused and keep working hard daily,” Reeves said. Fox earned first team all-American honors last season after going 12-0 on the mound with a 1.46 earned run average. He was named one of three finalists for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year award. Fox said he believes his teammates and coaching staff this season must have a competitive mindset to be successful. “As a pitcher, my goal is to get out there and compete to the best of my ability to give my team a chance to win,” Fox said. “I believe that if we all go out there and have that same goal then we will be very successful by [maximizing] all the talent on this team.” Fox said he was honored to be named as a finalist, but keeps things simple in terms of his approach to the game. “It was an honor to be named as one of the finalists, [but] just like my past two years … I want to go out there to compete, do my best and have fun,” Fox said.Head Coach Wayne Graham said Fox and Reeves are key players both on and off the field.“They are definitive leaders on the team and high citizenship, hard working men,” Graham said. “Obviously Fox has been a great pitcher for us and Reeves is a good catcher who can call his own game and is probably our best hitter.” 

Conference proves tough for women’s basketball

(01/28/15 7:38am)

In six games, the Rice University women’s basketball game registered six losses.This week, the Owls fell to the University of Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech University. On Thursday night, the Owls took on Southern Miss and lost by a final score of 65-54. Following the loss, the Owls faced off against the Lady Bulldogs. Rice led for much of the game but Louisiana Tech finished the game on a 21-8 run and won 88-71.The team failed to reach 60 points for the seventh straight game against Southern Miss. At the 11:22 mark of the first half, the Owls took an 18-16 lead on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Maya Hawkins. The lead did not last long though, as Southern Miss went into halftime with a 34-26 halftime advantage. Rice would get as close as 34-32 with a quick burst in the second half, but would not regain the lead for the remainder of the game. Key contributors for Rice included senior forward Megan Shafer, who scored nine points off the bench in just 13 minutes of action, and fellow senior Christal Porter, who led the team with nine rebounds. Against Louisiana Tech, the Owls made the necessary adjustments on the offensive side of the ball and were rewarded by having three players score in double digits. Not only did Rice reach the 60-point mark for the contest, but they reached 70 points for only the third time this season. However, the defensive performance and turnover margin proved too much, as they allowed a season-high 88 points to the opposition and committed 22 turnovers. Louisiana Tech’s offense capitalized on Rice’s mistakes, shooting 59 percent from the field and scoring 20 points off turnovers. Senior point guard Chrisstasia Walter, who scored a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting and a perfect 11-of-11 at the free throw line, led the Bulldogs offensively.The game featured 13 lead changes and seven ties, including Rice having led for the majority of the first half. Porter earned her fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds while senior guard Nakachi Maduka scored 13 points and added eight rebounds for the Owls. Porter said, despite the six-game losing streak, spirits are high in the locker room and the seniors on the team contribute to keeping things positive. “The locker room has definitely been staying positive,” Porter said. “Senior leadership is important to remind the team of how successful we have been [in past years]. We have been [competitive] in every conference game, so it’s just a matter of keeping up the work.”Freshman guard Shani Rainey has been a spot starter for the Owls and is a key player off the bench. She said she feels she and her teammates need to take advantage of every single possession to revert back to their winning ways. “One thing that we as a team need to do is value every possession,” Rainey said. “We can’t take even one off because that could be the deciding factor on who wins the game [and who loses].”  According to head coach Greg Williams, the Owls need to focus on scoring consistently.“Offensive consistency has been a problem all season,” Williams said. “We do not have a proven scorer in late game situations, so we [find ourselves having] to adjust game to game to find that player.” The Owls return to Tudor Fieldhouse this coming Sunday, Feb. 1 to take on the University of North Texas. Tip off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.

Hawkins emerges from injury

(01/21/15 2:48pm)

Wearing a highly protective metal brace on her surgically repaired left knee, sophomore guard Maya Hawkins has overcome adversity to become one of the central players on the Rice women’s basketball team.Hawkins has spent much of her first two seasons at Rice recovering from an injury to her anterior cruciate ligament. In the first two games of her return from injury, Hawkins posted career-high scoring performances of 25 and 23 points to carry the Owls at the start of conference play.Whether it’s consistently diving on the floor for a loose ball or wrestling with the opposing team for possession, Hawkins said she has a tendency for making the “hustle plays.” “My favorite aspect of the game has to be defense [because] I believe defense is one of the few things in basketball that you can control the entire game,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes, your shot might be off, or you might have a few turnovers, but you can always sprint back and make a stop on defense and play with that edge if you really put your mind to it.”Hawkins has impacted her team in her limited time on the court with her leadership ability. Hawkins said she takes great pride in constantly motivating her teammates and said she attributes this to the perpetual support she received while sidelined with a torn ACL in her left knee. “My teammates have shown me nothing but support throughout the entire process of my rehabilitation,” Hawkins said. “They really showed me what it means to be a part of a team, and their support and confidence in me helped me regain confidence in myself. [My teammates] and other family members really push me to work hard every day so that I can show them that their investment was well worth it.” According to Hawkins, the ACL injury she sustained entering her sophomore year was not her first severe injury. “My first major injury was my freshman year at Rice when I fractured my tibia,” Hawkins said. “Thankfully, it did not require surgery of any kind, but I had to miss [most] of the season. The hardest part about coming back from that injury was coming back with confidence that I could perform well and compete at the college level.” The Owls return to Tudor Fieldhouse Feb. 1, where Maya Hawkins and the rest of the Owls will be in action against the University of North Texas in a nationally-televised game. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. 

Women's basketball opens conference play

(01/14/15 10:39am)

The Rice University women’s basketball team entered conference play with a 5-6 record, including a 5-2 record at home. During the non-conference portion of the schedule, Rice competed against two of the top women’s college basketball programs in the nation, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, Austin. Ranked No. 5 and No. 3 respectively at the time Rice played them, both teams defeated Rice in the non-conference portion of the season.To mark the beginning of conference play, the Owls went on the road for three consecutive games. In the first game, the Owls defeated the University of Texas, San Antonio in overtime with a final score of 62-58. Sophomore guard Maya Hawkins scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the game to earn the first double-double of her career. She was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and committed just one turnover in 37 minutes of play off the bench. As a whole, the Owls bench outscored UTSA 37-15 over the course of the game. Rice then went on to play the University of Texas, El Paso Jan. 4. Despite another team-leading performance by Hawkins, the Owls could not complete a late second half comeback and lost 54-51. Hawkins scored a team-high 23 points for the Owls, which included three three-pointers. The rest of the offense struggled, as no other Owl scored more than six points in the contest. Senior post player Christal Porter and sophomore post player Adaeze Obinnah tied for the team high in rebounds with nine each. After a five-day layoff, the Owls competed in their final game of the road trip against the University of North Texas. After a slow start from the Owls, the team went on a 15-5 run to close the first half and take a 27-23 lead into the break. With just 4:23 remaining in the game, Rice held a narrow 43-42 lead, but was unable to hold on and lost by a final score of 53-48. Junior forward Megan Palmer led Rice in scoring and rebounding, recording nine points and eight rebounds. Rice committed a season-high 23 turnovers in the game, which UNT turned into 21 points. Hawkins said her recent success should be attributed to her teammates and how they have supported her during her comeback after suffering an injury last year.“My performance at the beginning of conference play was largely due to my teammates,” Hawkins said. “Their encouragement before, during and after my recovery process has helped me to regain my confidence … and I couldn’t have accomplished anything without them.” Hawkins said playing on the road was a challenge, but also said she was proud of the way the team fought. “Playing on the road was very tough, but I was proud of how our team played while away, even though some of the games didn’t go as we would have liked,” Hawkins said. “Our team will be working hard all week long to ensure that we secure these next two games in front of our fans at home.” Head Coach Greg Williams said Hawkins’s return from injury will hopefully spark the team in the games to come. “We are glad to have Maya back on the court,” Williams said. “She adds defensive quickness at the point position and is our most consistent three-point shooter.”Williams said the team needs to prepare for their next two games at home to get the season back on track.“Both [Old Dominion University and Louisiana Tech University] are athletic with most of their scoring coming from their perimeter players,” Williams said. “Every game is different, as are the decisions players make on the floor, [and] we are ready to come out strong on our home court.” Rice returns to action this Thursday, Jan. 15 at Tudor Fieldhouse to face Old Dominion. Old Dominio currnelty boasts an overall record of 8-6, incluidng 1-2 in Conference USA. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m. 

Women's basketball wins three of first five games

(12/03/14 2:44pm)

The Rice University women’s basketball team began the 2014-15 season by winning three of their first five games, including four of five at home.After an opening day victory over Prairie View A&M University, the Owls lost to Associated Press No. 5 Texas A&M University on the road despite trailing less than 10 points for the majority of the game. Since then, the Owls have won two of their last three games.On Monday, Nov. 24, the Owls defeated Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi with a final score of 59-54. Following the victory, Rice defeated Alcorn State University 61-33 on Friday evening. With the wins, the Owls improved to 3-2 on the season. Ten of the 11 Owls who entered the game against Alcorn State recorded points. Sophomore forward Jasmine Goodwine led the team in scoring with 15 points while junior forward Megan Palmer snagged a season-high 13 rebounds. Rice won the battle of the paint with a 40-18 point margin, thanks in part to a balanced attack of post play and drives to the basket.The offense built an early lead due in part to Rice’s best defensive performance of the season. Rice allowed just seven points to the Lady Braves throughout the entire first half. Alcorn State shot 3-32 from the field (9 percent) and 1-8 from three-point range. The seven points allowed in the first half tied a Rice record, and the 33 points for the game were the sixth-fewest points allowed in school history. With a mix of returning players and new additions to the squad, Head Coach Greg Williams said he was pleased with the balanced attack the offense showed on Friday night. “We feel we are able to play nine or 10 players each game and figure out who is playing well on any given night,” Williams said. “Hopefully as we play more games we can get some more consistency, individually and as a team.” Williams said the team will rely heavily on the play of seniors, especially forward Christal Porter, in order to be successful this season.“We have five seniors, and [we] are counting on them to finish their Rice careers with strong seasons,” Williams said. “Christal [Porter] is our most experienced returning player, and we are hoping she has a breakout year. She has been rebounding well to start the season, and we hope her scoring will follow suit as she is capable of being a double-double performer each game.”Williams said he is also optimistic about the incoming crew of freshman in his arsenal. “Freshman Shani Rainey has started our first five games, so she has made an immediate impact,” Williams said. “Wendy Knight has been solid in practice, and we have a lot of confidence in her.”The Owls next face off against the University of Houston on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. on the road. The Owls will then return to Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday, Dec. 6 to face Stephen F. Austin University before taking a two-week recess for final exams. 

Soccer ends season with loss in first round of NCAAs

(11/25/14 8:32am)

The Rice University women’s soccer season officially ended following a 3-0 loss to the University of Texas, Austin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The loss ended a seven-game winning streak for Rice, the longest since the 2003 season. Rice finished the season with an overall record of 14-4-3, tying a school record for wins in a season.The Owls clinched the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament on Nov. 9 by defeating the University of North Texas in the Conference USA Championship game. The 2014 Owls received numerous C-USA individual accolades, including Coach of the Year (Nicky Adams), Offensive Player of the Year (junior forward Lauren Hughes) and Midfielder of the Year (senior Quinny Truong). Rice will lose four seniors to graduation, all of whom were starters for this year’s team: goalkeeper Amy Czyz, defender Ashton Geisendorff, and midfielders Quinny Truong and Gabriella Iribarne. On Friday, Nov. 14, the Owls played the hosting UT Longhorns for an opportunity to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Owls went into the game without the leading goal-scorer in C-USA, Hughes, due to a lower leg injury she sustained earlier in the week. In the first NCAA tournament game for Rice since the 2005 season, the Owls had a hard time garnering any momentum. UT scored the initial goal in the 29th minute of the match. After two deflections, UT shot the ball into the bottom right corner of the net for the first goal scored against the Owls in over four matches. The Longhorns tacked on two more goals in the second half. UT’s Olivia Brook scored the second goal in the 48th minute off a long and fast-paced cross into the box. A high strike from 30 yards out in the 66th minute put the Longhorns up 3-0. The Owls spent most of the half on the defensive side of the ball and recorded just one shot. Adams said the team needs to reflect on the successful season and look ahead to the future of Rice soccer despite the loss. “[I’m] obviously disappointed in the way we played today,” Adams said. “I thought there were spurts where we had some really good opportunities … [but] overall I’m really pleased with the season we had. We’re creating a standard here and an expectation that we want to continue.” According to Adams, Hughes’ injury was a major setback. “Lauren Hughes is arguably one of the best players on our team, and what she provides in the final third for us is something very special,” Adams said. “We’re glad we get her for [her] senior season. Iribarne replaced Hughes as the starting forward for the match. Iribarne said, despite the loss, just making it to the tournament can be viewed as a success for the season. “At the beginning of the season, we got together as a team, and one of our goals was to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Iribarne said. “[Making the NCAA tournament] has been a huge success for us. Coming out here to play a big-time team … was a great opportunity, and I think it’s now an expectation for us.” Czyz also played in her final match of her historic Rice career on Friday night. Czyz, the school record-holder for career shutouts (28) and career wins (41), said she guarantees that Rice will be back in the NCAA tournament. “In the grand scheme of the season, we’ve talked about being the best in Rice history,” Czyz said. “We didn’t show as good as we could, and that’s unfortunate … [but] I promise you this won’t be the last time you see the Rice Owls in this tournament.”

Soccer wins Conference USA trophy

(11/12/14 2:26pm)

The Rice University soccer team entered the Conference USA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed while riding a four-game winning streak. With three consecutive wins in tournament play, the Owls stretched their winning streak to a season-best seven games and were crowned the 2014 C-USA champions.The Owls clinched the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament and will play in the opening round of games this upcoming Friday. This marks the second time in program history the Owls have won the C-USA tournament and the third time Rice has earned a trip to the NCAA tournament.Rice opened up the C-USA tournament on Wednesday afternoon against No. 7 seed Western Kentucky University. In the 16th minute of the match, junior forward and C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Lauren Hughes slipped the ball past the WKU goalkeeper to put Rice up 1-0. Hughes extended her Rice school record by scoring in her sixth consecutive game, proving to be the game winner as the defense earned their ninth shutout of the season and Rice advanced to the second round of the tournament.On Friday afternoon, the Owls played No. 6 seed Louisiana Tech University, who had upset the No. 3 seed University of Texas, El Paso two days before. Rice outshot LTU 12-2 in the first half and had many opportunities to push through for a goal, but the score remained 0-0 at halftime. Finally, in the 79th minute of the match, Hughes received the ball from sophomore Jenny Fichera and scored a goal off a deflection by the LTU goalkeeper for what proved to be the game-winning goal. The goal scored by Hughes marked her 14th of the season and the 32nd of her Rice career, a Rice record, and tied the all-time mark for goals in a season while breaking the record for points in a season with 37.Sunday’s championship game matchup featured Rice and the No. 1 seed and regular season C-USA champions the University of North Texas. The Owls got off to a quick start, taking the first seven shots of the match. The offensive pace paid off as senior midfielder Quinny Truong raced down the field and fired a pass to senior midfielder Gabriela Iribarne, who was open on the left side of the goal, striking the corner of the net to put Rice ahead 1-0. The senior duo of Iribarne and Truong again connected in the 64th minute of the match to double the margin and give Rice a 2-0 advantage. For the fourth consecutive game, senior goalkeeper Amy Czyz and the Rice defenders completed the shutout and did not allow a goal all tournament to bring home the title.Head Coach Nicky Adams took over the soccer program in 2010 and has led Rice to two C-USA championships in four years. Adams said she is proud of the team for accomplishing the feat, but she is not surprised they won the conference.“[The team] put in so much hard work in the preseason … and just stayed focused on our goal of winning the conference championship,” Adams said. “I’m not surprised in the least bit that we got this done because of the amazing all-around team we have and our determination to win.”Looking ahead to entering the NCAA tournament, Adams said she is confident in the team’s ability to compete with anyone they are matched up with.“Our very tough non-conference schedule we played this year has prepared us for this tournament,” Adams said. “We are going to give them all we have.”Czyz, a defensive captain and four-year starter at goalkeeper, said she commends her teammates for the way they played together as a team during the tournament.“In whole, it was a complete effort with [Iribarne] scoring twice in the final, [Hughes] scoring in the other games and our defense shutting them out,” Czyz said. “We had a team goal of staying the whole week [for the tournament] and not [coming] back to Rice without the trophy.”According to Czyz, the victory in the conference final is especially meaningful to the senior class.“For us in the senior class, I don’t think we could have written our last year any better,” Czyz said. “As for our program, it’s been awesome. This is the first time we’ve won the tournament in almost a decade, and I can’t wait to see where Rice soccer is headed in the next couple of years.”Iribarne, named the tournament’s Most Valuable Offensive Player, said the team’s success this year is due to the its work ethic and chemistry.“This year has been so special; it’s hard to describe,” Iribarne said. “We’ve all been getting so many accolades and awards that are truly a testament to all our hard work this year and our commitment to playing for each other.”The Owls will face the University of Texas, Austin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Austin. Rice will be looking to win their first ever NCAA tournament match on the road against in-state rival Texas Longhorns. The game is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 14, at 5 p.m. 

Soccer finishes regular season with win

(11/04/14 9:40am)

The Rice University soccer team closed out the 2014 regular season on the road this past Thursday with a 2-0 victory over the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Rice completed the season with an 11-3-3 record (7-2-1 C-USA) and earned 22 points in conference play.With Thursday’s victory, the Owls tied the University of North Texas for first place in C-USA. However, UNT had one more match to play. UNT won their game Friday night and managed to clinch the C-USA title, but the Owls’ record earned them second place in C-USA and the No. 2 seed in the Conference USA tournament held in Charlotte, North Carolina.On Thursday night, the Owls scored in the fourth minute of the match. Senior midfielder Gabriela Iribarne earned her third goal in the past two matches on a 15-yard strike. With Rice leading 1-0, junior forward Lauren Hughes fired a bending shot from outside the box that found its way into the top corner of the net. With the goal, Hughes set a Rice record by scoring in five consecutive matches. The defenders were tested during the game as Rice was outshot 14-12 and gave up 10 corner kicks. However, the Owls played their way to their eighth shutout on the season and the 2-0 victory.Head Coach Nicky Adams said she was pleased with the way the Owls jumped out to an early lead against a UAB team determined to clinch a C-USA tournament berth. “We came in knowing that UAB was going to give us their best game because their backs were against the wall to get in the conference tournament,” Adams said. “We came out and played well in the first half scoring two goals … That was a huge help.” The Owls now have their eyes on winning the Conference USA tournament and clinching an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. To clinch the berth, the Owls must win three consecutive games in an eight-team bracket, single-elimination system. The first game is scheduled between the No. 2 seed Owls and the No. 7 seed Western Kentucky University. Kick off is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5. The winner between the Owls and the Hilltoppers will play the winner of No. 3 seed University of Texas, El Paso and the No. 6 seed Louisiana Tech University two days later on Nov. 7.Hughes, the leading scorer in C-USA with 12 goals, said the team is confident and ready to play in this tournament. “We’re going into this tournament confident in ourselves and ready to fight to win,” Hughes said. “This is the best team I’ve seen since coming here, and I know that we have all the elements to win this tournament and move on to NCAAs.” Hughes said the current four-game win streak has helped establish momentum heading into the tournament. “Going into the tournament on a four-game win streak is really exciting,” Hughes said. “There have been a low number of chances for the other teams … and offensively we’ve been combining really well [to make sure] the ball goes in the back of the net.” Senior midfielder Quinny Truong said she attributes the improvement of this year’s team to the enhanced chemistry and teamwork on the squad.“The team dynamic [and] the selflessness this team has portrayed over this past season … [have] been the biggest factor to our success,” Truong said. “All the dedication, hard work and trust we have in one another has been what makes this one team unique compared to other teams of the past.”

Soccer completes undefeated season at home

(10/28/14 11:09am)

This past weekend, the Rice University soccer team won both home games, clinching an undefeated home record for the first time in program history.  Friday night’s Senior Day saw the team’s four seniors honored for their careers at Rice. Goalkeeper Amy Czyz, midfielders Gabriela Iribarne and Quinny Truong and defender Ashton Geisendorff led Rice to a 5-0 victory over Old Dominion University. On Sunday, the Owls defeated the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 4-1.On Friday night, junior Lauren Hughes got the Owls on the board first in the 17th minute of the game with a close range strike to beat the keeper. In the 32nd minute of the game, junior Holly Hargreaves scored on a chip shot that found the back of the net with the assist coming from Truong. Hughes went on to score two more goals later in the match in the 58th and 61st minute to give her a hat trick and her 10th goal of the season. The defense held strong, only allowing four shots all game.Czyz said Senior Day allowed her to reflect on her Rice career and the improvements she has seen in the soccer program. “For us, this is a very special day, and I’m so happy [the seniors] have made it this far and been so successful,” Czyz said. “Getting the big win and the shutout was the perfect way to cap [Senior Day] off, and we just hope we are leaving the program in better hands than when we got it here.” Head Coach Nicky Adams said the seniors have served as great examples for the rest of team and have helped lead the team to its success this season.“[Our seniors] bring so much leadership, and they truly love Rice,” Adams said. “Every day they come out and give us everything they have. It’s just contagious when you have great seniors who truly believe in what we’re doing … obviously the team is going to follow.” On Sunday afternoon, the Owls continued their two-game winning streak, scoring four more goals and winning 4-1. Hughes scored the opening goal of the game off of a deflection in the sixth minute to give the Owls an early lead. Iribarne followed that up with a 35th minute goal to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. Iribarne added another goal in the 71st minute off a cross from junior midfielder Danielle Spriggs. The Owls’ victory earned them a 6-0-2 home record to complement their 10-3-3 (6-2-1 C-USA) season thus far. The current squad has the top two goal-scorers in Rice history in Hargreaves and Hughes, and the all-time leader in shutouts in Czyz. Adams said she was satisfied with the way the team played this past weekend to stay in second place in C-USA.“I was pleased with the way our possession was all weekend and [our] ability to find the back of the net, scoring nine goals in one weekend,” Adams said. “I love how we played as one unit on both sides of the ball.” Looking forward, Adams said the Owls have hopes of entering the NCAA tournament by winning the C-USA tournament or receiving an at-large bid. “This team is so hungry and definitely want[s] to make [the NCAA tournament],” Adams said. “If we are peaking right now, this is the perfect time and we are excited for what is coming up.” Iribarne said she hopes she and the rest of the senior class have been role models for the younger players. “I think this season has been great,” Iribarne said. “[We] know our teammates look up to us [and] we look up to them, so it’s a full circle and we work hard out there for each other.” Rice will play their final game of the season on the road Thursday, Oct. 30 against the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Rice is currently tied for second place in C-USA and has clinched a berth in the upcoming C-USA tournament beginning Nov. 5, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Soccer splits weekend series in Florida

(10/21/14 4:19pm)

The Rice University soccer team traveled to South Florida this past weekend and split two games against Conference USA opponents. The first weekend game featured a 2-1 loss to Florida International University, followed by a 3-2 victory against Florida Atlantic University. Rice is 8-3-3 on the season with a 4-2-1 C-USA record. The Panthers held Rice scoreless for nearly the entire match, and scored in the 55th minute, giving them a 1-0 advantage midway through the second half. In the 89th minute, however, Rice senior forward Lauren Hughes scored the tying goal with 43 seconds on the clock remaining to send the teams into overtime. Just seven minutes into overtime, FIU found the back of the net to clinch the win. On Sunday afternoon, Rice beat FAU 3-2. By the 16th minute of play, Rice had already taken a 3-0 advantage from goals by junior midfielder Danielle Spriggs, Hughes and freshman midfielder Samantha Chaiken. However, FAU continued to chip away at the Rice lead by scoring two goals by the 60th minute. Rice was outshot 11-4 in the second half but found a way to hang on and secure the 3-2 victory. Head Coach Nicky Adams said she was disappointed with the team’s performance in Friday night’s loss against FIU, but satisfied with the win against FAU.“Our Friday night performance was the first game [I felt] our entire team did not play well,” Adams said. “We couldn’t get over them, couldn’t play our style of game and struggled as a unit. However, I’m proud of our team for rebounding well with three goals on Sunday.” According to Adams, the upcoming home games are critical to the team’s success, particularly with only three regular-season games remaining. “We now have two home games against [Old Dominion University] and [the University of North Carolina, Charlotte], which are our last two home games,” Adams said. “We’ll be ready to go … and still have nine points to earn to close out our C-USA season.” Hughes said the lower level of play the Owls have had over the past three matches has concerned her, but she is happy to see her team return to its winning ways after the FAU game. “We definitely had a bit of a slump where we didn’t play Rice soccer and allowed the other teams to dictate the way we were playing,” Hughes said. “I think our team’s ability to bounce back from the slump shows the grit we have … and I’m extremely excited that we are back to playing our game.”Spriggs said the game against FAU helped the team return to form and focus on finishing the season strong. “At FAU, we got back to what makes us a great team, and hopefully we carry that with us the rest of the season,” Spriggs said. “We have three games left in Conference, and winning all three of those is really important. We’re excited to go [out and] take care of business.”The Owls return home this weekend for the final two home games of the season. The Owls will compete against Old Dominion University Friday at 7 p.m for Senior Night and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte Sunday at noon. With three games left in Conference play, the Owls are tied for second place and are looking to catch up to the University of North Texas, who currently leads the conference by one game.