Women's track powered by Pye's and Ince's feats
With only two weeks remaining in the indoor track regular season, the women's team will travel to College Station, Texas this weekend to leave behind any remaining rust from winter break and shift into high gear just in time for conference. The team could not have picked a better meet for their final tune-up, so to speak, according to Head Coach Jim Bevan.
"[A&M] is the best team meet in the country for teams this weekend," Bevan said. "We're fortunate to be invited and included with those elite teams. Every event will be high caliber; every event will have national scorers in it.
"A&M's facility is one of the best in the United States. We're looking forward to competing at a great facility against great teams."
Senior Allison Pye expects the meet to provide the perfect opportunity for the Owls to push themselves to the limit.
"It is a really good chance for the team to be exposed to good competition going into the conference meet," Pye said. "It's a chance for everyone to step up to a different level of performance. A&M has a really nice track and there's historically been good competition at meets that they've held.
"It's a good opportunity for all of us to get ready for conference and to run against some of the best people in our conference and in other conferences as well."
Historically, the Texas A&M Challenge has done just that: give Rice the place for the team to stretch themselves and post top marks against elite schools.
Last season, redshirt junior Becky Wade posted her personal-best time in the 3,000-meter run, finishing in 9:31.87. In 2009, Rice placed fifth overall out of 21 teams at the Challenge, led by then-senior Lennie Waite's (Brown '09) top finish and then-personal best in the mile (4:41.69), current junior Keltie John's then-personal best and win in the 800 at 1:50.26 and Pye's win and then-personal best 16:35.25 finish in the 5,000.
This year looks to be no different, considering the bevy of top competitors joining Rice in College Station. Second-ranked Texas A&M, Baylor University and No. 14 University of Nebraska will represent the Big 12, while No. 5 University of Tennessee, the University of Alabama and Mississippi State University are attending from the Southeastern Conference. Conference USA members Rice, University of Houston and University of Texas-El Paso will be present. Finally, coming all the way from the Pac-10, University of Southern California, No. 24 Arizona State University and No. 13 University of Arizona will join the mix.
Tough competitors are not the only reason why the A&M Challenge promises to be a prime meet for the Owls to soar. A&M's track is banked, which gives runners a little extra help going around curves.
Bevan expects the banked track to help several members of his team.
"Everyone who runs the 200, 400, 800, the relays all benefit from running on a banked track," Bevan said.
After this past weekend's performances, Rice should be primed for A&M. Last weekend, the team was spread out across the country, with the vaulters traveling to Nebraska for the Frank Sevigne Invitational in Lincoln with the men's team, Pye traveling to the Meyo Invitational at Notre Dame University and the rest of the squad staying home to compete in the UH All- Comer's Meet.
Senior Ari Ince benefited from the trip to Nebraska, as she matched Rachel Greff's (Hanszen '07) school record of 13' 4", placing third overall. Junior Cleona Oliver also excelled in the Cornhusker State, vaulting 12' 1/2", a season best for her, and finished in 11th place.
Bevan was happy with the performance of his vaulters and also looks for Ince to keep improving.
"Ari had a great vault, even though we still believe there's more there," Bevan said. "It's a great meet, and our vault coach did a great job there. Ari is starting to hopefully get on a roll and Cleona's starting to get on a roll as well. Our vaulters are always big for us at the conference and national level."
Pye had a strong start to her 5,000 in Indiana, although she did not finish as she would have liked, placing 24th overall in 17:30.57. Despite her placement, Pye was running at a national-qualifying pace through the 2,800-meter mark, according to Bevan.
"I actually felt pretty good for the first part of the race but it didn't end so well," Pye said. "I was a little disappointed, but I'm glad I got a chance to run up there, because I now can see what I have to work on for conference coming up in three weeks."
Back in Houston, Pye competed again with the rest of the squad on Saturday at Houston. In the mile run, Pye was the top Rice finisher in fourth at 5:03.83.
The distance medley relay especially impressed, placing first overall and finishing in 12:48.14. The team of freshman Kylie Cullinan, senior Sarah Agara, sophomore Sarah Mason and sophomore Farrah Madanay won the race in decisive fashion, as the next fastest team was nearly six full seconds behind the Owls.
Also earning top honors at Houston was senior Tina Robinson, as she continued her winning streak in the weight throw, tossing 58' 1/2". Other Owl competitors also excelled in the weight throw, with junior Brittany Brown placing second at 52" 8 1/2" and sophomore Sharae Robinson throwing 50' 9 1/2" and placing fourth.
Although Rice had several team members improve over the weekend, the meet at Houston was largely preparation for the big showdown at A&M this weekend, according to Bevan, especially considering the difficulties the harsh weather preceding the weekend poised for the team in practice.
"Houston was a kind of a different kind of meet in that we had four days of cold weather before," Bevan said. "It was a good situation that we had something locally. We did some training with the meet: People ran one event and did a training session."
Regardless, Pye felt the meet at Houston allowed the team to get in the right mindset for this weekend.
"If we keep doing what we're doing and working hard, I hope the results will demonstrate how hard we have been working," Pye said. "I think people are feeling more prepared having had the chance to compete this past weekend.
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