Ince, Robinson dazzle in C-USA Outdoor Championship
This spring has not been an easy one for the women's track and field team. Plagued by injury after injury, much more of the team has spent time in recovery mode, instead of training mode, than Head Coach Jim Bevan would have liked. Despite all this adversity, the always-competitive Owls have once again found a way to return to peak form just in time for the conference meet.
The first stop on the team's late season tune-up tour was the J. Fred Duckett Twilight Meet on April 24, held at the Rice Track/Holloway Field. The Owls picked up five first-place finishes in the discus (sophomore Sharae Robinson), hammer throw (senior Tina Robinson), collegiate pole vault (senior Ari Ince), javelin (Ince) and high jump (senior Morgan Mayse). Mayse's name may be familiar for those followers of the women's basketball team, as Mayse was a three-year starter as a forward. After completing her basketball career, Mayse decided to return to her high school roots as a high jumper after a four-year respite, and she came through in the clutch for the Owls.
Bevan said Mayse's winning mark of 5 feet 7.75 inches will be competitive in qualifying for nationals and also looks to be getting better with every practice.
"She's a real bright spot for us," Bevan said.
After the conclusion of exams a week and a half later, the team competed again at the Rice Field and Track meet held on Rice's campus on May 4. The event allowed the team to squeeze in one more competition before the conference meet, which began yesterday and ran through Sunday.
Freshman Simone Martin was impressive in her first time to compete in the long jump, posting a mark of 18' 5.75" and finishing sixth, right behind her teammate, junior Kiri Kendall, who finished at 18' 6".
In throwing events, Ince competed in the javelin and posted a lifetime best, winning the event and throwing 157' 10". Ince's mark was far ahead of the next competitor, whose throw was only 114' 2". Tina Robinson set another record, this time matching the Rice record in the hammer throw at 173' 11" and winning the event. Tina's sister, Sharae, won the discus with a throw of 158', while junior Brittany Brown tossed 141' 2" to finish second. With wins in the javelin, hammer and discus, Rice took three of four field events at the meet.
According to Bevan, the highlight of the meet for Rice, however, was the 4X400 relay.
"The one thing we needed to get done [at the Rice Field and Track meet] was to run a faster time in the four-by-four to get us into the fast heat at conference," Bevan said. "They put it together and [senior] Sarah Lyons had a 53.8 second split at the end."
Before the May 4 meet, the 4X400 team of sophomore Lillian Nwora, junior Maya Kirk, Lyons and senior Sarah Agara had only run 3:48 but on that day they turned in a stellar performance of 3:44.01, far and away their best time of the season.
"[The four-by-four] was outstanding — it gave us what we needed and gave us some momentum going into conference," Bevan said.
After the two tune-up meets, Bevan felt confident about the state of the team heading into the Conference USA Championship meet held at Rice Track/Holloway Field.
"There's a lot of people who are now arriving at their very best," Bevan said. "There's a lot of good things that are happening. Our team is still not 100 percent, we're still missing a few key people but there's a lot of people that are mastering their event and doing much better."
This year is especially poignant for Rice as the conference meet is being held on campus in a year when every event is contested. The team has high expectations as the last time the meet was held at Rice four years ago, the Owls came out on top.
"It's nice to host conference when the conference is the deepest it's ever been in all events," Bevan said. "We have people represented in almost all events and a chance to score in almost all the events. It will be very difficult in terms of competition at a high level but with the bodies we have healthy, we're coming in as sharp and as technically sound as we've been all year but it will be a very, very competitive event."
For Ince, she said she was happy to be competing at home the same weekend she will receive her bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering.
"It's really great because I'll have a lot of family in town and it's a great way to wrap up and sort of give a thumbs up to my career at Rice, both having my athletic and academic accomplishments recognized and acknowledged at the same time," Ince said.
Ince and Robinson continued their dominating performances at the C-USA Championship this past weekend, with Ince winning the pole vault with a mark of 4 meters and placing second in the javelin with a top throw of 47.94 meters. Robinson finished sixth in the hammer throw by throwing for 53.13 meters, a new school record. Younger sister Sharae's mark of 49.58 meters was good for 11th place and Tina was ninth in the shot put. The discus saw a reversal of roles, as Sharae's throw of 47.99 meters earned her second place, while Tina was eleventh after throwing 41.10 meters.
The rest of the field events ended well for Rice, with junior Cleona Oliver placing third and sophomore Casie Wilson tying for fifth in the pole vault, Agara triple jumping 12.46 meters on her last attempt to finish third, and Mayse finishing in a tie for sixth place in the high jump. The short distance events saw no Owls finish among the top eight sprinters, but senior Nicole Mericle broke the drought in the running events by turning in a time of 4:28.68 in the 1,500 meter run to place sixth. Freshman Kylie Cullinan was nine seconds behind to finish 10th. Sophomore Farah Madanay ran the 10,000 meter run in 38:34.23, leaving her just outside the top eight. Overall, the steeplechase was Rice's best running event, with two runners in the tops six. Sophomore Heather Olson was third with a time of 10:37.86 and redshirt freshman Lindsay Miller was sixth, finishing 11 seconds behind Olson. Both times were season-bests for each runner.
The relays gave Rice seven points, with the 4x100 meter relay squad taking fifth place, as senior Kimberly Stanford, Lyons, junior Candace Springer and Martin combining to clock a time of 46.23 seconds, their best time of the year. The 4x400 meter team was sixth with sophomore Lillian Nwora, Agara, junior Maya Kirk and Lyons finishing the mile in 3:44.42.
Unfortunately, Rice couldn't come up with enough points in the running events due to several nagging injuries, leaving the Owls with a total of 64.50 points to finish seventh. Still, Ince will be headed for the NCAA West Regional on May 27-28 as her mark ranks among the top 20 in the nation in the event.
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