Cross country squads win two titles in home meet
Rumor has it that the men's cross country team was chanting the popular Under Armour slogan "We must protect this house!" before the start of Saturday's Rice Invitational. While no one will fess up to it, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Their finish would have made the folks at Under Armour proud.
The Owls successfully built off of their performance three weeks ago at the Johnny Morriss Invitational, finishing an impressive first at the Rice Invitational. With the University of Houston only running three runners in the race, and thus not counting towards the team scoring, Rice achieved a perfect score of 15 with five of the first six runners across the finish line.
Senior Simon Bucknell took first place, with redshirt sophomore Michael Trejo finishing four-tenths of a second behind in the 5400-meter race. Redshirt freshman Matt Carey was 21 seconds behind them in third place, with fellow redshirt freshmen Gabe Cuadra and James Llamas taking fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) was pleased with the team's accomplishment but quickly brought a realistic viewpoint to the circumstances of the meet.
"These meets don't count," Warren said. "The meets with national meet-qualifying points start this week. These are more like scrimmages, so you look at things differently. Houston might have held people out that were healthy, since they are racing this weekend. We didn't have much of a college race this weekend, but in team scoring we got one through seven. We got a nice workout in and I got to see and learn some things about people. It was a positive weekend."
With Bucknell making his first appearance of the season - the senior sat out the Johnny Morriss Invitational because of a history of minor injuries sustained at the beginning of past seasons - Warren praised his ability to jump into the mix and produce results.
"Simon's performance was better than he's ever done," Warren said. "He's been here all summer so he's a little bit more used to the heat, and the race was short, but I thought he and Michael ran well. In fact, I thought we had five guys run very well."
Cuadra also felt Bucknell's return was an excellent boost for the team, adding that Carey's pace-setting should be applauded.
"We had two really big pluses on Saturday," Cuadra said. "One was that Simon came back and had a great race, and the other was that Matt looked a lot more comfortable in setting the pace for the majority of the race."
The execution of the team strategy of staying together proved fruitful yet again, a success that the Owls will need to continue in order to achieve similar results at their next meet, the Cowboy Jamboree on Oct. 3.
"I liked the bunching," Warren said. "I think they did a good job hanging together. ... I think we've potentially got a group of one or two front runners and three or four guys that can run solid."
The level of talent will be much higher, with second-ranked Oklahoma State University and 11th-ranked University of Tulsa attending the meet. Warren understands that Rice will need one or two runners to step up in order for the Owls to successfully compete.
"Our first real meet is going to be [the Cowboy Jamboree]," Warren said. "We are going to cut back our training for it next week, but we will have a really good training week this week, and then hope to run smart and fast. If we can have one or two up front, and a 40-50 finish in team scoring, I will be pleased. There are going to be some really good frontrunners and some junior colleges with Kenyan runners. We don't want a drop off from our third to fifth runners."
Cuadra echoed Warren's views on running as a group, a focus the team has maintained in their previous two races.
"We need to run smart and as a group, like we have been talking about," Cuadra said. "We really don't know where we are talent-wise right now in comparison to other teams, but we're looking forward to the meet."
It is clear that the Owls will have tough competition in both races, especially with the University of Texas-El Paso adding two new members to their team, which now features six native Kenyans. Yet Warren is undaunted and eager to see what the future has to hold for the team, both in this season and the next.
"By the time we go to conference, I expect Tulsa to be in the top eight to ten teams nationally, and UTEP to be in the top 15," Warren said. "The regional meet is key. If we can get a couple guys up near the front, and overall have a 32-minute average with the runners, I think we will place well. I'm very excited about the years to come, since four of our top five guys at last week's meet were either freshmen or sophomores.
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