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The Fifth Lap

By Gabe Cuadra     11/29/12 6:00pm

Do you remember August? 

As so often happens, it feels like yesterday and like forever ago. Those hot, sweaty days, filled with dreams and free from impossibilities, have transformed into another semester completed and another fall season of sports written in the history books.

So as finals start and the basketball season begins, it is worth pausing to try and put Rice athletics' fall of 2012 in perspective.

Perhaps the best place to begin is where all seasons are ultimately judged: in the standings. The picture painted there is a pretty impressive one. Every fall team sport besides football finished in the top half of the conference, including three top-three finishes in conference standings: Women's soccer finished No. 1, women's volleyball, No. 2; and men's cross country, No. 3. Moreover, the football team's 4-4 record in Conference USA play and 6-6 record overall, making it eligible for a bowl, was its best finish since 2008. That level of competitiveness across a wide range of sports is incredibly impressive.

 But stopping with the standings would fail to capture the full dynamics of the fall of 2012.

This was a season full of moments, those indelible instances and images that come to define a year. They include Chris Boswell's game-winning field goal against the University of Kansas and the celebration of the women's soccer team after it overcame the University of Houston and the weather in its final game to capture a share of the C-USA regular season title. Those will be the pictures of the fall of 2012.

This was a season full of great stories. Stories like that of women's cross country senior Marie Thompson, who came back from over a year out of competition due to injury to capture All-C-USA honors. Stories like the scoring explosion of freshmen Holly Hargreaves and Lauren Hughes, who combined to score 19 of the women's soccer team's 25 goals this season. Those will be the tales of the fall of 2012.

And this was a season full of accolades and achievements. At the top of the list has to be the accomplishments of women's volleyball's junior setter Megan Murphy and senior middle blocker Nancy Cole. Murphy, who garnered C-USA Setter of the Year honors and was five-time C-USA setter of the week, posted 14 double-doubles on the season and had over 30 assists in every C-USA contest. Cole became the 13th player in Rice history to tally 1,000 career kills on her way to a First Team C-USA selection. Those, along with many others, will be the record book's mention of the fall of 2012.

However, the semester also had its share of hurt, heartbreak and disappointment. Despite great regular seasons, first-round conference tournament exits left both the women's soccer and women's volleyball teams on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Both men's and women's cross country teams saw their bids to be Cinderella national qualifiers derailed by untimely injuries and illnesses. And three of the football team's four conference losses were decided by one score or less, making it hard not to wonder what might have been.

Moreover, no summary of the fall of 2012 would be complete without mentioning one of the biggest stories outside of competition: the high profile transfers of men's basketball players Arsalan Kazemi and Omar Oraby, the final two of six players to leave the program before the end of their eligibility since last season. The moves constituted a huge blow for a program that appeared to be on the verge of significant accomplishments.

Taken together, it was a semester of ups and downs, a semester of smiles and tears, a semester featuring both thrilling victories and sickening defeats. It was a semester unlike any other, which, in that sense, makes it like every other. It was a semester with everything that keeps us as fans coming back season after season, year after year.

Now, on the other side of the semester from those distant August days, where one is left depends largely on who one is. Fans are left anticipating a spring full of basketball, swimming (which has already started), tennis, golf, baseball and track. Coaches and returning athletes are left preparing for the campaign of the fall of 2013.

And graduating seniors are left to sit back and reflect on the journey that was their collegiate athletic career before moving on to whatever is next. For most, they will likely find that their careers look a lot like the fall of 2012. They were careers filled with indelible moments, careers made up of highs and lows, careers that featured both great accomplishments and stinging disappointments.

They were careers, like the fall seasons of 2012, of which the Rice community can - and should - be proud. 

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