Freshman and throwers shine for men's track
After the men's track team walked off the Yeoman Fieldhouse track, it was clear they were going to have to look for a few silver linings among the clouds of their overall team placing. While Rice fielded an incomplete team at the Leonard Hilton Invitational at the University of Houston that did not feature any middle or long-distance runners, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) saw need for improvement after Friday's events that left Rice with 25 points and a ninth-place finish."We had some good efforts from everyone, but we've got our work cut out for us," Warren said. "We need to see if we can get those times down and the jumps up by next weekend."
Starting with the positives, much-touted freshman Justin Gross shined in the jumping events, posting a high jump of 1.89 meters, good enough for 14th place behind sophomore Tyler Wiest, who picked up where he left off last season with a 1.94 meter jump to take 10th. Gross gave the team nearly a third of their 25-point total, collecting six points with his 7.16 meter long jump as well as two points in the triple jump, in which he had a mark of 13.74 meters. Senior Ugo Nduaguba began to resume his form from last season with a long jump of 6.71 meters in the "B" group. Warren was very pleased with how well Gross adapted in the transition from prep star to college athlete.
"Justin's someone we can get excited about to have that versatility and consistency in the jumps," Warren said. "We knew he could help us out, and it's clear the learning curve for him is not going to be steep."
Staying with the field events, junior Alex Zinchenko left the meet with a personal record in the shot put of 16.16 meters that earned him third place and gave the Owls eight points. Senior Will Meyers also competed, throwing for 14.78 meters to finish ninth. Redshirt freshman Nick Williams provided some optimism for Rice in the weight throw, finishing eighth with a throw of 13.23 meters. Warren commented on the throwers' performances.
"With Will, I'm not concerned, because he's shown he's been able to throw pretty close to 17 meters when he's on," Warren said. "I think this is a positive step for Alex in realizing his massive potential."
The pole vaulting unit did not get great results, with senior Garrett Stafford, senior Philip Adam and sophomore Alec Hsu all failing to clear their most ambitious heights. However, this was not a large concern for Warren, who noted that redshirt sophomore Clayton Chaney continued to improve his mark in preparation for the heptathlon."
"Clayton's getting that part of the heptathlon solidified," Warren said. "The other guys are going to come through for us later in the season."
In short distance events, Rice was clearly outpaced by the competition. Freshman Will Beasley ran the 60-meter dash along with the 200-meter dash, clocking in at 7.34 seconds and 24.67 seconds, respectively. Houston continued to be the class of the conference in the sprinting events, garnering 21 points from the 60-meter dash alone. In the 400-meter dash, junior Collin Shurbet and senior Connor Hayes finished with times of 51.71 and 52.06 seconds, respectively. Perhaps the highlight of the short events was the 4x400 relay event, in which Shurbet, Hayes, redshirt sophomore Clayton Chaney and junior Lee Johnson took sixth place with a time of 3:26.48 minutes. Hayes also ran in the 60-meter hurdles along with junior Pete Navarra, with Hayes finishing the dash in 8.56 seconds and Navarra in 9.62 seconds. Still, the difference in points earned by Rice in the field events versus the running events was stark, with only three of the 25 points coming from running events.
"We need to make it a priority to catch up with other schools in the short distances," Warren said. "Obviously, we didn't have our [distance] medley team out there or our heptathletes, so that's going to take some points away from us. But our throwers are going to have great potential, and our jumpers and vaulters will give us good results. And we expect our distance guys to be very competitive, additionally."
With this weekend off, Rice will look ahead to the Houston Indoor Invitational on Jan. 28-29, which will also take place at Yeoman Fieldhouse. With the distance runners expected to compete, the Owls will expect to have an easier time finding the results that they crave.
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