Men's XC stumbles at Penn State
As head coach Vince Lombardi of the NFL's Green Bay Packers once said, "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." The excellence that the men's cross country team will be chasing this weekend will be in the form of the runners in orange from the University of Texas-El Paso and the runners in blue from the University of Tulsa. The Owls, Miners and Golden Hurricane will clash with the other members of Conference USA at the C-USA Championships held Saturday, Nov. 1 in Memphis, Tenn. The team continued their chase for the national championship meet last Saturday at the Penn State National in University Park, Penn. Oct. 10, a week earlier, the team competed at the Houston Baptist University Invitational in Houston.
The Owls finished second out of five teams at the HBU Invitational with 50 points, with junior Simon Bucknell leading the way with a seventh-place finish overall. He was followed by redshirt freshman Michael Trejo and senior Justin Maxwell. Junior Brad Morris and senior Alex Solomon rounded out the top five runners for Rice. The University of Texas-Pan American won the meet with 21 points. Bucknell's and Maxwell's performances particularly impressed head coach Jon Warren (Jones '88), as did the fact that the team stayed in a tight pack; only 27 seconds separated the Owls' first and fifth runners.
"Simon and Justin were the two that ran around what I was looking for," Warren said. "They both ran a good solid race; Simon ran better in both races than his practices predicted."
While the HBU Invitational was somewhat of a late addition to the Owls' schedule, Warren and the team had their eyes focused on the Penn State National for quite some time. The hilly course at Penn State was certainly a different terrain than the Owls will see at the C-USA Championship, but nonetheless, the Owls still had a good day overall. Senior Aaron Robson, returning from an injury sustained before last fall's conference meet, shone in his first meet of 2008, leading the team with a 68th place finish and a time of 26:32. Robson's strong start pleased Warren as well as how that affected the rest of the team, as Rice finished 16th.
"We planned all year that it was going to be his first meet," Warren said. "I was pleased with everybody."
Bucknell, Morris, Maxwell and Trejo followed Robson as the other scorers for Rice. With 28 teams in the field, the course was crowded. Unfortunately, the cramped conditions hurt the Owls, as Brad Morris had his spikes stepped on by another runner and pulled off just half a mile into the 8K race. Coach Warren lamented this tough break for the Owls.
"[Morris] ended up losing 35 seconds in the first mile," Warren said.
Georgetown University, ranked 8th nationally, won the meet with 43 points, followed by host Penn State University and the 28th-ranked Wildcats of Villanova University. This field included some of the stiffest competition the Owls will see all season until the NCAA Regional Meet in Waco, Tex. on Nov. 15, such as the top Canadian team from the University of Guelph and the top-ranked Division III team Cortland State University. Warren was confident his team could use this meet to build towards the C-USA Championship.
"We were still a little farther back than we would have liked to have been overall," Warren said. "[But] we're moving in the right direction."
Junior Simon Bucknell echoed Warren's sentiments about the meet, understanding that the team put forth a good effort at Penn State and can use the result to work towards their ultimate goal.
"We reached our expectations," Bucknell said. "We went in with the idea of getting the most points as possible. We needed it to be a confidence-builder."
Looking at Rice's C-USA rivals, both 31st-ranked UTEP and 19th-ranked Tulsa had good races at the beginning of October, with UTEP finishing seventh at the Bill Dellinger Invitational at the University of Oregon and Tulsa finishing second at the Notre Dame Invitational. However, the Golden Hurricane stormed past the Miners at the Pre-National meet last weekend in Terre Haute, Ind., with Tulsa finishing seventh and UTEP a disappointing 13th. Warren was hopeful about Rice's prospects of squeezing between these two teams at the C-USA Championship meet.
"There's about five or six people, two or three from UTEP, three from Tulsa, that I fully expect to be in the top 10," Warren said.
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