Men's cross country races to best finish at OSU
The speech is familiar: The coach standing in front of his charges in the locker room before a tough race, imploring his players to push any mental obstacles or fears about the competition ahead out of their mind. But the coach's words of encouragement often vanish and the doubts and butterflies appear when the starting gun sounds, as some of the younger Owls found out during last Saturday's Cowboy Jamboree Inivitational hosted by Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. The eight-kilometer race was longer than any that most of the freshmen had ever raced in their cross country careers and while the challenge proved difficult, Rice still crossed the finish line with a seventh-place finish, its best ever appearance at the Cowboy Jamboree. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) realized the distance may have seemed insurmountable to some of the younger runners, but wrote it off as one of the many learning experiences in collegiate cross country. "The distance may have spooked some, and I didn't think they handled it as well as I thought they would, which isn't surprising," Warren said. "Eight extra minutes doesn't seem very long when you're sitting in a chair, but when you're tired from running across a variety of terrain it's a different story. [Freshman] Anthony Urbanelli was feeling sick, so I'd like to give him a chance to run one healthy."
The mixture of uneven, wooded landscape and flat fields helped Rice get a great sense of managing difficulties outside of fighting through swarms of other runners and the Owls certainly passed the test. Redshirt junior Michael Trejo led the way for Rice, finishing in 25:44 minutes, which earned him 23rd place, while redshirt sophomores Gabe Cuadra and James Llamas followed close behind in 27th and 40th place, respectively.
Finishing out the scorers for Rice were freshman Wyatt Doop in 53rd place with redshirt freshman Anthony Lauriello hot on his heels at 26:55, just four seconds behind Doop. Redshirt freshman Alex Weinheimer and freshman John Cavallo rounded out the top seven for Rice in 59th and 76th place, respectively. Warren commented on how three runners have cemented themselves among the top five for Rice, while the other four spots in the seven that will make up the squad for Rice at the conference meet are still in flux.
"We've got the consistent guys so far with Gabe, Michael and James since they've been in our top five every meet," Warren said. "Our top five has definitely not been the same at any meet, which is okay as long as people come through. If we can get more consistency in our four through seven spots, which I believe we will, then we'll be in excellent shape."
At this point in the season, Warren is more concerned with the times that are coming from his runners in the fourth through seventh spots as opposed to the runners who are actually turning them in.
"It's hard to tell if our times are where we want them because the whole meet was significantly slower than last year," Warren said. "We had really great conditions last year, but this year the heat index was 80 or so, so it was a little warmer than we would have liked."
Despite the slower pace of the race, Rice was still able to put its top runners in the mix with some of the racers from the better teams in the nation.
"The overall field was outstanding, with Oklahoma State being the returning national champions, and with Gabe and Matt to be where they were was excellent," Warren said. "That was as tough a field as we'll see this year, and that includes regionals."
While Lauriello, Weinheimer and fellow redshirt freshman Sammy Abuhamra appear to be representing the redshirt freshmen in the chase for the final four spots, they face stiff competition from Cavallo, Doop, Urbanelli, as well as freshman Travis Roberts. In addition, redshirt sophomore Matt Carey has been unable to race thus far due to recovery from an illness, but should make an appearance at the Houston Baptist University Invitational on Oct. 8. While the HBU Invitational is the last scheduled meet before the Conference USA Championship on Nov. 1 in Tulsa, Okla., Warren has elected to take Carey along with the redshirt and true freshmen to a smaller eight-kilometer race near Austin, Texas, to help them get more comfortable with the distance.
"We won't change much in practice," Warren said. "We'll take everyone to HBU, but we'll have everyone save Gabe, Michael and James race in a smaller meet that's an 8K in Austin. I think racing this 8K will help them get over the psychological barrier of racing that extra eight minutes."
Regardless of the team's inexperience with longer distances, Warren is excited about the possibilities associated with having such a young team for the next few years.
"I'm pretty excited about these guys since we've only got four non-freshman eligibility-wise on our team," Warren said.
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