The Rice University men's cross country team is back this year with seasoned fifthyear program veterans and a large contingent of lowerclassmen. The men open their season at home next Friday, Sept. 14, at the Rice Invitational, but their sights are set for the C-USA championships and NCAA South Central Regional championships on Oct. 29 and Nov. 9, respectively. The Owls lost only one man from last year's roster, Michael Trejo (Sid Richardson '12), who led the team to a fourth-place finish at the C-USA championships last year. This year the men will look to veterans fifthyear senior Gabe Cuadra and Jones Business School Masters of Business Administration candidate Matthew Carey (McMurtry '12) to lead the Owls to a successful season. Though Cuadra's cross country season last year was hampered by injuries, his third place finish in the 10,000 meter run at the C-USA outdoor track championships in the spring proved he was back in racing form. Carey had a strong showing at the end of last fall when he placed 32nd at the NCAA regional championships, leading the team to a sixth place overall finish. The apartment-mates and training partners have pounded the streets of Houston this summer, running upwards of 90 to 100 miles per week."If we stay relatively healthy, this can be a special season for us," Cuadra said. "We have a mix between an older group of guys that are really hungry and a younger group of guys that are really starting to see how good they are and how good they can be." Rounding out the trio of senior leadership is civil engineering graduate student James Llamas (Jones '12). The young team returns junior John Cavallo and talented sophomore William Firth, both of whom earned points during the CUSA and NCAA regional championships. "Both John Cavallo and Will Firth had really good summers and are in great shape for the season," Carey said. "They were huge last year and I think they'll contribute even more to our success this year." In the past, the Owls have had decent showings at the conference and regional championship meets, usually placing in the middle of the overall team rankings. This year, however, the Owls have high expectations, which includes making a bid for the NCAA national championship.With six of the top seven runners returning from last year, including juniors Wyatt Doop and Travis Roberts, Carey believes this is one of the strongest teams the program has seen in a while. "It's safe to say our goal is to earn an atlarge slot for nationals after upsetting one or more of the top four teams in the South Central Region: UT, A&M, Arkansas, or Lamar," Cavallo said. Unlike other fall season athletes, such as football and soccer players, cross country harriers have no pre-season practices and thus are accountable for their own summer training. Interval workouts and 15 mile runs at the beginning of the school year become the true tests of summer mileage and so far, every returning runner seems to have pushed themselves, Cavallo said. Though most of the freshmen are taking a redshirt season and are not listed on the official roster, their ethic at the six a.m. practices creates a competitive yet supportive team dynamic. The younger talent keeps the upperclassmen on their toes and the limited number of spots on the traveling team will be hotly contested, Cavallo said. Nonetheless, the men who are assured to run in uniform welcome the friendly internal competition. "It's a team that you look forward to working and training with every day," Cuadra said. "And hopefully that dynamic will help us maximize our potential on race day."