Cross country gets run down at finish line
Things aren't always as they seem. This is a fitting description for the men's cross country team's second-place effort at the University of Houston last Friday. Rice came into the Johnny Morriss Invitational expecting to defend their title but found the Cardinals of Lamar University to be just a bit quicker, as the Owls tallied 38 points to Lamar's 35. Redshirt sophomore Gabe Cuadra led the Owls, completing the 4.75 kilometer course in just over 15 minutes to claim fourth place. Freshman Alex Weinheimer followed Cuadra by 12 seconds and crossed the finish line three seconds ahead of redshirt sophomore James Llamas. Junior Michael Trejo helped the Rice effort by coming in 10th place and redshirt freshman Anthony Lauriello rounded out the scoring effort for the Owls in 15th place.
The Cardinals finished with three runners in the top five, while the Owls provided a more balanced attack, with fewer than 40 seconds between their first and fifth runners. The University of Houston took third place, while Lon Morris College and Sam Houston State University rounded out the field in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Despite Rice's silver medal, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) was very pleased with the team's result.
"We got out there and ran very hard," Warren said. "We've had some guys sick this week and the past week, so that affected our performance. But overall, I'm happy with our race."
Cuadra echoed Warren's sentiments in realizing that the race's outcome was not particularly meaningful to the team in terms of finishing second.
"The UH meet is, in a way, like a scrimmage would be in other sports," Cuadra said. "Most importantly, it gave us a chance to run in a race setting and give Jon a sense of where different people are. It's hard to know if Lamar was at full strength, but as a team, this meet should show us that we can compete with a top five team in the region."
Additionally, the Owls ran their true freshmen Wyatt Doop, John Cavallo, Travis Roberts and Tony Urbanelli as unattached runners, with Roberts taking ninth place overall. Cavallo came in 12th place, Doop in 19th and Urbanelli in 23rd.
Warren was unsure as to which newcomers would be able to directly contribute, yet still wanted them to gain some collegiate experience.
"Travis would have scored for us, but I didn't really have a gauge as to which of our new guys would contribute," Warren said. "We'll have a better idea of that heading into the meet next weekend."
Tallam Kipruto of Lamar took first place overall and provided the Owls with a good measuring stick of how well the Cardinals have improved, as Kipruto finished 13th in the 2009 South Central Regional meet. Runners that did not have their usual standout races include Trejo and sophomore Matt Carey, who had been feeling ill in the week leading up to the race.
"Michael didn't have his best race, but it's the beginning of the year so we'll look for him to run better next Friday," Warren said. "Matt's been kind of feeling out of sorts lately, so if he runs like he normally does, we definitely win that meet. It is good to get some of the younger guys some experience with scoring and getting them in our top five."
As Warren alluded to earlier, the Owls will have another try at defending a title at the Justin F. Cooper Rice Invitational on Sept. 17. The Owls won last year by besting Prairie View A&M University by 35 points and will look to get contributions from Trejo, the redshirt sophomore trio of Cuadra, Llamas and Carey, as well as any number of the redshirt and true freshmen that have it in them to solidify Rice's lineup.
Warren expects this week's meet to be a better example of how Rice will perform this season.
"We'll run everyone again and hope to get some semblance of who our guys will be for the meet at Oklahoma State on Sept. 25," Warren said. "Our training this semester is just starting to take effect, so we'll be able to see some more indicative results next week."
Cuadra realized that the team will need to continue to work on their team chemistry before the next meet arrives.
"In terms of the team gelling as the Rice meet approaches, our biggest challenge is keeping a positive team dynamic as competition for the limited number of traveling spots intensifies," Cuadra said. "We have to make sure that that competition makes us better as a team, not the other way around. Based on the guys we have, I think that it is a situation we can thrive in.
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