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Owls’ throwers shine at Victor Lopez Classic

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Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Diego Palos Rodriguez     3/30/23 6:23pm

More than 2,000 fans packed into the stands at Holloway Field this past weekend to watch some of the best high school and collegiate track and field athletes in the area compete an the 40th Victor Lopez Classic. Amid the weekend’s festivities, several Owls were able to win their events and set personal records, setting themselves near the top of conference and national rankings. 

The collegiate events began on Thursday morning with the throws. Junior Tara Simpson-Sullivan and freshman Mckyla Van der Westhuizen won the women’s hammer throw and women’s javelin, respectively. Van der Westhuizen’s winning throw was the second longest in the NCAA this year, earning her Conference USA Field Athlete of the Week honors. Simpson-Sullivan explained the importance of performing well in this meet, despite being early in the outdoor season. 

“For competitions early on in the season, we’re hoping for big marks to help us qualify for certain meets later on in the season, so I definitely had to put pressure on myself to perform,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “Sometimes if you don’t channel that nervousness into a positive, it can negatively affect your performance, which I feel as though it did [for me]. But it was just the first competition of the season with plenty of opportunities left to go.”



Junior Shaun Kerry won the men’s hammer throw, leading the Rice throw pack that placed first, second and fourth. The throwing success continued into men’s discus with junior Sam Welsh leading another 1-2 finish with junior Samuel Woodley. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, the hammer throw and discus stood out in an already competitive field for the men.

“It’s hard to say what the best individual effort [this weekend] was, but I think the best two team events were the discus and the hammer,” Warren said. “In addition to Sam Welsh’s winning throw, Sam Woodley took second and Nick Hicks took fifth. And the trio is currently ranked 1-2-4 respectively in C-USA, [Welsh is also ranked second in the NCAA]. As good as the discus was, I think the hammer was a touch better. Shaun Kerry took the win with a personal best throw that currently is ranked No. 1 in C-USA.”

Moving into the running events, juniors Alyssa Balandran and Taigen Hunter-Galvan both placed in the top-five in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, with Balandran earning the third best time in the NCAA this season. Junior Caitlin Wosika won the 5,000 meters closely followed by senior Lina Spjut. 

On the men’s side, junior Ese Amate placed second in the high jump with the sixth highest jump in the NCAA this year, clearing seven feet. Junior Elliot Metcalf won the 1,500m by one second. According to Metcalf, he and the team had a strategy going into the race that was able to give them an advantage.

“The plan for this race was to sit behind the pacer – [freshman] Gus [Gannon] – for the first 1,000 meters, and then finish as fast as possible,” Metcalf said. “Gus did a great job pacing and we went through one kilometer in around 2:30, and I was able to finish strongly for the win and a two second [personal record].”

The meet gave the Owls an opportunity to compete and perform well in front of the home crowd, and according to Warren, it showcased where the Owls are in this early point of the season.

“The team is in a good spot for being so early in the outdoor season,” Warren said. “We are hoping to get a few guys back from injury and I am confident most everyone will improve as the season progresses. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the improvement as we get deeper into the season.”

The Owls will be in Austin from March 29 through April 1 to compete in the Texas Relays and will return to Houston on April 7 to compete in the Cameron Burrell Alumni Invite hosted by the University of Houston. Simpson-Sullivan said that she’ll be prepared to put her best foot forward in Austin this weekend.

“Looking forward to the Texas Relays, I’m putting my first meet behind me knowing that it wasn’t a true reflection of my abilities, and focusing in on training and getting myself mentally prepared,” Simpson-Sullivan said. “The Texas Relays are always a competitive meet, especially this year with nationals being there, so I’m looking forward to it.”



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