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Women's track powered by Pye's and Ince's feats

By Natalie Clericuzio     2/17/11 6:00pm

Mark your calendars and let the countdown begin. Only seven days remain before - no, not spring break - the Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. While spring break may seem particularly early this year, the women's track and field season feels that much shorter as well. From the first day of practice to the start of the conference meet, the track and field team will have just seven weeks of training under their belts since returning from winter break. In fact, the C-USA Championship will be only the fourth full-squad meet for the Owls of the season. However, now that the weather has climbed out of the mid-30s into the mid-70s, the team will have had two full weeks of uninterrupted training - knock on wood - in the lead-up to the meet.

For that reason, no one was happier to see 70-degree weather this week than women's track and field Head Coach Jim Bevan. The past few weeks of unseasonably cold weather put a wrench into the team's training plans and have worked against Rice in its preparation so far this season.

"We've been behind in some areas due to the weather," Bevan said. "We're a little bit behind in the technical events but now we have good weather and we have a good solid two weeks to get healthy, get wired right for each and every event."

Despite the weather, however, Rice made a strong showing at the Texas A&M Challenge last weekend, posting 18 season or lifetime bests. Senior Allison Pye led the Owls with a season-best time in the 3,000 meter run at 9:43. According to Bevan, Pye led for the majority of the race and was just outrun at the very end. Regardless, Pye's time is the second-best she has ever run in the 3K and her best in the past two seasons.

Pye said it was a bit of a relief to run so much faster after years of hard work and injury.

"I was actually pretty happy with how I raced," Pye said. "I've had a few rough patches over the last two years and that was the closest I've run to a [personal record] in the past two years so it was definitely my best race in a long time."

"It made me more excited about the rest of the season and the upcoming outdoor season because it's nice to feel like I'm headed in the right direction again."

The rest of the Owls also impressed in the 3K, as junior Marie Thompson, sophomore Johanna Ohm, redshirt freshman Farah Madany and redshirt freshman Lindsay Miller all ran season-best times of their own.

Bevan was especially impressed with the efforts by the freshmen.

"Farah and Lindsay [had] great times for freshmen in their first time running 3k. They're not far off where Lennie Waite (Brown '09) and [senior] Nicole Mericle were when they were that age."

The vaulters also improved, with sophomore Casie Wilson posting a lifetime best and junior Cleona Oliver posting a season best height of 11 feet 2.5 inches and 12' 2.5", respectively. Senior Ari Ince also had strong attempts, but she did not improve over her school-record height from two weekends ago, with her best vault coming at 12' 8.5".

Bevan still saw a good deal of promise in Ince's performance.

"Ari again is playing with big heights," Bevan said. "She didn't get the big height but . it's just a question of where the bar is and where her body is."

In the middle distance, sophomore Sarah Mason and freshman Kylie Cullinan both finished second in their heats of 800. The sprinters also posted strong times, but against the likes of the several sprint schools, their performances may not stand out, Bevan said.

"[Senior] Alex Gibbs, [junior] Maya Kirk and [sophomore] Candace Springer all ran their best 200s, but it may not show because A&M is one of the best sprint schools in the country," Bevan said.

On the whole, Bevan thought the meet was just the challenge the team needed to prepare for conference.

"It was a loaded meet with some of the best teams in the country and it was a good venue for competition," Bevan said. "It was a great meet to be a part of. We learned a lot and now we've got to get ready for the conference meet. It opened your eyes to another level of competition and hopefully that's what we needed before the conference meet."

The conference meet will be especially competitive this season, a departure from a few years ago.

Bevan noted that the C-USA has grown more competitive over the past few seasons.

"Our conference continues to get better," Bevan said. "It's shaping up as an interesting conference meet.

"There's going to be six schools that, depending on how the day goes, they have a chance to win."

Those six include Rice, University of Tulsa, University of Texas-El Paso, University of Central Florida, University of Southern Mississippi and East Carolina University. As the defending C-USA Outdoor champions, UCF brings several threats, but the Golden Knights are especially dangerous in the sprints. According to Bevan, they boast two of the best sprinters in the country.

Tulsa is especially strong in the 400 and distance races, while UTEP has a team that is well-rounded from all angles. SMU can threaten thanks to their throwers, strong distance runners and high jumpers.

Regardless of where schools are this week, however, Bevan said it's hard to predict what will happen at the championship since seven days is a long time during indoor track season.

"I always try to look at the meet the week before," Bevan said. "Indoors is so short that people can improve so fast that conference rankings don't mean a whole lot. In a week, there's a lot of changing that can happen.

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