Owls impress at NCAA T&F, XC championships
In a week that saw the NCAA championships in both cross country and track and field, three Owls earned All-American honors across the two events. At the track and field championships, which were held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, juniors throwers Erna Gunnarsdóttir and Nick Hicks each took second team All-American honors, with top-15 performances in the shot put and hammer throw respectively. Sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes, meanwhile, placed No. 6 in the 5.000 meter, earning her first team All-American honors. Forbes followed up her performance with a No. 19 place finish in the 6,000 meter at the cross country championships, which earned her All-American honors as well.
By earning first team All-American honors in the 5,000 meter, Forbes became the first Owl to accomplish that feat since 2016. In that race, Forbes, a sophomore, placed behind only four seniors and one junior. According to women’s track and field head coach Jim Bevan, Forbes showed her toughness by holding her own against more experienced competition.
“[Forbes] ran a gutty, gutty race for it being her first time at nationals,” Bevan said. “She was never out of reach of the lead for basically the whole race. She was one of the youngest in the field. She had the lead with 1,200 [meters] to go. To do that in her first national meet shows what she is made of. I’m just so very, very proud of her.”
Meanwhile, on the field side of the meet, Hicks and Gunnarsdóttir both put up impressive performances in their own right. Gunnarsdóttir took No. 11 place in the shot-put with a throw of 16.44 meters, a throw that fell .51 meters short of the personal best she had established at last month’s Conference USA championships. According to Gunnarsdóttir, while she is disappointed she couldn’t match her personal best, she is motivated to improve going forward.
“It was a great experience getting to compete at nationals,” Gunnarsdóttir said. “Being surrounded by the best athletes in the NCAA is something really special. I know I could have done a lot better, but it gives me the drive to work harder and do better this coming outdoor season.”
Hicks ended in No. 14 place in the hammer throw with a throw of 20.62 meters. Hicks managed to accomplish this in his first appearance at the NCAA championships. According to Hicks, the lack of spectators due to the pandemic took away some of the pressure of competing at nationals.
“Because spectators weren’t allowed, the experience felt more like it was just another track meet, except we’re the best in the nation,” Hicks said. “So even though it’s the NCAA championships, it felt like a bunch of really good throwers got together to throw with no pressure or nerves and nothing to lose.”
Hicks said that, despite these changes to the event, just getting to compete was rewarding in its own right.
“We had worked hard all year, and we thought our only meet [of the] indoor season would be the conference championships, so I was happy when I won that meet and set the school record,” Hicks said. “[That put me] on the edge of qualifying for nationals, and when I qualified the next week, it was way more than I could’ve asked for this season. We worked hard and didn’t know what to expect, and I’m grateful that this was the result.”
Just three days after the conclusion of the track and field championships, Forbes traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma to compete at the cross-country championships. According to Forbes, the quick turnaround between meets made for a challenging few days.
“This weekend was really tough,” Forbes said. “I had a rather odd 5k Friday night. [Monday] was definitely a really tough race. It was by far the hardest course I’ve ever run, but I’m happy that I held on and was able to secure an all-American spot. I am happy with my performances but relieved that the very stressful weekend is over.”
These performances cap an impressive run for Forbes. Just three weeks ago, she earned United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national indoor track athlete of the week honors for her meet record-breaking performance in the mile at the Conference USA Championships.
The Owls now turn their attention to outdoor track and field season. The outdoor season got off to a good start last week, with a second-place finish at the Longhorn Invitational meet at the University of Texas, Austin.
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On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice’s men’s team place third with 121 points — their best conference championship performance since 2005 — and the women’s team place fifth with 88 points. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.