New culture: Baseball gears up for 2024 season
As Rice Baseball prepares for its spring season, the echoes of last year’s triumphs and challenges still resonate. After finishing 21-37 overall and 9-21 against conference opponents last year, junior catcher Manny Garza believes that this year will prove different.
“I can’t wait for these coming series that we have here at home, especially. I feel like it’s going to be a really special year to be a Rice Owl, so I’m really excited,” Garza said.
According to Garza, the team has bolstered its lineup in the offseason, pushing a different mentality heading into the season.
“I feel like we have a lot of older guys coming in,” Garza said. “I feel like as a team we have a lot of depth. We have a lot of versatility on the offensive side and the defensive side, and I feel like as a whole team we’re ready, for sure.”
Their entry into the American Athletic Conference marks a significant milestone for the Owls, introducing a higher level of competition and new opportunities for growth. Their pre-season lineup is challenging, featuring teams like the University of Notre Dame, reigning College World Series champions No. 4 Louisiana State University and Stanford University — a team that has made College World Series appearances in three consecutive seasons. Tough conference battles await, too, against teams like No. 11 East Carolina University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Houston.
Cruz said the team is motivated for the season ahead.
“The beauty of what we have right now with our team is that there’s a lot of guys [who] have a lot of ‘why’s,’” Cruz said. “They have a purpose, they have a mission of why they are here. We got a lot of guys from a lot of different schools [who] have transferred in. It’s simply because of our touch that we have when it comes to being hands on, with trying to help them reach their goals, and so they bought in.”
The team’s focus on unity and shared goals extends beyond the diamond, players say. Junior pitcher Parker Smith notes that he’s seen a change in culture throughout the offseason, something that will help the Owls in the course of the season.
“Compared to teams in the past, we definitely have a better locker room culture and culture overall,” junior pitcher Parker Smith said, “Because at the end of the day, that’s what you fall back on when things get tough: the bonds that you have with your teammates. Being able to have a strong bond and knowing that your team is going to back you up is huge.”
According to Smith, despite the challenges the team will face this season, it’s this culture and reliance on teammates that will be imperative to a successful season, “especially when it’s a game [of] failure.”
“Baseball is a game of failure,” Smith said. “You’re bound to fail at one point in time. You’re going to have to rely on your teammates to back you up and pick you up.”
Regardless of the difficulties and expectations for the upcoming season, Cruz believes that the team has a strong shared mentality instrumental for a breakout season.
“The guys have decided that this is something very important to them. They want to be successful, and they want to win,” Cruz said.
The Owls will open their season against the University of Notre Dame at Reckling Park on Friday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m.
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Over the weekend, Rice Baseball secured a series win on the road against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, capturing victories on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 with scores of 2-1 and 6-1, respectively. However, their quest for a sweep fell short as they suffered a 3-0 loss on Sunday afternoon.
The Rice women’s basketball team, which spent much of this season soaring near the top of the American Athletic Conference standings, extended their losing streak to a season-high three games on Sunday afternoon. In a battle of the Owls, Rice fell to Temple University, 75-66.