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On April 16, Rice baseball’s record was 13-25. Today, after a remarkable turnaround, the team is on its way to the NCAA tournament. The Owls won the Conference USA title with a walk-off 5-4 victory over the University of Southern Mississippi to earn C-USA’s automatic bid to the postseason, extending the team’s streak of 23 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.
Rice's athletic teams have now won three conference championships this academic year. Two of those titles came on Sunday. Both the men's and women's tennis teams captured Conference USA titles with 4-3 and 4-1 wins, respectively, in the tournament finals.
Rice women’s tennis rode a 15-5 record this season to the top seed in the Conference-USA Tournament. The Owls will be looking to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive conference championship. The Owls will take on the winner of the University of Texas, San Antonio and the University of Southern Mississippi in the second round of the C-USA tournament.
Heading into the season, Rice baseball head coach Wayne Graham knew he was going to have to replace talent on the pitching staff. Jon Duplantier and Blake Fox, Rice’s top two starters from the previous year, had moved on to professional baseball. Junior pitchers Glenn Otto and Willy Amador were nursing injuries. Graham recognized he would need to turn to players with less experience and more question marks. Before the season, when asked if any freshman could contribute, Graham pointed to a player in the outfield wearing jersey No. 40.
Sports Editor Andrew Grottkau and Staff Writer Madison Buzzard step up to the mic for the inaugural episode of OwlNation.
It’s just not the same this year. As the calendar turns past Beer Bike, normally the focus of Rice fans turns from the end of basketball season to the heart of the baseball season. It would typically be time to look at the standings and see Rice baseball battling for the top spot in Conference USA. We should be monitoring its position in the top-25 rankings. Instead, we are left to wonder whether the Owls will even qualify for the C-USA tournament. Baseball season is different this year. It is not a good thing.
Senior guard Maya Hawkins left the Tudor Fieldhouse floor for the final time to a standing ovation and a hug from her head coach Tina Langley. Her team was about to complete a Women’s Basketball Invitational championship victory on its home floor in her last game as a graduating senior. When the buzzer sounded, she ran onto the court to celebrate with her teammates, who hoisted her onto their shoulders amid the cheering student section. For Hawkins, the moment could not have been sweeter.
Rice men’s basketball lost four of its top players Monday and Tuesday when sophomore guard Marcus Evans, junior guard Egor Koulechov, junior guard Marcus Jackson and freshman forward Corey Douglas announced they are planning to depart after this school year. Evans, Koulechov and Jackson were the top three scorers on the team this season. Douglas missed most of the season due to injury but was widely regarded as Rice’s top freshman on this year’s team.
Two days after Mike Rhoades left Rice men’s basketball, a new age began. Call it the Pera era. Last Thursday, Rice announced it will hire former associate head coach Scott Pera as its new head coach for next season.
One moment, Rice men’s basketball was celebrating its best season in over a decade. The next, it was lost. Last week, former Rice men’s basketball head coach Mike Rhoades took the job as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, leaving Rice looking for a new coach and speculating about potential transfers. It would make sense to feel betrayed. But it would be wrong to be angry at Rhoades for taking the job at VCU, because the NCAA is structured such that VCU presents him with his only chance at national success.
When the baseball season began, Rice understandably had high expectations. The Owls have reached the NCAA tournament in 22 consecutive seasons and finished one run shy of the conference title last year. A month into the season, the team is 6-16. It is nowhere near the national powerhouse we have come to expect. The reason for the decline is simple: The Owls’ pitching has failed them.
Rice men’s basketball had its season come to an end in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational, falling 85-79 to Utah Valley University. The Owls finished the year 23-12 and earned a postseason win, an 85-76 victory over the University of San Francisco in the first round of the CBI, for the first time in five years.
When women’s basketball head coach Tina Langley took over last year, she was expected to begin a long rebuilding process for a team that had not had a winning record since 2011. In just her second season, she has led the Owls to a 17-12 regular season record and the No. 10 seed in the Conference USA tournament.
After Rice men’s basketball’s 88-81 upset win over Louisiana Tech University, head coach Mike Rhoades, smiling ear to ear, lifted his daughter up in a bear hug and spun her around. His players, equally big smiles on their faces, hugged and celebrated as they lined up to sing Rice’s alma mater. It was the sort of scene normally reserved for a championship victory. For Rice, it might as well have been just that. Saturday’s win over the Bulldogs validated the Owls’ season as one of the best in school history regardless of how the team fares the rest of the way.
Rice’s men’s basketball team is currently in the midst of one of its best-ever seasons. If the Owls can win one of their final four regular season games, they will have their most conference wins since joining Conference USA in 2005. Despite the success, the team still has work to do in the final weeks of the season. If Rice can finish in the top four of the regular season standings, it will earn a bye to the quarterfinals in the conference tournament. This past weekend, Rice split its two home contests, beating the University of Texas, San Antonio and falling to the University of Texas, El Paso.
Last week in the Thresher’s baseball insert, multiple Rice players said their goal this season is to qualify for the College World Series. After one series, the Owls’ record stands at 2-2. Despite the high expectations of the team heading into the season, the opening series was not a setback. Rather, the season-opening series revealed strong hitting from the bottom of the lineup and a deep pitching staff that can carry the Owls deep into the postseason.
Women’s indoor track finishes second at Conference USA Championships
This season is unlike any we have seen in the past 20 years. For the first time since 1996, Rice baseball is not the defending conference champion. The 20-year streak of championships spanned three different conferences, included seven College World Series appearances and, of course, included the 2003 national championship. This year’s Owls, however, are not going to look back on the end of this streak. They are hoping to begin a new one.
Although football season has only been over for about two months, the most important day of the offseason happened earlier this month. On Feb. 1, national signing day, Rice football signed 17 new student-athletes to its 2017 recruiting class to bolster a roster that went 3-9 last season. The class ranked 123rd nationally and 12th out of 14 in Conference USA according to 247sports, a prominent source of recruiting data.
This week, the Atlanta Falcons will use Rice’s football fields to prepare for Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots. Forty-two years ago, however, Rice served as far more than a practice facility. On Jan. 13, 1974, Rice Stadium hosted Super Bowl VIII, the first Super Bowl ever played in the city of Houston.