With the men's track and field team enjoying the home cooking at the Victor Lopez Classic the previous weekend, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) and his squad did not necessarily expect the same caliber of results at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays this past weekend, but they certainly did not foresee a tumultuous first day of competition like they experienced last Thursday in Austin.
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The Victor Lopez Classic, held the weekend of March 24, was marked by both success and growth for the women's track and field team. The meet, which welcomed 3,500 spectators on Saturday night, according to Head Coach Jim Bevan, consisted of 75 high school and collegiate teams comprised of 1,800 athletes. The meet has grown in popularity in recent years, with the last two being the largest ever, according to Bevan. The team came in fifth overall with a total of 43 points, with Notre Dame winning the competition thanks to a score of 53.
While the start of Willy Week should have been a promising time for Owls fans, what with the spring football game taking place tonight and the baseball team starting its first Conference USA home series tonight, the men's basketball program was rocked Monday afternoon with reports that freshman point guard Dylan Ennis and freshman small forward Jarelle Reischel decided to transfer to other schools after the completion of the spring semester. Head Coach Ben Braun commented on their decisions to transfer.
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With a multitude of records to her name, fifth-year senior Becky Wade has already cemented herself as one of the greatest distance runners in Rice history. But in her five years at Rice, Wade had yet to qualify for the NCAA Indoor National meet to this point, despite making the trip for the NCAA Outdoor National meet two times and the NCAA Cross Country meet once.
Despite winning fourth and fifth place in the last two Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, there were some reasons for optimism amongst the men's track team to improve at this year's edition of the meet in Birmingham, Ala. The squad garnered a fifth place finish two weeks ago at the Texas A&M Invitational against several top teams from the Big XII and Southeastern Conferences, which was filled with great performances from veterans like redshirt junior Clayton Chaney and senior Dan Sloat, as well as newcomers like freshman pole vaulter Chris Pillow. Despite Rice‘s 1-2-3 finish in the heptathlon, something that the Owls had yet to accomplish in C-USA, was not enough to overcome the deficiencies in other areas of this team.
While baseball national championships are won in the June heat of Omaha, they can certainly be lost in the mild weather of February and March. While past years' baseball teams have never gotten off to devastating starts in the early season, the last few years have seen the Rice sluggers compile rather average records through the first few weekends of the season. However, the 2012 team has shown little inclination to following the examples of those squads of yesteryear, taking a 5-0 record into today's three-game series against Dallas Baptist University (3-1).
With the collegiate athletics conference landscape possessing about as much stability as the San Andreas Fault in the past year, it was only natural that Rice would eventually feel the tremors that were set off by the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska departing the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences, respectively. More recently and closer to home, Texas A&M University left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference and the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Memphis said goodbye to Conference USA in favor of the Big East conference. As a result, on Feb. 12, C-USA and the Mountain West Conference (which has lost Brigham Young University to the ranks of Division I independents, the University of Utah to the Pac-12 conference, Boise State University to the Big East, Texas Christian University to the Big 12, and San Diego State University to the Big East for football and Big West Conference for all other sports) will align in all sports starting in the 2013-2014 school year. The new affiliation has no name as of yet.
Throughout Conference USA play, the men's basketball team has garnered attention for its inconsistent, up-and-down style of play, as Rice (16-12, 7-6 C-USA) has not had a winning streak of more than two games or a losing streak of more than three since conference play started in early January. This past week showed that that brand of play was still alive, for better or worse.
While Conference USA has consistently ranked in the top five conferences in terms of overall strength and competitiveness, the sixth-ranked Owls have supplemented their eight conference series with a host of highly non-conference opponents starting this weekend with their three-game matchup against 28th-ranked Florida International University. The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament the past two years and feature preseason All-American senior outfielder Pablo Bermudez, who is the Sun Belt Conference's preseason player of the year. First baseman Mike Martinez and designated hitter Rudy Flores all provide power in the lineup. Southpaws R.J. Fondon and Mason McVay will provide a formidable two-thirds of the Panthers' weekend rotation. After the Panthers come to town, New Mexico State University will pay a midweek visit to Reckling Park, led by catcher Zac Fisher. The Aggies led the nation in batting average (.377) last year, were second in runs scored per game with 8.5 and ranked third in walks with 333. While not highly-ranked, they will test the depth of the Owls' pitching staff as Head Coach Wayne Graham looks to preserve pitchers for the weekend series against Dallas Baptist University. The Owls have struggled in the past against the Patriots, going 0-2 against them in the last two seasons. The Patriots are also patient at the plate, with 310 walks, and return a solid Friday night starting pitcher in Jake Johansen as well as five of their eight starting position players from 2011, including their two leading home-run hitters.
The Texas A&M Invitational was anything but a tuneup for the Conference USA Indoor Championship for the women's track team as the ladies finished second among C-USA teams at the meet and asserted their dominance in a few events as well. Seniors Becky Wade and Allison Pye ranked first and second in the 5,000-meter run and second and fourth among C-USA runners, respectively. Saturday's one-two finish in the 3,000-meter run showed their opponents exactly what they will have to deal with next weekend. Wade was two seconds off of her personal best after crossing the finish line in 9:31.13, while Pye was less than two seconds behind her at 9:33.12. Sophomore Farrah Madanay followed closely behind to capture 10th place and to give the Owls three runners in the top 10 of a highly competitive field. In the mile run, four Rice runners competed, with junior Heather Olson and senior Halsey Fowler placing in the top 10 as Olson nearly went below the five-minute mark. Junior Sarah Mason and freshman Allie Schaich were 13th and 17th, respectively. In the 800-meter run, seniors Sophie Peeters (fourth-fastest time of any C-USA runner this season) and Keltie John (10th-fastest) ran well, with Peeters running her way to a personal best in third place, while John was 12th overall and six seconds behind Peeters.
From the beginning of his baseball career at Rice University, Craig Manuel has been known as having a knack for coming through in a tough spot. The senior catcher was plucked up by Rice at a baseball camp in the summer of 2008 after Manuel had already committed to play junior college ball in Florida, a fortuitous find for a team still lacking a catcher in its signing class. With junior Diego Seastrunk (Will Rice '10) not used to catching after moving from third base, Seastrunk moved to the designated hitter spot, and Manuel began catching just a few weeks into his collegiate career and helping to orchestrate Ryan Berry's (Hanszen '10) two-hit shutout of Texas A&M University in the 2009 Minute Maid Classic. Manuel picked off 12 hitters that year and made just one error, while hitting impressively with runners in scoring position, batting .404 in those situations. Still, that last sentence describes a microcosm of his career: a great defensive asset, whose left-handed batting stance made him a great situational hitter but not a middle-of-the-order type of guy.
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Like so many track meets in the last few years, the Texas A&M Invitational saw redshirt junior Clayton Chaney pull off another great performance, taking first place in the 60-meter hurdles. Chaney, who has been a jack-of-all-trades athlete for Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88), has made forays into the heptathlon, hurdles and long jump over the years and finished seven-hundredths of a second off of his best time in the 60-meter hurdles on Saturday. Senior Lee Johnson took sixth place in the same event to give the Owls 11 points from that event alone. Sophomore Ben Pressley also ran in the event but did not make the finals, placing 11th in the preliminaries.
The seven top-10 finishes out of all athletes competing at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb. this past weekend demonstrated that the men's track team is more than ready to play against in the big boys. This victory is possibly a sign of things to come in College Station at the Texas A&M Challenge this weekend.