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Men's cross country third at C-USA, now on to regionals

By Marie Walsh     11/8/12 6:00pm

On Oct. 29, the men's cross country team found itself on the starting line of the Conference-USA Championship in Hattiesburg, Miss. The team coached by Head Coach John Warren raced in an eight-kilometer event hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi.

 Much excitement surrounded the race, as the Owls were going up against formidable C-USA opponents such as the University of Tulsa and the University of Texas at El Paso. Having placed fourth as a team last year, Rice improved to third this year due to much improved individual performances. 

Redshirt senior Gabe Cuadra was the first finisher for the men's team, placing an impressive eighth place in a time of 24:34. After overcoming an injury that prevented him from racing in the 2011 cross country season, he was quite focused on having a great race.

Cuadra said he was not only pleased with his race, but also incredibly proud of his fellow teammates and their respective individual performances. 

"This meet was a race that we could leave feeling really proud of," Cuadra said. "The guys we had healthy stepped up and had a great run. We had the most team members qualify for All-Conference since 2008 and the lowest team score since 2006."

The next finisher was sophomore John Cavallo, who was the 15th-place finisher and came in at a respectable time of 25:16. Immediately following was redshirt senior James Llamas, who placed 16th with a time of 25:18.

Last year, Cavallo was the second-place finisher on the team with a time of 25:18. 

Cuadra said he was especially happy with Llamas, who he said he believed put forth a performance worthy of making an All-Conference team. 

"On an individual side, the highlight for me was the race that [Llamas] had," Cuadra said. "In the past, he had just barely missed making the All-Conference team ... and this year, he put together a great race to put himself very solidly on the All-Conference list. [After] the race, he came up to me and said, 'That was awesome,' and he really deserved to have that kind of awesome moment after all he's done for our team the last five years."

Coming in a short time later were two more Owls; junior Travis Roberts in 20th at 25:30 and redshirt freshman Meron Fessahaie in 21st at 25:31. Redshirt senior Matt Carey placed 29th in 25:56; junior Wyatt Doop finished 34th in 26:20; and rounding out the team, freshman Henry Giles placed 39th in 26:22.

All these performances earned the Owls a total score of 78 points, which was a notable improvement from last year's 108 points. This score put the team in third behind UTEP at 56 points and winner Tulsa at 25 points.

The first two teams who place in C-USA Championships earn trophies, and though Rice did not walk rceive one the team held its head high. 

Notably, sophomore William Firth, who placed third on the team last year with a time of 25:19, was unable to compete in this season's meet due to an ongoing battle with pneumonia. 

"We really wanted to come home with a trophy," Cuadra said. "But we have to give a lot of credit to UTEP and Tulsa. They both executed really well and didn't open the door for us."

With regionals happening this morning in Fayetteville, Ark., hosted by the University of Arkansas, there are high expectations for the team's performance going into the meet. 

The men's meet will start at 12:15 p.m., while the women will start at 11:00 a.m. After their strong finish in conference, the Owls will enter regionals with high hopes. 


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