Men's cross country aided by youth movement
In many ways, the Conference USA Men's Cross Country Championship has become more theater than sport, following a meticulous script that puts either the University of Tulsa or the University of Texas at El Paso as the lead actor and the Owls as the supporting role. For better or worse for the men's cross country team, Rice has followed the script perfectly, as they took home their third place finish in the C-USA Cross Country Championship held Monday at Indian Springs Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa racked up just 34 points, with UTEP following closely with 42 and Rice trailing in third with 87. Redshirt junior Michael Trejo assumed his role as elder statesman of the roster, taking 10th place overall and earning a spot on the All-C-USA Second Team. Following him were redshirt junior Gabe Cuadra with a time of 24:31, freshman John Cavallo, who crossed the finish line just six seconds behind Cuadra to earn 19th place, and redshirt junior Matt Carey, who, in making his first appearance for the Owls this year, joined Cuadra and Cavallo on the All-C-USA-Third Team with his finish in 20th place. The fifth man and final scorer for the Owls was redshirt junior James Llamas. Rounding out the runners for the Owls were three true freshmen, Wyatt Doop who came in with a time of 25:33, Anthony Urbanelli and Travis Roberts, who were all just a second apart from each other. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Lauriello came in 43rd place, finishing the race in 26:28. Elkana Rotich from UTEP took the individual title, with Cavallo earning the Freshman of the Year Award.
It seems fitting that Trejo would lead the Owls, as he has taken his veteran role to heart this entire season according to Cuadra.
"Michael went out and really competed," Cuadra said. "He ran tough through the the hardest part of the race like he's done all year, and it showed in his result."
With four true freshmen comprising nearly half of the nine allotted runners, it was easy to see where the eight-kilometer course, a distance the Owls have run once this entire season, could have tripped up the team. Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) talked about his decision to take all the freshmen that have competed consistently this year.
"We knew these were going to be our best guys," Warren said. "With the added distance, it's more of a matter of how many times will it shock them. Usually it's just that first one that they need to get under their belts before they're fine. But I'm incredibly pleased that we have a great core of veterans mixed with a second group of promising young guys."
Cuadra spoke about Cavallo's effort in mastering the longer eight-kilometer distance during his first year running for Rice.
"John ran with awesome confidence on Monday," Cuadra said. "After not having a good race at Oklahoma State, he could have come out a little timid into the next [eight-kilometer race]. But coach challenged him to key off our top runners, and he definitely responded to that."
The decision to run Carey was somewhat of a gamble as well, as despite his noteworthy performances in the 2009 season, he was unable to compete in any of the Owls' four meets due to complications from an illness that made it difficult for him to run at his usually high level. Warren expressed faith in Carey, noting that his inclusion on the squad travelling to Tulsa was never up in the air.
"I knew it would go one of two ways with Matt: either he would run an incredible race or finish way out of our top five," Warren said. "Fortunately for us it was the former. Matt has been able to stay near Gabe and Michael throughout the workouts that he can do, so it's not like he's lost any of his racing potential. It's just that some of the workouts he had to bail out of because he wasn't feeling well, so we weren't entirely sure."
Cuadra also noted that Carey's fortitude throughout the season was remarkable and culminated in his solid performance on Monday.
"Given the setbacks he had, Matt had every reason to give up on this season," Cuadra said. "But instead he kept working, aiming to get back for the championship meets and made a huge contribution for us. It really says a lot about him and speaks to the kind of teammate he is."
With dreams of a conference crown put by the wayside, Rice will now turn its attention to the NCAA South Central Regional, taking place on Nov. 14 in Waco, Tex. While the conference championships can certainly help a team improve its standings in the at-large rankings for National Meet considerations, the regional meet provides the top two schools guaranteed tickets to Terre Haute, Ind. on November 23. Warren spoke about how he expects the region to shake out.
"[University of] Arkansas, [University of] Texas and Lamar [University] will probably be the top three teams," Warren said. "McNeese State [University] will probably round out the top four. Texas A&M [University] and Baylor [University] will be up there, but A&M is reliant on a guy that didn't do well at conference to improve his performance next week.
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