Men capture 10th place for second straight year
Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) has always proven to be somewhat clairvoyant about the men's cross country team's chances at their biggest meets of the year. Before the NCAA South Regional last Saturday in Waco, Texas, Warren said he could see the team finishing anywhere from fifth to 10th. As it were, the Owls finished at the bottom end of that spectrum, taking home a 10th-place finish from the regional for the second straight year. The usual cast of characters had strong performances, with redshirt junior Michael Trejo leading the pack with his time of 31:36 minutes and 41st-place finish overall. Following him were redshirt sophomores Gabe Cuadra and Matt Carey, who finished nine seconds and 23 seconds behind Trejo, respectively. Freshman John Cavallo continued his stellar inaugural campaign by finishing in fourth for the Owls with a 61st-place finish overall. Redshirt sophomore James Llamas finished the scoring effort with his 75th-place finish. Freshmen Wyatt Doop and Anthony Urbanelli completed the lineup for Rice, all finishing within the top 100 runners. Despite the Owls' season coming to a conclusion in Waco once again, Warren was pleased with the effort.
"We had guys go out and run great races, especially for the distance of [10 kilometers]," Warren said. "Everyone showed up and no one let the rest of the team down. We had pretty good conditions and knew coming in that we'd be fighting for those spots with Baylor [University], [Texas] A&M [University] and Stephen F. Austin [University]."
The University of Arkansas took first place overall with 34 points, while the University of Texas and Lamar University took the silver and bronze medals, respectively. Despite Festus Kigen of Texas Christian University taking first place individually, the Horned Frogs finished in 11th place, 30 points behind Rice. Arkansas rose to the top spot behind the efforts of its top three runners, who finished in second through fourth places. With Rice defeating Lamar in one of their two previous meetings this season, Warren knows that the team is not far away from challenging for one of the top spots in the region.
"Everyone has at least another year of eligibility," Warren said. "We'll be back next year with all of the guys that made contributions this year. We haven't had a group of freshmen that have contributed as much as these guys have in a while, so I'm excited for them. Generally, runners will make the biggest jump between freshman and sophomore year, so we expect big things."
The Owls were only permitted to run seven runners at the regional meet instead of the nine they entered in the Conference USA Championship just two weeks ago. When asked about the decision to leave redshirt freshman Anthony Lauriello and freshman Travis Roberts behind, Warren gave a simple explanation.
"Anthony [Lauriello] and Travis were our bottom two guys at conference," Warren said. "I knew that we'd have Michael and our three redshirt sophomores be in our top five barring any injuries or things like that. With John being the top freshman in the meet two weeks ago, it only made sense that he would at least be in our top six, and I felt Anthony [Urbanelli] and Wyatt could provide good support in case one of our guys slipped up."
Many fans may look at the season as simply a copy of last season: both littered with top finishes at smaller meets, a good showing at the Cowboy Jamboree and third and 10th place finishes at the conference and regional meets, respectively. However, the makeup of the two squads tells a much different story. At this point last year, Rice was preparing to say goodbye to Simon Bucknell (Martel '10) and Scott Zivick (Brown '10), who had exhausted their eligibility.
This year's version could return the entire squad next year, should Trejo elect to use his final year. 2009 saw only one true freshman, Sammy Abuhamra, contribute, and that was merely in a supporting role at the conference meet. Four true freshmen were among the top nine runners for Rice this season, equaling the number of sophomores and juniors combined. Those freshmen provided consistent scoring for Rice, including the aforementioned Cavallo, who was the first freshman to cross the finish line at the C-USA Championship. It's safe to say that Warren may not be quite as foresighted next year, as it appears that the 2011 men's cross country team is poised to exceed conventional expectations.
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