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Kuster leads basketball to early 2-0 start

(11/12/13 6:00pm)

The Rice University women's basketball team opened its season with a 77-63 victory at Texas A&M University, Prairie View Nov. 8. Senior Jessica Kuster led the charge with 33 points and 15 rebounds. The Owls led the game from start to finish, and sophomore Megan Palmer and junior Christal Porter both finished with double digits.Head Coach Greg Williams said he was particularly pleased with the poise his team showed on the road. He said playing on the road is difficult and being able to take the crowd out of the game was key."Going on the road is always difficult, but we knew since the offseason how [much more] experienced [we were] coming into this year," Williams said. "We helped keep the crowd out of the game ... a formula for success on the road for any team." Williams said Kuster, the only senior on the squad, played exceptionally and was aggressive on the offensive end. He said the team's effective passing was a major factor in Kuster's high-scoring game. "[Kuster]  had a spectacular game with 33 [points] and 15 [rebounds] and on only 17 [shot] attempts," Williams said. "I felt like she was very aggressive offensively, and that is something we need her to be [this year]. [Our] players did a great job finding her, and she's also great at creating her own shots. [She] played a really solid game from start to finish."Williams said he is pleased with the progress many of his starters have made over the offseason. Williams said that with four returning starters - Kuster, Porter, Palmer and junior Nakachi Maduke - the Owls played more confidently as a team in their first game."It was nice to see how hard [the returning starters] worked in the offseason," Williams said. "[If they] can lead with more poise and confidence this year, [it's] is going to be big for us."Kuster led all scorers on Friday evening and said she felt excited for the first game of the season. She said having gone through this process for four years, she did her best to stay relaxed. "I actually felt pretty relaxed, [since] I've been through this for four years. Prairie View has a unique atmosphere, and I stayed calm so the rest of the team [fed] off that vibe and kept jitters to a minimum."Kuster was pleased with the way the team worked together on offense to pull out the victory. She said the Owls improved upon their  stability at point guard from last year."I think that we passed the ball extremely well, and we worked very well as a team on offense," Kuster said. "Even when changing up our point guards a bit, [we] played the same regardless of who was bringing the ball up the floor. [The vibe] was enthusiastic and pretty positive out there."Porter said she has been working hard in the offseason to improve her game and contribute more to the team. She said players have an opportunity to improve each additional year at Rice."[After] sophomore year, you know what to expect, and you know [your] weaknesses, and that makes you feel a lot more confident," Porter said. "I feel that knowing what you do best on the court gives you confidence, and I feel like I'm in that kind of spot right now." Porter said she hopes the team can win more close games this year, but to do so, the Owls must dig deep down the stretch. "It's [always] going to be competitive, and we are going to dig deep," Porter said. "Last year, we lost a lot of close games ..., so this year, we will dig deeper and end up winning those games."Rice followed up their opening night victory with their first home win of the season Nov. 11 against Texas Southern University 61-54. The Owls got off to a slow start, falling behind 15-6, but they rallied to tie the game 26-26 at halftime. Rice took the lead late in the game and did not look back, recording a 61-54 win. Kuster scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds while junior point guard Reem Moussa recorded 13 points and helped lead the Owls to 2-0.Rice's next game is Thursday, Nov. 14 at McNeese State University before heading to Waco on Monday, Nov. 18 to play Baylor University.  

basketball preview 2013-2014 season [women's]

(11/05/13 6:00pm)

The Rice Owls women's basketball team is all set to head out on the road and compete in its season opener against Prairie View A&M University Friday, Nov. 8. Four starters are returning from last year's team and look to be key contributors to the 2013-14 squad.Head Coach Greg Williams, who is in his ninth year in this position, said he has high hopes his team will gather more wins and play well even with the conference undergoing major reconstruction. Williams said that even though the Owls lost many close games last year, he believes more conference wins are on the way."Well, of course every team wants to win the conference," Williams said. "There are now 16 teams [in Conference USA], and [of those 16], eight [are] new teams. We lost a lot of close games last year, but I'm hoping that an added year of confidence, experience and improvement can get us more conference wins."The team is looking to improve on its 14-16 finish last season. The Owls finished 2-12 last year on the road and posted a home record of 12-4. The team hopes to carry that same kind of success into this season. Williams said senior forward Jessica Kuster is one of the best players Rice women's basketball has ever seen."[Kuster] is on pace to become the all-time points and rebounders leader [at Rice] and arguably is the best player in [Rice] history," Williams said. "[Kuster] led the league in blocked shots and affects the game on both ends of the floor. She is a pleasure to coach and was recently voted a captain for the third consecutive year."Williams said in his nine years of coaching, this team has been one of his most cohesive and can serve as a good role model for the community."We have really good chemistry, and [the] players really do care for each other on and off the court," Williams said. "They are great ambassadors for Rice and work very hard for practice, which is all a coach can ask."Sophomore forward Megan Palmer averaged nearly 10 points and six rebounds per game last year as a starting forward. She said she hopes this year's team will perform better this upcoming season."From the team aspect, we have some good freshmen coming in that are really going to be helpful," Palmer said. "I think it helps that we have more experience because we had a really young team [last year]. We are returning most of our rebounding and scoring as well. [The] conference has changed completely, though, so it's really anyone's game."Palmer said Kuster is a great leader for the team because of how much effort she puts in both on and off the court ."She is a great leader," Palmer said. "She really encourages everyone to step up and play hard, and off the court, [she] is just a great friend. [Kuster is] motivating by example: not in your face, but just out there to work hard."Palmer, like many of her teammates, said she believes the goal for the Owls is to compete for the coveted C-USA title and improve the program's prestige."We want to be conference champs, and we want to go to the NCAA tournament," Palmer said. "[It's a] go big or go home mentality."The 6-foot-2-inch Kuster is the only senior on the squad. Kuster said with her adopted leadership role, she is committed to intertwining her individual goals with the team's goals. Kuster said her ultimate goal is to make a postseason appearance."My individual goals are the team's goals," Kuster said. "We made the [Women's National Invitation Tournament] my freshman year, and [I] would love to have gone in and go out with a postseason appearance. So whatever I can do to get us a postseason appearance is my goal this year."Kuster said she believes her quiet yet driven characteristics are something different from what most people expect of her."It's different because it's more of a forced leadership role since I'm more of a lead-by-example person," Kuster said. "Coaches expect me to speak up more, and teammates expect me to be more vocal, and it has been a lot to balance out over time."Kuster said she has not yet decided on her future after leaving Rice but would love to continue playing basketball if circumstances allow it."I haven't thought about it too, too much, but it would be really cool to continue playing," Kuster said. "Whatever happens by the end of the year happens, but right now, I'm trying to focus on this year right here."The Owls' first home game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11 at Tudor Fieldhouse against Texas Southern University.

Rice outlasts Tulsa for first time since 2006

(10/08/13 7:00pm)

The Rice University football team traveled to Oklahoma last Saturday to take on the University of Tulsa. The Owls got off to a quick start, and the offense rolled throughout the first half of play. With five minutes, five seconds left in the first quarter, Rice had jumped to a 14-3 lead over Tulsa courtesy of senior running back Jeremy Eddington and redshirt freshman running back Darrion Pollard, who each scored from four yards out. The Owls took a 24-10 lead into halftime.In the second half, the Owls' offense failed to put up any points. With the game on the line, Rice's defense forced Tulsa to settle for a 36-yard field goal, sending the game into overtime. After Tulsa scored a field goal to start overtime to take a 27-24 lead, redshirt senior quarterback Taylor McHargue connected with redshirt freshman running back Darik Dillard on the second play from scrimmage for a 25-yard touchdown that won the game for the Owls. The 30-27 victory is Rice's first win against Tulsa since 2006.Head Coach David Bailiff said he was thrilled with the effort his players gave against Tulsa and that he was pleased with the offense's execution in the first half of the game."It's hard to go on the road and win anywhere, especially since Tulsa was the preseason pick to win the conference," Bailiff said. "[I'm] thrilled that we went on the road and did it, and even more so that we did it the hard way. I thought offensively in the first half ... we had great execution. We had great effort."Bailiff said this win was big for the Owls, who move forward with an overall record of 3-2, (2-0 in Conference USA play). He said he is proud of the way Rice competed with Tulsa but said the Owls must execute better in the second half in order to beat the University of Texas, San Antonio next week."I'm proud of the way we went toe-to-toe with them," Bailiff said. "We are a good team and just have to work harder at the little things. We've got to come out and have a better offensive plan in the third quarter. That's one of our woes. We [have] got to make sure we execute if we want to win next week."Junior defensive lineman Stuart Mouchantaf, coming off of a 13-tackle game against Tulsa, said he is excited to play UTSA and keep the momentum going. "I think we played well against Tulsa ..., and [I'm] happy in the fact that our defense is keeping us in all the games. But with all the work we put in, I'm not surprised. I'm excited for the next game and for the rest of the season to come."Dillard said that even after losing their lead, the Owls kept their poise during overtime, and the defense stepped up to keep Rice in the game."The offense was struggling, but our defense was able to suppress Tulsa's comeback and halt them at the end, which shows a lot," Dillard said. "We came out with a lot of confidence in overtime, and we knew that we were given this chance to win the game, so we had to win the game."Looking ahead to next week, the Owls will head to San Antonio to play UTSA on Saturday, Oct. 12. The Roadrunners are 2-4 this season and 1-1 in conference play. Bailiff said that although Rice won 34-14 over UTSA last year, the team should not be taken lightly."UTSA is a formidable opponent," Bailiff said. "For us to go out on the road to get a win, we have to play how we did against Tulsa for both the first and second half .... They're good; they are a much-improved football team than what we saw a year ago ..., but the good news is we [have been] playing hard. They can run and are an extremely fast football team. They play so hard every down."

Amy Czyz: In the goal

(09/30/13 7:00pm)

I sat down with Amy Czyz, captain of the Rice Owls soccer team, for a casual interview regarding her soccer play and her favorite things about Rice. Czyz, a junior, has started every game behind the goal since freshman year. She is a sports management major from Dansville, Calif. She said she is excited about the opportunity to compete for another Conference USA women's soccer championship. When did you start playing soccer? I started when I was 5 years old. It was one of those things my mom got me into when I was younger, and my brother played soccer, too. I've pretty much always been in the goal. I just got put in it, and it went from there. What is your favorite thing about soccer? I think I like how unpredictable it is. Soccer's not like football or basketball where you run plays; it's unique in the fact that you really don't know what you're going to get. It keeps you on your toes.  What has been your favorite moment so far in your college career? What are your expectations for this season? Definitely winning the conference championship last year. That was pretty exciting. We are beginning conference play this weekend, and the expectation is to go out and win another soccer championship. I think if our team plays the way we did last year, we have a good shot.  So what about Rice made you decide on playing your collegiate soccer here? I definitely ended up at Rice because I wanted to find a school that balanced good academics and good soccer. Rice was the perfect balance between the two. Switching gears, what is your favorite thing about Head Coach Nicky Adams? What do you think she has taught you?  She knows the game really well and is very passionate about the game. She cares a lot about us and about the program, and she is definitely a key factor in taking this program in the right direction. Nicky has definitely taught me a lot about growing into a leadership role. As a player, I think I've learned a lot about my own game and the game of the girls around me. I've learned how to get the best out of them as well. I'm more focused on the team aspect now than I was coming in.  Is there a certain quote or motto that you live your life by, either on the soccer field or in your everyday life? I don't think I really have a specific motto that I live by, but I'd have to say just to make every day the best it can be, and take it one day at a time.  So if you could sit down for dinner with any two soccer players in the world, who would they be, and why? Definitely Hope Solo. Obviously because of her position as goalie and because she's an intriguing person to me. Also Abby Wambach because she's the center of the women's game. She's done a lot of things and has been successful in women's soccer.  What are you striving to achieve after you leave Rice? I'm not entirely sure what I want to do, but I'm definitely not opposed to staying in soccer. Whether that means working with Nike or Adidas or playing with a team, I'd be OK with that. Anything dealing with sports. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tommy triumphs

(09/16/13 7:00pm)

It is still early in the fall season, but the Rice Owls men's tennis team is back to practice and is participating in local tournaments. On Sept. 8, sophomore Tommy Bennett clinched a wild card berth for an upcoming tournament to be held at Rice by winning all four games he played in. He will now compete with some of the best young players around in the United States Tennis Association semi-pro tournament Oct. 5-13 at Jake Hess Stadium. Bennett said all of the competitors in these tournaments are talented and that it takes a lot of skill and luck to survive."The competition is very difficult in this sort of tournament," Bennett said. "The No. 1 seed is about 300th in the world in men's tennis rankings." Bennett said that although all of the players are extremely skilled, he is not scared. He said he  knows he has the talent to hang around and win these matches."If I play my best in this tournament, I think I can beat the type of players out here," Bennett said. As a freshman last year, Bennett led the Owls in men's singles victories and was a contributor to the team's overall success. He said he attributes much of his success to his coaches back home in Brighton, England but also spoke highly of Head Coach Efe Ustundag's ability to observe his play. "[Ustundag] has taught me a lot about the game and of the style I want to play on the court," Bennett said. "He has seen me play a lot of matches ... and knows when I struggle or not. We've worked a lot on my forehand, and I've gotten an extra crack to it, extra whip." Although Bennett has seen his fair share of successes, he said he understands there is always room for improvement in his game. "There's always a lot of stuff to work on in the course of a game," Bennett said. "My main thing is to work on the backhand; it doesn't hold up at times, and I may need to improve impacts. There are aspects of every single shot that need to be made good." Ustundag said that what characterizes Bennett best is that he never gives up. Ustundag said that as a coach, he cannot ask for more."[He's a] fighter," Ustundag said. "He's certainly the type of tennis player that plays with a lot of heart. He does everything within his power and within the rules of the game to make sure he doesn't lose. He pours everything out on the court." Ustundag is now in his second year as the head coach of the men's tennis team and said he has seen Bennett develop into the type of player determined to stay in matches. Ustundag said Bennett does not give up until it is game, set and match. "His ability to basically never go away stands out," Ustundag said. "He finds a way to crawl back into matches, and if he is down, [he] finds a way to exploit a weakness. [Bennett] plays our longest matches, and even when things are not going well for him, [he] finds a way to hang around until that moment is available to crack things open for his benefit."Ustundag said he is excited to see what Bennett has to show in this upcoming tournament. He said the tournament should be exciting to watch  for both players and fans of the sport alike."[It's] great tennis for tennis fans to see," Ustundag said. "[It's also] a chance to come see our college players succeed and to root them on in not just a college environment, but [also] a tennis environment."