<![CDATA[The Rice Thresher]]> Sun, 01 Aug 2021 05:09:47 -0500 Sun, 01 Aug 2021 05:09:47 -0500 SNworks CEO 2021 The Rice Thresher <![CDATA[Three Owls compete at track Olympic trials]]> Three members of the Rice women's track & field team participated in various Olympic trials during the last two weeks of June. While none of them qualified for Tokyo, sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan and graduate jumper Michelle Fokam narrowly missed the cut.

Fokam, who recently earned All-American honors in the triple jump, started off the trials for the Owls by competing in women's triple jump on June 20 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. After placing fourth in the preliminary round, Fokam placed sixth in the final with a result of 13.62 meters, missing out on a spot in Tokyo by 0.53. Fokam also competed in the long jump, but was unable to advance after three straight fouls in the preliminary round. Despite not making the team, Fokam said that she is very satisfied with her performance and happy to see her growth.

"I am very happy about my results at the trials in the triple jump," Fokam said. "It showed my consistency and my growth in the event."

After the meet, Fokam, who graduated from Rice last semester, said that she plans to try to make an Olympic team again.

Perhaps the closest any Owl got to Tokyo was Simpson-Sullivan. Competing in the women's hammer throw at the British Athletics Championships on June 26, Simpson-Sullivan placed first with a distance of 67.38. According to Simpson-Sullivan, the final was very competitive but she was able to pull ahead on her last throw.

"My first two throws in the final were kind of, for me, pretty average," Simpson-Sullivan said. "So [going] into the final I was in second place. And it wasn't [until] that very last throw that I managed to throw 67.38 and put myself in first. It actually turned out to be only 30 centimeters further than the girl that ended up in second. So it was a very close, competitive [event]."

While Simpson-Sullivan won her event, the British Olympic delegation will not include anyone in the women's hammer throw. Simpson-Sullivan said that she plans to try for the 2024 Summer Olympics instead.

"I definitely want to become an Olympian," Simpson-Sullivan said. "That's a big goal of mine. And I really hope to inspire people, especially young girls, to get into hammer [or any sport] where it's maybe not as [pretty] or as not as popular as some [other] sports."

The third Owl to compete was sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes, who was named all-American in outdoor track, indoor track and cross country this season. Forbes ran the 10K and finished No. 31 with a time of 33:28.98. Forbes said she was happy about her experience at her first Olympic trials.

"I was seeded last of 44 women (mostly professional runners) and placed thirty-first," Forbes said. "I was the youngest runner out there. I had so much fun being with the best of the best and it was amazing to watch history being made."

Forbes, who placed seventh in the 10K at last month's NCAA Championships, said that the trials were the culmination of months of training.

"I have been preparing for the trials ever since COVID hit," Forbes said. "It became a goal of mine to make the trials, and this was my source of motivation through the months of training alone in isolation."

Simpson-Sullivan also said that she had been training for the trials for a long time, but her preparation hit a roadblock in the weeks leading to the event due to England's COVID-19 protocols.

"I was in quarantine for about nine days beforehand." Simpson-Sullivan said. "I kind of struggled to do any solid training in that kind of time period. I was as prepared as I could be in that short time period. But like long term, it's kind of something that you work towards and build up over the whole season trying to peak at certain times. So in that sense, I've been preparing for the whole season. But that was kind of like two weeks beforehand. It was a bit rocky."

In addition to the physical preparation, Fokam said that competing against some of the best athletes in the world took an extra bit of mental preparation.

"The most challenging thing about the meet was the emotional and mental part," Fokam said. "Competing at an elite level and doing it so often takes a lot out of you."

While none of the current Owls were able to qualify for Tokyo at the track and field trials, Rice graduate Ariana Ince will represent the United States in the javelin throw. She will join sophomore swimmer Ahalya Lettenberger, who was named to the U.S. Paralympic swim team.

Courtesy @BritAthletics on Twitter

<![CDATA[Task force calls for 'bold change' of academic quad, potentially relocating Willy's statue]]> Content warning: This article contains references to racial slurs.

The Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice unanimously called for a competition to redesign the academic quad and for further campus-wide events and discussions to educate the Rice community about the university's founder. Though the task force did recommend an end to the statue's position as "an iconic image of the university in its publicity," they stopped short of endorsing the removal of William Marsh Rice's statue.

These recommendations came from two reports the task force released June 16 as part of its stated mission of researching Rice's past, holding dialogues, and offering recommendations on diversity and inclusion.

One of the reports, focused on the Founder's Memorial, said that most of the task force supports relocating the statue to another place on campus but declined to make such a recommendation.

"A strong majority of the Task Force also believes that the redesign of the academic quad must include the removal of the statue of William Marsh Rice from the quadrangle, preferably to another location on campus where it would be properly contextualized with the history of Rice as discovered through the research of the Task Force," the report said.

The task force avoided taking an official position, instead highlighting disagreement among its steering committee.

"An important smaller group of the task force believes, however, that a successful redesign could or should properly contextualize the statue in its location within the quadrangle itself," the report said.

Alexander X. Byrd, a co-chair of the task force, pointed to this disagreement as an example of a broader variety of opinions about the statue in the Rice community.

"It speaks to the nature of our work and the ways that our work reflects the larger community," Byrd, vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, said. "What we stress are the places where there's no difference of opinion."

Caleb McDaniel, the other co-chair of the task force, said the task force's call for a redesign competition, potentially soliciting submissions from firms across the world, could be an avenue to resolve the debate over the location of the statue.

"The unanimous recommendation at the top is a design competition," McDaniel, the department of history chair, said. "The disposition of the statue is a part of that overall design."

Shifa Rahman, the original organizer of the Willy Statue sit-ins, said that he feels hopeful from the report's recommendations.

"I hope that … means that the Rice community will engage as little as possible with the shrine of this university's white supremacist founder," Rahman, a Lovett College senior, said. "Now all eyes are on the Board of Trustees and [President David] Leebron to do what needs to be done."

According to Byrd, the importance of students to the Founder's Memorial, both in its conception as the centerpiece of the academic quad and now at its potential removal and relocation, was an impactful takeaway.

"In the early parts of the 20th century, being involved in thinking about the memorial was important on campus," Byrd said. "There are important connections between that and the ways in which students presently have a certain purchase on the importance of the memorial and what it means and what the landscape of the university should look like and what it should convey."

Rahman said he believed student involvement and activism was a critical factor in Rice's decision to reexamine the statue's place on campus.

"The fact that these sit-ins and what the Rice community has done this past year has made the memorial into such a pertinent issue that [the task force] needed to make another whole document for it is honestly really impressive and encouraging to see," Rahman said.

The task force took care to consider the statue's place on campus, Byrd said, rather than studying the statue in isolation.

"[The report] is not looking at … the Founder's Memorial all by itself, but is considering its importance, given the way it is contextualized presently, what it is and is not in conversation with, and what is present in the historic quadrangle," Byrd said.

The task force also examined the way the statue was contextualized in the past, according to Byrd, finding a key connection between the construction of the statue and the greater context in which Rice and other early university leaders lived.

"Even in this history of the memorial, there is a history of Jim Crow America, there is the beginnings of a history of the relationship between Black life in and around Houston and the university," Byrd said.

As part of its report, the task force detailed a tableaux tribute to the confederacy in the commencement ceremony of 1916, a "plantation-themed" dance in 1929 and a Southern-themed event with a "Court Jester" dressed as an enslaved Black child in 1930.

The report also described students' interactions with Jack Shelton, an African American trainer and groundsman in the athletics department, who was well known on campus, yet rarely called by his given name.

"The young men and women of the [Institute] persistently, proudly, and with a sense of what they understood to be friendship and high regard, referred to him as, 'N***** Jack,'" the report says.

Numerous Thresher articles from the time printed this pejorative in their headlines, along with further articles that referred to Shelton as "N***** Jack" or another slur in the body of the story, according to the report.

"Such ways of thinking were in the air, and very much reflected in the choices that students and faculty made, at the Rice Institute," the task force wrote.

One of these choices, according to the report, was the reverence of the Founder's Memorial.

"The memorial's common name across the university - Willy's statue - testified to the amicable warmness with which many at Rice regarded the founder and his memorial," the report said. "And there can be no doubt that the statue evolved into a center of social and cultural activity at the university."

The statue holding such a prominent role was by design, according to the report. Its sculptor, John Angel, hoped that the statue would become a "special corner" for students.

"I think the campus of a university is one of these things which has a great influence upon the minds of students," Angel wrote in a letter to Lovett in 1930. "I tried to express what Mr. Rice was and what he meant to the students - even more than what he looks like."

According to the report, one of the inscriptions on the statue deified Rice: "salve aeternum aeternumque salve," the Latin for "hail forever, and forever hail."

"I can think of nothing that would seem to hold the founder himself quite so intimately and permanently in the midst of the local life of the institution on campus as this," Lovett wrote in a 1928 letter to Rice's nephew, William M. Rice, Jr.

The task force wrote that the Rice community now faces questions, such as if the statue should continue to have "a great influence upon the minds of students," or if the statue means to students today what it did 80 years ago.

"Through petition, direct action, protest art, essays, letters, archival research, reportage, and conversations large and small, members of the Rice community have raised the question of whether the university that Rice has become is well served by continuing to hail the founder, in the here and now, in precisely the same way that it was thought good to honor him in 1930," the report wrote.

Courtesy Jeff Fitlow

<![CDATA[Owls legend Jose Cruz Jr. named head baseball coach]]> Last week, Rice announced that Jose Cruz Jr. will be its next head baseball coach, the 22nd in program history. A three-time All-American at Rice from 1992-95, Cruz will be replacing Matt Bragga, who was relieved of his duties at the end of this past season. Over the past three seasons, Bragga compiled 51 wins, 76 losses, and 1 tie over 128 games. Cruz said that returning to coach at his alma mater had been a dream of his.

"I'm ecstatic and super excited," Cruz said. "This is super emotional for me because this is a dream come true."

Cruz comes into the job with an extensive history with Rice baseball. A member of the Cruz baseball family, he holds a career statline of a .376 batting average, 203 RBI and 43 home runs at Rice. Cruz was also selected third overall in the 1995 MLB draft and spent 12 seasons in the big leagues. According to athletic director Joe Karlgaard, Cruz played an important role in building the Rice baseball dynasty that lasted from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s.

"Jose Cruz was one of the architects of the dynasty that sent seven Owl teams to Omaha and won a national title 18 years ago," Karlgaard said. "He lifted up Rice baseball as a player, celebrated the success of his brother in 2003, and sent two of his sons to play in this ballpark."

Karlgaard said that, in addition to his contributions on the field, Cruz has been a dedicated Rice alumnus who has been very involved with Rice athletics since leaving the university.

"I wager that there were not many people who would see more Rice baseball games over the past five or six years than Jose Cruz," Karlgaard said. "Since returning to Houston with his family several years ago, he has remained a highly engaged alumnus. He has volunteered his time to the RBI Board and come to support more than just the baseball program."

After being drafted by the Mariners in 1995, Cruz was traded to the Blue Jays. He made his major league debut in 1997 and spent more than a decade on a variety of major league squads. Following his time playing professionally, Cruz became an assistant hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers this past season.

According to Karlgaard, Cruz impressed those around him as the assistant hitting coach this season, including Tigers manager and World Series champion A.J. Hinch.

"A.J. Hinch described Cruz as a brilliant coach that is obsessed with baseball, who also had a clear love and fondness for Rice University," Karlgaard said. "During the interview process, I felt the same way.

Cruz will be tasked with turning around a program that has failed to finish in the top half of Conference USA since 2017. Cruz said that despite the challenge, he is excited for this opportunity as he prepares to lead the Rice baseball program for the future.

"Being up here, it is surreal in many ways, but I am looking forward to the challenge," Cruz said. "I am ready and my staff is going to be very much in tune with my vision and what I want to do here."

Cruz also ensured that his tenure leading the team will be something to watch while also applauding fans for the support that he received the past couple of weeks.

"It's going to be fun to have all of the Rice nation come together," Cruz said. "The support that I have received has been outstanding."

In 2021, for the first time in 28 years, the Owls did not qualify for the C-USA tournament. According to Karlgaard, the hope that this hire will return the Owls to their former glory.

"[Cruz] is ready for this challenge," Karlgaard said. "We are ready to support him and his work to bring Rice baseball forward with championships and trips to Omaha."

Photo Courtesy: Todd Treangen | Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Fokam, Simpson-Sullivan and Forbes excel at NCAA Championships]]> Rice Women's Track and Field saw three athletes finish in the top ten of their respective events at the NCAA Championships, held earlier this month in Eugene, Oregon. Senior long jumper Michelle Fokam, freshman thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, and freshman distance runner Grace Forbes put together the best performance from women's track and field at a national competition in 20 years. Women's head coach Jim Bevan was proud of his team's scores and placements against the best competition in Division I.

"We had a truly outstanding meet," Bevan said. "Just to score is quite an accomplishment, and to have three score and score well is a tremendous achievement."

On Thursday afternoon, Simpson-Sullivan found herself at No. 6 as she entered the throwing circle for her final attempt in the women's hammer. However, Simpson-Sullivan saved her best for last as her final throw of 68.78 meters earned her a No. 4 finish in the competition. With her placement, Simspon-Sullivan was the highest-placing freshman at the meet. According to Simpson-Sullivan, her coach's advice factored into her approach as she entered the ring for her last attempt.

"This meet was a great meet for me not only for my final placing at fourth but in terms of being back on an upward trend and the consistency in my throws," Simpson-Sullivan said. "Going into my final throw something that my Coach always says to us entered my mind: leave it all out there in the ring. So that is what I thought to myself, last throw best throw. I knew what I needed to do, it just had to be executed well."

Following Simpson-Sullivan, teammate Grace Forbes competed in the women's 10K Thursday evening. Forbes carried momentum into this race after placing first in her last two meets, the C-USA Championships and the NCAA West Prelims. However, while Forbes did not continue her streak of No. 1 finishes, she maintained a top-three position for most of the race before falling off at the end of the race and ultimately coming in No. 7 with a time of 32:38.91. According to Forbes, she was unable to fulfill her game plan due to energy constraints.

"My goal was to stay with the leader and push the last one or two miles," Forbes said. "That didn't really happen as I just didn't have enough energy in the tank to hold on with the leaders. I am proud that I was able to finish the race and secure an all-American finish despite feeling so tired. I actually lost my vision in the last 50 meters of the race because I was so exhausted."

Senior jumper Michelle Fokam, making her third appearance at the NCAA Championships, rounded out the women's team lineup on Saturday evening as she competed in the triple jump. Entering the meet, Fokam's school-record jump for the triple jump was 13.60 meters. Five of her six jumps at the competition surpassed her previous record, and in particular her personal-best third jump of 14.04 meters earned Fokam a bronze medal. According to Fokam, even though she has competed at the NCAA Championships before, she still approached it as any other meet, and in the end, was proud of her final performance as a Rice Owl.

"I have been here before so I know what to expect and I have been able to witness what it takes to be great at that level while at other championships," Fokam said. "However, I tried to look at this meet as just another track meet. I'm extremely proud of my performance. It warms my heart to know I put my best out on my final meet and left with the best outcome. I am happy to have represented Rice so well in my final competition as an Owl."

Because of their performances, Simpson-Sullivan, Forbes and Fokam all earned First Team All-American honors. The women's track and field team had not seen a trio of First Team All-Americans since 2001.

"It is the first time in a long time for us to have three different people score at the national meet," Bevan said. "It speaks volumes about what they have done. There were probably less than 20 schools in the country with three different people scoring. When you consider that the NCAA meet is a global meet with representatives from over 100 countries, it is a great accomplishment. It is truly the best in the world in the sport for under the age of 23. All three have improved tremendously in their career at Rice."

Rice Men's Track and Field also sent one of their own to Eugene. The lone Owl was former pole vaulter-turned-javelin thrower senior James McNaney, who made his first appearance at the NCAA Championships. McNaney entered the competition following a No. 2 finish at the C-USA Championships with a personal-best throw of 71.41 meters and a No. 6 finish at the NCAA West Prelims with a throw of 66.90 meters. However, McNaney did not find the same success at the NCAA Championships, as his third throw of 63.96 meters earned him No. 20. Men's head coach Jon Warren has raved about McNaney's performances all year, and now he can't wait to watch McNaney for an extra season.

"James' story from vaulter to javelin thrower is a great one," Warren said. "And, unlike originally planned, it is not quite over yet. The original plan, and the plan for a very long time, was for 2021 to be his final year. But, as often happens, plans change. And COVID has allowed for an additional year of eligibility. So, the new plan is that James will now be back for one more season. I am very much looking forward to seeing where this next chapter in James' story goes."

The meet marked the end of the Owls' outdoor track and field season. However, Fokam and Forbes will continue competing, their next stop is at the U.S. Olympic Trials. On June 18, Fokam finished fourth in the triple jump, earning herself a spot in the final round at the Trials; the top three finishers will represent the U.S. in Tokyo later this summer. Fokam will also compete in the long jump on June 24, and Forbes will run in the 10K meter race on June 26. Simpson-Sullivan will also compete for an Olympic bid, for Great Britain, in the hammer throw at the British Championships on June 26.

<![CDATA[The future of Rice baseball is in the hands of Joe Karlgaard. No pressure.]]> It might be a bit of an exaggeration to describe any Rice sports program as a powerhouse. But to the extent that a Conference USA school can be a powerhouse, the Rice baseball team was one for over two decades. Between 1995 and 2017, the Owls made the NCAA postseason every single year, including a national championship in 2003, and their seven College World Series appearances (all since 1997) are tied for the twentieth most of any program. At the very least, they were the dominant force in their conference, finishing atop the conference standings every year from 1997-2015, with the exception of 2009, when they placed second. Now, only five years removed from the end of that streak, the Owls are coming off of a season where they finished tenth out of C-USA's 12 teams, failing to qualify even for the C-USA tournament, much less the NCAA postseason.

Becoming a powerhouse takes work and skill and probably more than a little luck, but once a team achieves it, the school better do everything they can to hold on to it. Very few teams are able to be consistently relevant on a national stage like the Owls were in their 27 seasons under Hall of Fame head coach Wayne Graham. Being a powerhouse makes everything easier: the top recruits want to play for your program, a massive fanbase is built, and funding pours in from donors and alumni. Success leads to more success, creating a seemingly never-ending cycle where the best teams stay at the top.

The Owls had begun to tail off after their run of dominance in Graham's last few seasons, and Bragga was brought in to nudge the sleeping giant until it woke up. Instead, things went south quickly, and Bragga was let go after three disappointing seasons in which the Owls failed to finish better than seventh in the conference they once dominated.

Despite the down years, Rice's reputation in the college baseball world still carries some weight. There will still be recruits who grew up in an era when Rice was one of the very best college baseball teams in the country, and the memory of the Graham era is still somewhat fresh. The way things stand right now, Rice is a good baseball program that hit a rough patch and is looking to bounce back. That's a narrative that recruits and fans can buy.

In a few years, however, that will no longer be the case, which is why Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard's upcoming decision - whom to place at the helm of the Rice baseball program - will likely be the defining moment of his tenure as AD. If he makes the right call and the Owls return to some semblance of their former glory, Karlgaard will be hailed as the man who put Rice baseball back on the national stage.

But if the next few years at Reckling Park are not an improvement on the last three seasons, it may be too late. At that point, the narrative of a powerhouse program regaining its footing is no longer viable, and Rice will have missed what is likely their last opportunity to capitalize on the success they had under Graham. Recruits will be too young to remember Rice as a top-tier baseball program. They'll be looking at nearly a decade of irrelevance by the time they would have to make another hire, and good luck trying to sell people on a program that hasn't been good in that long. Outside funding will dry up and they will have to rebuild the program from scratch.

Perhaps even more importantly, unlike most former powers, the Owls don't have the luxury of playing in a major conference. If a school like the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University hits a rough patch, they can still sell recruits on the fact that they are a major school in a major conference. The same can't be said about Rice, a school with 4,000 undergraduate students, playing in the lowly C-USA. Playing in C-USA is a significant drawback that for years was outweighed only by the fact that Rice was consistently good enough to compete on a national level. Even if the new hire turns out to be average, and Rice becomes a middle-of-the-pack Conference USA program, they can forget about pulling in top recruits, especially in a state where they have to compete with four major-conference powerhouses.

As bad as the Bragga era was (and that's not entirely his fault - two of his three seasons were affected heavily by COVID-19), the Rice baseball program can still be salvaged. If a new coach gets results, and Rice begins to look like their old selves, then the few down years will quickly be forgiven. But if they get this hire wrong, they'll be staring down a decade of irrelevance, and whatever powerhouse status they once had will be nothing but a memory. Choose wisely, Joe.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Forbes, Fokam, Simpson-Sullivan and McNaney qualify for NCAA Championships]]> The Rice track and field teams sent a delegation of 13 athletes, six from the women's team and seven from the men's team, to compete in the NCAA West Preliminary Championships. The meet took place in College Station from May 26-29, with qualification to the NCAA Championships on the line. The women's team saw three of their team members earn a spot in the NCAA Championships, while the men's team had just one of their own qualify. The four qualifiers will now set their sights on competing at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, which will take place June 9-12.

According to women's head coach Jim Bevan, it was a joy to watch his qualifiers perform against top-tier competitors at the challenging meet.

"We took six competitors to the meet and it was great to watch them compete against the best in the western half of the country," Bevan said. "The meet is very intense and is very difficult to qualify for."

On the women's side of the meet, six Owls competed in six events, all needing a top 12 finish in their respective event to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Thursday, which was the first day for the women, started with a bang. Sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, who set a meet record in the women's hammer throw at the C-USA Championships, secured her spot in the NCAA Championships with a throw of 64.87 meters that earned her sixth place. According to Simpson-Sullivan, she had to overcome some uncharacteristic nerves in order to qualify.

"Having just come off a win at conference coupled with a great training week leading up to regionals, I was fairly confident," Simpson-Sullivan said. "However, I did have some nerves going into prelims as it was the biggest collegiate competition all year, and all field events only got three throws to qualify, which isn't what I'm used to. I feel that I competed well, especially when it mattered, managing to move myself into a qualifying position on my final throw."

Following Simpson-Sullivan's qualification, senior jumper Michelle Fokam was unable to place in the women's long jump as she accrued a foul on all three of her jumps. Junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir just missed out on a qualifying spot to Eugene as her 16.57-meter throw in the women's shot put awarded her 13th place, missing the cut by less than a tenth of a meter. But in the last event of the day, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes, fresh off her first-place and record-breaking time at the C-USA Championships in the 10,000 meter, continued her dominant season, easily qualifying for the NCAA Championships by once again taking home first place in the women's 10,000M with a time of 33:28.47. According to Forbes, the result was a surprise since she went into the race with her mind set only on getting a qualifying spot.

"The game plan heading into regionals was simply to qualify," Forbes said. "I was planning on picking the first place runner and following them for the majority of the race and settling down once the pack narrowed from the initial 48 runners to 12 runners. I was not really anticipating the race going as it did [as] I led almost the entire race, and I made a last push with 150 meters to go to get the win."

The women next competed on day four of the meet, which featured three Owls competing in two events. After redshirt junior thrower Julie Perez competed in the women's discus, placing 40th, Fokam and senior jumper Maryam Hassan both competed in the women's triple jump. Hassan finished in 38th place with her jump of 12.16 meters. Fokam's first two jumps were ruled as fouls. This meant Fokam was down to her final jump to qualify, but it just so happened that she saved her best for last as her final jump of 13.58 meters earned her fifth place and a ticket to her third appearance at the NCAA Championships.

"I told myself that my season as a collegiate athlete will not be over and I can and will keep it alive," Fokam said. "As I stepped up to the runway, my last thought before I started running was, 'last one best one.' Being my last attempt, I wanted to make it the best [and] I always use this saying to motivate myself to do the best and execute for my last reps."

The men's team brought six of its members to College Station to compete in five events in hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Day one of the meet opened with three of the men's team members competing in the first two events of the day. Redshirt junior thrower James McNaney solidified his spot for the NCAA Championships as his first throw of 66.90 meters earned him sixth place in the men's javelin. According to head coach Jon Warren, McNaney, who first joined the Owls as a pole vaulter, was the standout performer at the NCAA West Prelims.

"As most championships go, [this weekend was] a mix of up and down," Warren said. "The up, obviously, was James McNaney advancing to the NCAA Finals. His story of going from pole vaulter to NCAA finals qualifying javelin thrower is a great one. I am excited to see what he can do in the outstanding environment that is Hayward Field."

Aside from McNaney, no Owls approached a qualifying spot that day, with junior thrower Nick Hicks and freshman thrower Shaun Kerry placing 30th and 38th respectively, in the men's hammer throw.

Hicks got closer to a qualifying spot on day three of the meet, the second day for the men, when he placed 17th in the discus throw, with a distance of 55.32 meters. Sophomore thrower Samuel Woodley was not far behind in 22nd place. Freshman jumper Ese Amata's 39th place finish in the men's high jump rounded out the day for Rice.

In the men's 3,000 meter steeplechase, which had been postponed to day four due to inclement weather, senior Hociel Landa managed a 21st place finish while redshirt junior Andrew Abikhaled finished 12 spots behind him in 33rd, closing out another day where no Owls qualified for Eugene. Following the meet, Warren said he was happy with the experience his squad gained during the meet.

"The most exciting part, to me, is the realization that every member of our squad that went to the West Prelims will be returning," Warren said. "This was a great growing experience for the throwers, Nick, Sam, [and] Shaun, Ese in the high jump and the steeplers Hociel and Andrew. I know we can get quite a few more qualifiers next year with the hope of getting even more through to the NCAA finals."

The four qualifiers will continue their seasons as they gear up for the NCAA Championships in Eugene. McNaney will compete on June 9, Simpson-Sullivan and Forbes on June 10 and Fokam on June 12. According to Forbes, while she is happy with her performance in College Station, she is still hungry to achieve more.

"It is awesome to qualify for nationals, but I am by no means complacent," Forbes said. "The most important race of my life lies ahead, and yes, qualifying for the race is great, but performing well when it truly matters is going to be the real test for me. I hope I am able to represent Rice well and put my best self out on Hayward Field next Thursday."

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Rice announces student vaccine requirement for fall semester]]> All members of the Rice community are expected to return in person for the fall and all students who come to campus are expected to be fully vaccinated before the fall semester, President David Leebron announced in an email Friday. Students who receive a medical or religious waiver must continue to test weekly and wear a mask indoors, according to the email.

Employees are not required to be vaccinated, Leebron wrote. Staff and faculty who opt against vaccination must test weekly and wear a mask indoors.

Doug Miller, director of news and media relations, said the administration will provide more information about vaccinations on June 14.

Leebron also announced Rice's goal to vaccinate at least 90 percent of the campus community. Approximately 80 percent of Rice students, staff and faculty have indicated that they have been vaccinated through Rice's survey.

International students are subject to the vaccine requirement, which Leebron said he recognizes can be difficult.

"We know this [vaccine requirement] will pose problems for some of our international students, but we will work with them to ensure that they get the vaccine upon arrival and to avoid delays in their academic program," Leebron wrote.

During the fall semester, Rice will hold forums to discuss how pandemic-era accommodations, such as online education and a larger focus on community health, should be incorporated moving forward, according to Leebron.

"In addition to focusing on campus safety, it is important that we reflect on the ways in which our university is different than it was prior to the pandemic," Leebron wrote. "We want your thoughts on how we can apply the experiences and the lessons we've learned during this unique time."

<![CDATA[Leebron to step down in 2022, reflects on past years]]> President David Leebron announced that he will be stepping down from his role after this coming academic year on June 30, 2022 in an email to the Rice community Tuesday morning. Next year will mark Leebron's 18th year as president after taking on the position in 2004.

A presidential search committee is being formed and more information will be provided soon, according to an email sent to the Rice community by Rob Ladd, chair of the Rice board of trustees.

Leebron said he will not be involved in the search process, as it is not common for presidents to be involved directly in the search for their successor.

"I will be available should the search committee or the board desire my perspective or advice on any general matter concerning the university, but that would not include particular candidates," Leebron said.

Leebron served as dean of Columbia Law School prior to his Rice presidency. As Rice's seventh president, Leebron oversaw a student body expansion from 4,855 students in 2004 to around 7,500 in fall 2020 and introduced the Rice Investment.

Leebron said he will miss several things as president, such as walking across the campus and randomly encountering people, from prospective students with their parents to retired professors to staff working in a wide range of jobs.

"Sometimes I know people well, and sometimes I just say hello to someone and that starts a conversation if they recognize me," Leebron said. "Of course, you don't have to be the university president to engage people on the campus, but it does result in more people coming up to me to talk, and gives me an excuse to talk with almost anyone."

A few examples of these interactions occurred the day of his announcement to step down, according to Leebron.

"Two students in a [Rice Emergency Medical Services] vehicle saw me walking along the road and pulled over to talk with me. They were both juniors and said how happy they were that they would still get handed their diploma by me. And as I was walking home, I saw a student from a few years ago who was working on a paper...sitting outside Brochstein, so we talked briefly about that. These chance encounters have for me been some of the most memorable moments," Leebron said.

Leebron said some of the most rewarding experiences for him as president have included the 2012 centennial celebration, engaging with Houston leaders, construction of new buildings and Orientation Week.

"Every O-week has been a wonderful experience, especially since we started the barbecue for new students and O-week advisors at our home (except when it rains)," Leebron said. "We enjoyed some interesting 'jacks' at our home, and also being kidnapped as 'prizes' for various scavenger hunts."

Some of the major constructions during Leebron's presidency were McMurtry and Duncan Colleges, the BioScience Research Collaborative and the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center.

According to Leebron, one of the constant challenges as president is deciding when and how to respond to tragic and disturbing external events, knowing the impact they can have on members of the community. Leebron said there have been far too many in recent years, including the murder of George Floyd and the recent killing of eight civilians in Atlanta, including six Asian American women.

"My job generally requires that I not be political, but I of course have views about many things that our country and our world are struggling with," Leebron said. "One issue I have been able to be more forceful about is immigration, including in particular supporting [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and similarly situated people, because these issues so directly affect the university."

Leebron said he thinks it is essential to welcome international students to universities, and for universities to be places of interaction for people from different countries even when those countries may be having tense political relationships.

Leebron said he has enjoyed his role as the international representative of the university, visiting universities in many countries.

"I have also immensely enjoyed visits with alumni, both individually and in large gatherings, all across the country but also around the world in places like Beijing, London and Istanbul. I love speaking with our alumni, and especially hearing their questions and listening to their recollections," Leebron said.

Leebron said some of the other challenges also include incredibly important issues concerning race, diversity, tolerance, equity and inclusion.

"We have worked for many years to make our university more diverse and inclusive, but there is much more we must do," Leebron said. "These are very difficult issues, but we need to talk about them, and reflect on how our history, whether of Rice or in our country, affects our present environment and the steps we still need to take to make progress."

In his email, Leebron described the next phase of planning for Rice, including opening the Ion innovation hub, construction of new facilities and improving diversity and inclusion.

"That is a lot for one year, but all necessary as we work to position the university to continue providing the best educational opportunities and producing the most impactful research," Leebron wrote.

Ladd expressed his appreciation for Leebron's accomplishments in his email.

"This past year was indeed a reflection of David's leadership as the university navigated the pandemic with compassion, creativity and careful judgment," Ladd wrote. "We supported our employees and avoided furloughs thanks to that leadership."

Leebron said Rice, more than most or perhaps all top-tier research universities, really provides the opportunity to get to know students, faculty and staff.

"When I came to Houston 17 years ago, many people doubted I would stay five years. [Ping and I] are still here because of the special nature of Rice, and the incredible opportunities that Houston offers," Leebron said. "For 17 years this has often been almost a 24/7 job, but I could not overstate how rewarding it has been. It has been a privilege to work with the amazing people who form this extraordinary community."


<![CDATA[Bragga fired after three seasons]]> Rice fired baseball head coach Matt Bragga, the school announced on Monday. The move comes on the heels of a season in which the Owls placed tenth out of the 12 teams in Conference USA, failing to make the C-USA tournament for the first time ever. In his three seasons at the helm, the Owls have gone 51-76-1 (25-36-1). According to athletic director Joe Karlgaard, the lack of progress shown during Bragga's tenure prompted the change.

"We just felt that we needed a change in leadership to move the program forward," Karlgaard said.

Bragga joined the Owls following 15 seasons at Tennessee Technological University. Under his watch, the Golden Eagles compiled a record of 445-383-2 and made three NCAA postseason appearances. However, he was unable to find the same success with the Owls. The Owls' 26-33 record in his first season, while only a slight decline from the previous year, was their worst mark in over two decades. The next year, in a season shortened by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Owls won just two of their 16 games. This season, Rice won 23 of their 53 games, including a record of 11-20-1 against C-USA competition. While Karlgaard admitted that he would have liked to give Bragga more time to prove himself, he said that he was concerned with the direction of the program.

"In many ways you can argue that coach Bragga wasn't given enough time," Karlgaard said. "We just felt that we needed to make this decision now so that we can change the trajectory and get things headed in the right direction as quickly as possible."

Bragga was the first coach hired by the Owls in the post-Wayne Graham era. Graham, a member of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, was a tough act to follow. During his time at Rice, Graham led the Owls to NCAA postseason play 23 times, 19 consecutive seasons in which they won either a conference regular season or tournament championship and a national championship in 2003. According to Karlgaard, Graham set a standard for the program that it hasn't lived up to in recent years.

"Coach Graham set an unbelievably high standard, getting to the NCAA postseason [23] straight years, getting to the [College World Series] seven times, and winning a national championship," Karlgaard said. "That level of consistency is something that the university has come to expect, and unfortunately for the last four years, we haven't been there."

Rice will now begin the process of finding a replacement for Bragga, which Karlgaard said will take up to three weeks. As he begins to look at candidates, Karlgaard said that he is looking for a coach who has a good understanding of all that Rice has to offer on and off the field.

"[We're looking for a coach] with a familiarity with [Rice's] uniqueness," Karlgaard says. "Rice is an interesting challenge, because it's one of those places where we want to do everything well, and not do just a few things well at the expense of others. We need somebody who understands the 360-degree nature of this job, and is willing to attack and embrace all of it."

Whoever Rice chooses to succeed Bragga, the next coach will be tasked with breaking the program out of its recent slump and bringing it back to relevance. According to Karlgaard, he feels a sense of urgency to find a coach who can bring Rice baseball back to its winning ways.

"Baseball at Rice University has a great tradition," Karlgaard said. "We need to move quickly to restore that tradition, to get back to a point where we can be in the hunt for championships."

Courtesy Aaron M. Sprecher

<![CDATA[Forbes, Fokam and Hicks shine for Owls at C-USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships]]> The Rice women's and men's track and field teams traveled to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to compete in the C-USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship from May 13-16. The No. 14 women's team impressed throughout the event, taking second place out of 13 teams and winning seven individual events. Meanwhile, the men's team placed fifth out of ten teams, winning one individual event. This was the last meet of the outdoor season for both Owl teams, but qualifiers will move on to the NCAA West Preliminary Championships that begin on May 26 for the men and May 27 for the women in College Station.

Women's head coach Jim Bevan said he was beyond proud of the team's efforts that earned the Owls 121.5 team points.

"We had a tremendous meet," Bevan said. "We scored more points than we have scored since 2009, and more points than we were [projected] to score going into the meet. We had a number of season bests and personal bests throughout the meet. Our team really performed at their highest level of the year when it counted the most."

After a quiet first day, the women's team got off to a fast start on the meet's second day as sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan placed first in the women's hammer throw with a C-USA Championship-record throw of 66.01 meters. Redshirt junior thrower Julie Perez joined Simpson-Sullivan on the podium with a 55.80 meter throw that earned her third place. The Owls closed the day emphatically as sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes continued her strong season by winning the 10,000 meter with a C-USA Championship-record time of 33:50.06. Forbes said that, with the help of Bevan, she was able to execute her goal for the race.

"The goal was to stay with the front pack until like 800 [meters] to go and then take it away, and I think I executed well, and it went to plan," Forbes said. "Coach Bevan said to put a little pressure at four laps, which I wasn't really expecting, but it felt good, so I just went with it."

The Owls opened day three in similar fashion by winning the day's first event. Perez finished first in the discus throw with a distance of 49.26 meters. Day three also saw senior jumper Michelle Fokam cap off her decorated Rice career by adding another event victory to her resume, defeating the field of 28 competitors to win the long jump with a distance of 6.47 meters. Following her victory, Fokam was not only happy with her performance but also excited to carry the momentum and confidence from her jumps to her preparation for regionals.

"Today was a great day," Fokam said. "I've never jumped 6.47 [meters] in my first three jumps, so it just makes me happy because I know I'm prepared for regionals which is then going to take me to the next round. You only get three jumps at regionals, so knowing that I can put it together in my first three jumps is imperative."

The Owls continued their string of strong starts as day four opened with sophomore thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir taking second in the women's shot put with a throw of 16.77 meters. Fokam continued to finish her Rice career off with a bang as she placed first in the women's triple jump with a distance of 13.60 meters. Fokam's jump was also enough to break Rice's school record, a 13.57 meter jump from Claudia Haywood in 1993. Forbes continued to add points to Rice's overall score as she reigned victorious in the women's 1,500 meter with a C-USA Championship-record time of 4:14.42. But Forbes wasn't done yet as she convincingly closed day four out for the Owls by winning the women's 5,000 meter with a time of 16:19.82.

Forbes capped off her dominant season by winning three events and earning 30 points for the Owls, more than any other competitor at the meet. For Forbes, contributing to the team's score was more important than breaking individual records.

"The whole point of this meet is to score as many points for Rice as possible," Forbes said. "I'm not going for any PR's; I'm going to try and be as tactical as possible, conserve as much energy and do the least amount as possible to get the most amount of points. So that's the goal, no PR's, but good top-placed finishes would be awesome."

After the points were tallied up, the women's team took second place with 121.5 points, falling short of Middle Tennessee State University who placed first with 150 points.

Following the meet, the Owls swept the awards as the Conference USA coaches voted Fokam and Forbes as the 2021 Outdoor Female Field Performer of the Meet and 2021 Outdoor Female Track Performer of the Meet, respectively.

On the men's side of the meet, the Owls managed to hold their own against Conference USA's stout competition.

The Owls were given a boost to their team points on day two when junior thrower Nick Hicks took first in the men's hammer with a throw of 62.40 meters. Freshman thrower Shaun Kerry joined Hicks on the medal stand as he took third with a throw of 60.33 meters. According to Hicks, taking gold at one of the most important meets of the season was especially rewarding.

"Winning the hammer means a lot to me," Hicks said. "[The C-USA Championship] is the meet the team prepares for all season, so being able to perform well enough to win on that day really shows how the preparation pays off. It also gives me confidence for the future to win it a couple more times."

But Hicks wasn't done; he followed his victory on day two with a second-place performance in the men's discus on day three with a personal best distance of 56.69 meters. Considering the strength of the conference's throwers, men's head coach Jon Warren was very impressed with Hicks' performances.

"The throws in C-USA are some of the best in the NCAA, and the Rice throwers rose to the challenge and did great," Warren said. "If I had to pick an MVP for this championship, it is obviously Nick Hicks. His 18 points earned through stellar, clutch performances is incredibly impressive."

Day four included a tightly contested competition in the men's javelin which saw senior thrower James McNaney secure second place with a personal best and Rice's second-best ever distance of 71.41 meters. The javelin competition was a standout moment in the meet for Warren as it came down to the final throw.

"If I had to pick the exciting performer of the meet, it would have to be James McNaney and his performance in a truly exciting javelin competition," Warren said. "[McNaney's] throw was, at the time, a top 20 throw in the NCAA. It took a gargantuan personal best effort from UNT's Zion Hill of over 74 meters on the very last throw of the competition to take the victory."

At the end of the meet, the men's team secured 74 points, which earned them fifth place out of the ten competing teams. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte took home the gold with 169 points.

This marked the end of the season for some members of the team, while others will now turn to the NCAA West Preliminary Championships.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Rice lifts indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals]]> Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask indoors on Rice campus, Kevin Kirby, chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee, wrote in an email to the Rice community Monday afternoon. This announcement comes three weeks after Rice removed the outdoor mask requirement.

Individuals who have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 -defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as two weeks after the final dose - will still need to wear a mask indoors, according to the email.

According to Kirby, the new Rice rules conform with the CDC's recently updated guidelines, which say that fully vaccinated people can resume most normal pre-pandemic activities without masks and social distancing.

"These guidelines are consistent with the most recent CDC guidance on what fully vaccinated people can do," Kirby wrote.

Texas ended the statewide mask mandate on March 10. Public transportation and some businesses still require masks.

Morike Ayodeji, a McMurtry College sophomore who will be on campus over the summer, said she thinks these changes will lead Rice into a more normal fall semester.

"I think this new mandate will bring Rice closer to normalcy this summer, which will help with transitioning into a regular semester in the fall," Ayodeji said. "I'm really curious to see how life unmasked at Rice this summer will be like. It will definitely take some getting used to at first."

Rice has not yet announced if students and employees will need to be fully vaccinated to return to campus in the fall, a requirement many peer institutions will impose.

Experts estimate that at least 70 percent of the population should be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from infection to reach herd immunity, at which point the spread of COVID-19 will be slow enough that even unvaccinated people will be indirectly protected. According to Kirby, approximately 80 percent of the Rice community has said they have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

"Under current Texas regulations, we must rely on voluntary disclosures to determine vaccination levels, so 80% is a conservative estimate and that's very good news," Kirby wrote. "While we need to do even better, this high vaccination rate allows us to continue relaxing some of the COVID-19 [policies] that have been in place for a long time."

Kirby also announced the reopening of Valhalla, the graduate student pub, which will resume operations later this month, with more details to come.

Additionally, Rice has closed one of the two remaining COVID-19 testing sites, following the closure of the Abercrombie site on April 30.

"Testing in the East Gym has ceased," Kirby said. "Only the LAMP test, administered in a new location in Space Science Rm. 106, is available on campus."

Following a presumptive positive LAMP test, students should call the Rice Student Health Services Office and employees should contact a medical provider, according to Kirby. Students and employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should similarly contact Student Health or a medical provider.

Kirby added that some countries or airlines may not allow the LAMP test to satisfy their testing requirements, but numerous sites in Houston still offer free COVID-19 testing.

Only members of the Rice community who have not indicated they have been fully vaccinated are still required to test weekly if they regularly come to campus, and they must continue to wear masks.

<![CDATA[Commencement for Class of 2020 and 2021 occurs in stadium in historic first]]> Class of 2021 undergraduates lined up on Friday evening to receive their degrees and Class of 2020 undergraduates received theirs on Saturday evening, both amidst a limited crowd due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Commencement was held for the first time in the Rice football stadium to allow for more physical distancing, after Rice administration adapted to allow for students to bring four guests to attend their respective ceremonies.

Undergraduate Student Association speaker Madison Morris, former SA President Anna Margaret Clyburn and retiring Wiess College magister Laura Schaefer were some of the speakers for the 2021 ceremony. In her speech, Schaefer (Wiess College '95) said the Culture of Care meant more than the alcohol policy or COVID-19 restrictions to the Class of 2021.

"So much has happened during your time at Rice. Hurricane Harvey roared in at the very beginning of your freshman year, and at the time we thought that would be the most momentous thing you encountered here," Schaefer said. "But the reaction we have consistently seen is to not turn inward but to instead look outward and see where you can help others. We are so grateful to you for all of the care you have shown."

Daniel Davis (Wiess '21) said that although he originally did not expect to walk at graduation, he really enjoyed the experience.

"Getting to [walk at graduation] made graduating feel all the more real - a culmination of the 4 years of work, experiences, and time that we all have put in," Davis said.

In March 2020, members of the Class of 2020 did an impromptu walk through the Sallyport with the promise that a physical ceremony would be held once restrictions had loosened enough to allow for it. Over a year later, 2020 graduates entered the stadium to receive their degrees.

Two of the speeches for the Class of 2020 ceremony were given by SA speaker Emma Hanan and past SA President Grace Wickerson.

Jackie Richards (Martel College '20), said she was grateful to attend a graduation as close to the real one as possible, though she primarily returned to Rice for a reunion with others.

"The main reason I came back was to see my friends and reconnect with people who I haven't gotten to see since the start of the pandemic," Richards said. "As soon as some of my former suitemates said they wanted to come back for the ceremony, I was all in because I just wanted the chance to see my friends again and have a hint of normalcy again."

Gabrielle Falcon (Martel College '20) said that she looked forward to walking at graduation in person, and was thankful to experience it with those she loved.

"Last year Rice had told us we would receive a graduation ceremony and I think during the really tough parts of quarantine and this pandemic, I held on to that because it became less about the ceremony itself, and more about knowing that would be the next time I would safely be able to have a big reunion with my friends," Falcon said.

Normally, graduates walk through the Sallyport immediately following commencement. This year, colleges walked through the Sallyport at separate times on Friday morning for the Class of 2021 and Saturday afternoon for the Class of 2020 to allow for physical distancing.

On Saturday morning, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof addressed the Rice community as the speaker for the 107th and 108th Rice commencements. In his speech, Kristof discussed the need for greater empathy.

"Every now and then, you take a risk on someone, who maybe doesn't even fully deserve it, and it pays off with them and reverberates through the lives of others. And that's why I hope you will harness that empathy to your education and take risks on people," Kristof said.

Kristof said a common piece of advice given to young people is that you should split your life into thirds: the first third for education, the second for making money and the third for giving back.

"I think that's terrible advice because it robs you for two-thirds of your life from the fulfillment and meaning that you get from connecting to a cause larger than yourself," Kristof said. "The blunt truth is that you all will go through some painful times … with temptations that threaten to overwhelm your moral compass. In such times, it helps to have that cause larger than yourself to cling to," Kristof said.

<![CDATA[Students discuss STRIVE and the Whisper Network at Rice]]> Content warning: this article contains references to sexual assault.

Editor's Note: Some students interviewed for this story were given the option of remaining anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic and in the interest of keeping their identity private. Anonymous students who are referenced multiple times were given false names, which have been marked with an asterisk on first reference.

Following an opinion piece by former Students Turning Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment liaison Sarah Park which called for organizational reform, the Thresher reached out to several STRIVE affiliates to further investigate the claims made and discuss STRIVE's mission and the whisper network.

Some students echoed Park's claim that STRIVE overreaches into other organizations, while others said they believe STRIVE is not abusing their power or in need of reform.

STRIVE was formed in 2015 with the help of six students who wanted to create a peer-led group of students designed to support the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Title IX Support, now named the SAFE Office, according to Deputy Title IX Coordinator Allison Vogt.

Vogt said the original purpose of STRIVE was to provide prevention education to colleges and graduate programs and to support both reporting and responding students by getting them to the SAFE Office in a gentle and knowledgeable way.

"The idea was that the liaison would support the student until the student was connected to a navigator," Vogt, associate dean of students, said. "Liaisons were to be a neutral resource for students. Once the student was connected to resources, the liaison would bow out of the process."

Cathryn Councill, director of the SAFE Office, said the office acts in an advisor role and does not approve or have control over their organizational decisions since STRIVE is now an independent student organization. Councill said STRIVE has taken on tasks more focused on the rights and needs of victim survivors on campus since becoming an independent organization.

"The SAFE Office truly believes that providing services to all students is our priority and the best way to work towards the prevention of interpersonal violence on campus," Councill said.

STRIVE's mission

According to Vogt, the organizational mission of undergraduate STRIVE has changed in some ways since STRIVE became an independent student club.

"According to members who have spoken out about what liaisons do, it appears that STRIVE members believe they need to counsel students through case advocacy and supportive meetings. This was not the role liaisons were originally intended to fill," Vogt said.

Vogt said that she would like STRIVE to revert back to its original mission. According to their website, their mission is to "empower all members of the Rice community to play an active role in eliminating gender-based inequality and sexual violence."

"I do believe that STRIVE, as a community stakeholder, holds influence, which can be a good thing," Vogt said. "But as with any organization, if that influence is being used to coerce others, that is not acceptable."

According to the STRIVE Executive Committee, STRIVE upholds the mission statement on their website to the best of their abilities. The 2021-2022 STRIVE Executive Committee includes coordinator Morgan Gage and directors Aliza Brown, Melodi Doganay and Sara Emami.

Disclaimer: Morgan Gage is the Thresher Arts & Entertainment Editor.

"We uphold this mission to the best of our abilities, with recent efforts such as hosting survivor panels, putting on the Speak Up Project, providing referrals to third-parties ... and providing extensive training to liaisons who in turn hold educational events at their colleges for the student body," the executive committee wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Ruth*, a current liaison, said STRIVE was founded as a support system for both responding students and reporting students but they believe that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

"I totally understand that we try to focus on education and prevention, but getting reported is also kind of terrifying too and there's not really a lot of support systems in place to help you even navigate that. And that's what STRIVE was supposed to do, and no one really knows that … I'm not sure if other liaisons even know because you don't really talk about that," Ruth said.

The Whisper Network

Several liaisons discussed the utilization of the whisper network, an informal network of information shared regarding individuals who are claimed to have sexually assaulted or harassed other people in the past.

Park said she thinks the whisper network exists in large part due to survivors feeling that they haven't found justice through official processes at Rice, so "black lists" and "whispers" emerge to protect students.

"Rice is an incredibly small school, and it's easy for individuals to gain a reputation based on actions that others may have observed, from gossip and even from small rumors," Park said. "I think that when choosing people for leadership positions or just interacting with others, we, as a community, need to learn to heed warnings that may come from the whisper network, but also take them with a grain of salt."

Mallory Newbern, a current liaison, said she believes that the op-ed vastly mischaracterizes students' use of the whisper network. Newbern said the whisper network is not a channel that liaisons use for gossip, but remains an important way for students to keep each other safe.

"Personally, I feel that believing survivors takes precedence over the prospect of a leadership position for a student that has been reported to STRIVE. This is not an issue of rumors, but an issue of keeping the Culture of Care intact and prioritizing campus safety," Newbern, a junior at Martel College, said.

The STRIVE Executive Committee said they emphasize to liaisons that they maintain confidentiality and refrain from investigating situations disclosed to them. According to the Executive Committee, liaisons are also provided training by SAFE on the whisper network.

"The whisper network is not something affiliated with or dictated by STRIVE. It is unofficial communications between individuals on campus, and as a result we are unable to control conversations regarding interpersonal violence among the general student body," the EC wrote.

Mezthly Pena, a current liaison, said she is a big proponent of the whisper network, especially because she thinks it can be difficult to rely only on official school channels for this type of information as so much of it is confidential, and people are often not found guilty of sexual assault even if it did occur.

"I think it is especially important for incoming freshmen who are more likely to experience predatory behavior from perpetrators simply because of their lack of knowledge," Pena, a Duncan College junior said. "I do not think there are downsides to the whisper network unless you are a perpetrator, but that means the whisper network is serving its intended function. You cannot expect to face zero repercussions and have people to continue to treat you in the same exact manner once you have been a perpetrator of sexual harassment or assault."

Pena said she also believes the whisper network should be utilized in the context of students holding leadership positions. One of the claims in the opinion piece referred to a student allegedly being removed from a position after student complaints to STRIVE.

"It's not fair to have students exposed to a rapist, let alone in a position of power, simply because there are no formal sanctions against them," Pena said.

The STRIVE EC said liaisons agree not to use knowledge from their position to prevent students from holding leadership positions.

"We as an organization only have control over the removal of STRIVE liaisons and EC members from STRIVE, so any decisions made about outside leadership positions are not at our discretion. There are times when a liaison may seek out adults in leadership positions such as magisters and other members of their A-Team due to safety concerns, but, in that case, any decisions made at that point are not in the hands of STRIVE," the EC wrote.

Nova*, a former liaison, said one difference they see between STRIVE and the SAFE office is that STRIVE takes the whisper network more seriously.

"[STRIVE liaisons] are here to support everyone. However, I think it is pretty known on campus that we believe survivors; we're not just going to say [to them] 'are you sure?'" Nova said. "We believe you, and that's that, and I think that's really important, and whisper networks obviously are very vital to that."

Councill said the SAFE Office understands the power of the whisper network.

"The whisper network can make students feel empowered, connected and like protectors of the community," Councill said. "As with most things, the whisper network also has downsides in that there is potential of spreading unsubstantiated rumors that can damage reputations... and so ultimately allowing the whisper network to have decision making capabilities in a formal space is not reasonable or ethical."

Nova said they believe whisper networks should be treated very carefully as everything STRIVE deals with is interpersonal by nature.

"There are two sides, there are two people and we believe survivors and so when it comes to sexual assault, I think that [the whisper network] is more helpful in that it gives warnings and is able to bring up red flags," Nova said. "I don't think it should be the sole basis to get rid of people especially when it's very hard to verify."

Pena said she disagreed with the opinion piece's claim that STRIVE is abusing its power by allegedly influencing other organization decisions. According to Pena, while she was not familiar with the specific instances in the op-ed, she has seen STRIVE take action in other situations where she felt it was appropriate.

"I do not think that people who are associating with known perpetrators are a good representation of STRIVE or the values we embody, and I do not think that they would provide adequate support or be a good resource for victims of assault," Pena said. "It can be difficult because it can be hard for a perpetrator to receive official sanctions, but that does not mean that their actions did not occur and that they shouldn't be regarded as such."

Carey*, a junior not affiliated with STRIVE, said that as an advisor, they recalled a STRIVE liaison warning freshmen to stay away from a group of individuals who the liaison had heard about through the whisper network. Carey said they are friends with these individuals and had learned about the situation themself and believed they were not guilty.

"The STRIVE liaison and I had more conversations after, and I told [the liaison] … it's not your power or your decision to be able to just say someone's name and tarnish their reputation and cause further confusion among the student body, when there's no information that you know about any of the situation," Carey said. "[Liaison's] jobs should not extend to being able to tell incoming students specific names based on nothing they know."

The STRIVE EC said that if such a situation was to occur and STRIVE EC was made aware, the liaison's conduct in relation to confidentiality within their role would be evaluated at that time.

"STRIVE does not encourage liaisons to warn other students about specific individuals, and liaisons are expected to keep all information brought to them as a liaison confidential," the EC wrote. "That being said, the whisper network is informal and not something that STRIVE has direct control over."

Carey said they believe STRIVE associates should not be associated with the whisper network.

"[The whisper network] is something that has definitely damaged a lot of reputations, sometimes called for but also sometimes not," Carey said. "It's one thing for Rice students who are not affiliated with STRIVE to just hear something and … gossip, but when you're in a STRIVE position, and when you're a literal liaison and resource for someone in need… your words carry a lot more weight than any other student on campus. It's not their position to decide who's good and who's bad, their position is to just be a resource for people in need."

Karen Qi (Hanszen '20), a former STRIVE EC member, wrote a Facebook post in support of the opinion piece, directed towards survivors in STRIVE.

"From one survivor to another, I can't understand exactly how you feel, but I know what it's like to process trauma," Qi wrote. "I know what it's like to feel disappointed, angry, at the lack of justice we are afforded. However, this anger does not give us the right to act as vigilantes who take out our frustration on others. Experiencing sexual violence is a loss of control. You never deserved to lose your control, but you will not regain the control you already lost by using STRIVE to manage everyone else's lives."

Qi wrote that STRIVE members fighting to remove people from their positions and overindulging in the whisper network are surefire ways to burn out.

"Of course, both response and prevention are crucial, but there's a clear time tradeoff. If you spend all of your energy scrutinizing others' lives, you will have less time to educate and prevent future violence, both of which can help you feel like you are making a difference. You have the chance to open more nuanced conversations about sexual violence," Qi wrote.

Liaison experiences with STRIVE

Newbern said the STRIVE EC has never been anything but supportive in her experience, even taking over when a liaison feels unable to handle a case.

"Personally, I have felt overwhelmed by STRIVE responsibilities many times, but I feel that the op-ed is misrepresentative of the root of this issue," Newbern said. "Rather than an issue of abuse of power from a leadership standpoint, I believe that the prolific nature of sexual assault and harassment on this campus is the reason that liaisons are overworked."

Park said she thinks the STRIVE EC inarguably cares a lot about Rice and the student body, so they do whatever they can to protect others.

"However, a lot of the time, in the attempt to create a safe environment for some students, EC forgets STRIVE's role and oversteps beyond the appropriate exertion of their power," Park said. "I understand how it can be frustrating to have some information on others in the community and to want to investigate further or keep them out of leadership positions because of past problematic behavior, but EC and liaisons need to recognize their limits and leave investigation and punitive action up to [Student Judicial Programs] and Title IX."

Nova said they also experienced what they believed to be an overextension of the ECs power. Nova was sent an email initiating their removal from STRIVE based on complaints made to the EC about them, but was only given very vague details and said they felt that the EC was not willing to hear their side.

"There was no first warning, second warning, there was just no inclination [that this was happening] so I was totally blindsided by all of this," Nova said.

The EC said removal of a liaison follows a three step process in which the liaison is notified and offered an opportunity to respond to the alleged actions, and then the EC votes on removal and requires a two-thirds majority.

"Removal is an extreme measure which we pursue only if we believe further education, training and conversations could not resolve an issue or if a liaison's actions are egregious," the EC wrote. "We cannot comment on the specifics of any one removal, but removal is a process which we do not take lightly."

Nova said they believe the line between being liaison's bosses and their friends is blurry so STRIVE EC overextending their power happens more informally than formally.

"With something that your friend may not care about, because [the EC] is in this leadership role, they now are like, 'What are you doing?'" Nova said. "I think a lot of times they straddle that line really well of [asking], 'Are you sure you want to do that?' not as a friend but as a member of EC, and I don't think that's totally fair. I'm really happy [the op-ed] called out some stuff because there's been a disconnect there."

Pena said she was surprised by the opinion piece and said she has had an overall positive experience with STRIVE.

"I personally was not aware of any problems with EC and I had not really heard about other liaisons having problems with them," Pena said. "I do agree that too much emotional stress and problems fall on STRIVE liaisons, but I do not see this as a fault of EC, but rather the lack of resources that Rice provides for the SAFE office and STRIVE."

Nova said they hope nobody judges the organization based on their experience or other experiences mentioned.

"You can criticize the [Student Association], and it's just government, but for STRIVE when it's an organization based on a very controversial and sensitive topic, I think a lot more people will be very, very quick to judge," Nova said. "It's okay that we have hiccups, let us figure it out."

Ruth said although she does not agree with everything that has happened, she has immense respect for the EC.

"I genuinely really like being a liaison and the work that we have done and the presence that we have on campus," Ruth said. "And I think that what STRIVE does is really important, and I don't want to see that get ruined just because of maybe some bad judgement calls, which happen to everyone."

Newbern said as unpaid students participating daily in emotionally taxing labor, liaisons sometimes struggle with maintaining their own mental health. A previous Thresher article shared experiences of students in leadership positions who are underpaid and overworked.

"I feel that this problem calls for stronger support from administration and a more explicit commitment to interpersonal violence prevention on a larger scale at Rice," Newbern said.

Diversity of STRIVE and moving forward

The opinion piece mentioned addressing the lack of diversity of the STRIVE EC as one avenue for improvement within the organization. According to the STRIVE EC, this year they welcomed their most diverse cohort of liaisons.

"White feminism tends to dominate the field of interpersonal and sexual violence advocacy, and this is an issue that we are not only aware of but is also a top prioirty for us to address. This year … [we] are increasing training on diversity and intersectionality and plan to collaborate with diversity facilitators on campus. We hope to continue this progress in both liaison and EC groups moving forward," the EC wrote.

Newbern said diversity is definitely something the organization needs to improve on.

"Statistically, Black, Indigenous and Women of Color as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence," Newbern said. "Moving forward, we must have a set of liaisons that is representative of the campus' needs at large … as diversity needs to be increased at Rice overall."

Grace Kneidel, a current liaison, said male participation in STRIVE is generally low.

"[This] sometimes makes me feel like people at Rice view sexual violence education as women's work. We did a strong push to nominate male liaisons this year and our team for 2021-2022 is thankfully looking slightly more balanced," Kneidel, a sophomore at Brown College, said.

Park said after publishing the article, she has had an outpouring of support from current and former liaisons.

"After [publication], so many community members, including alumni, reached out thanking me for writing the opinion and many people came forward and shared similar experiences to mine," Park said. "I am grateful to have been able to spark conversations surrounding the severity of STRIVE's problematic behaviors which was a topic that people were too scared to approach before."

The EC said they take all liaison critiques and concerns very seriously and are committed to working to continuously improving the organization.

"We are a relatively young organization with a huge task on campus, and we are constantly working to improve and support each other better," the EC wrote. "It is EC's first priority that liaisons feel supported in their role, and we are committed to doing everything within our power to guarantee this for current and future liaisons."

The EC said they are in a process of feedback collection from liaisons through anonymous forms, one-on-one communication and meeting with college teams, and will be discussing all suggestions with the SAFE Office and liaisons.

<![CDATA[Soccer falls to No. 12 UVA 3-0 in Sweet 16 ]]> No. 25 Rice soccer was defeated 3-0 on Wednesday night by No. 12 University of Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. This capped off the Owls' tournament run, which saw them defeat Furman University in the opening round and upset No. 5 West Virginia University in the second round. Following the match, head coach Brian Lee looked back on the Owls' postseason stretch fondly.

"I am happy for the players, our administration and everyone involved with the program," Lee said. "UVA were excellent and [are] one of the very best teams in the country."

After the game's start was delayed by over an hour due to inclement weather, the Owls and Cavaliers battled it out under the lights for a spot in the Elite Eight. Like their matchup against No. 5 WVU, the Owls got off to a slow start as UVA opened the game as the more aggressive and attacking team. The Cavaliers dominated possession and relentlessly attacked the Owls' defense. With limited possession, Rice struggled to continue their buildup play into the opposing side's half, leading to minimal scoring chances for the Owls. Fortunately, the Owls' defense continued their recent string of good performances as they denied countless scoring opportunities for the Cavaliers' offense early on in the match. However, UVA continued to test Rice's backline. They would eventually have their breakthrough late in the first half.

With less than ten minutes to go in the half, the Cavaliers' offense patiently kept possession in the Owls' defensive third of the pitch, eventually finding sophomore forward Diana Ordonez around the middle edge of the box. Ordonez used her first touch to spin away from Rice's senior defender Mijke Roelfsema, putting her in position for a potential shot on goal. Roelfsema attempted to prevent the goalscoring opportunity, but made contact with Ordonez instead, bringing her down in the box, giving a penalty to the Cavaliers. Ordonez stepped up to the penalty spot and struck her shot to the left side of the goal past the outstretched arms of junior goalkeeper Bella Killgore. The Cavaliers would take their 1-0 lead into the break. Despite conceding first, Lee was proud of the way his team defended in the match.

"Their front three [were]a handful," Lee said. "That said, I thought our team defending was excellent, and we were a little unlucky on the penalty late [in the] first half."

The second half saw much of the same storyline as the first. UVA continued their high defensive pressure, making it difficult for the Owls to retain possession and find attacking space to create chances for their offense. The Cavaliers looked to double their lead on offense, continuously applying pressure on the Owls' defense. In the 68th minute, the Cavaliers swung in a corner and found Ordonez, who made a run into the middle of the six-yard box. Ordonez's header ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net for her brace (second goal of the match).

UVA and Ordonez continued to cause problems for Rice's defense late in the second half. After her teammate's header hit the crossbar and bounced back into play, Ordonez connected on the rebound with her own header. This time, the Cavaliers' offense would not be denied, as Ordonez completed her hat trick with another header in the 82nd minute. This was the dagger for the Owls, as they would not be able to mount a comeback with less than ten minutes to go in the match. The Cavaliers' attacking prowess proved to be too much for the Owls as they created just 16 shots to Rice's two. The Cavaliers now move on to the quarterfinals, where they will face No. 4 Texas Christian University. Despite the loss, Lee recognizes the collective effort and defensive brilliance that allowed the Owls to make their tournament run and grow as a team this year.

"It was a group effort, and so many people played a part in a wonderful run," Lee said. "[This was] a season of tremendous growth and an outstanding last 10-12 games buoyed by brilliant team defending."

With the loss, the Owls finished their season with a 14-3-1 record. Rice's season full of accolades saw the Owls win the Conference USA title, earn a top 25 national ranking and win the program's first-ever matches in the NCAA tournament. The Owls will look to build off of this momentum with a majority of the squad set to come back as the team gears up for next season.

"Every season is a new team," Lee said. "When we reconvene in August, we will assess and go from there, but we are excited to return almost everyone and add some outstanding prospects to the squad."

Courtesy Andy Mead

<![CDATA[Students and faculty reflect on poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month ]]> April marks National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate a special genre of literature that allows for particularly emotional and imaginative linguistic expression. With a multitude of styles and rhythms, poetry is so expansive that anyone can find themselves reading or writing a poem that resonates with them. The Rice Thresher asked students and professors who identify as poets themselves about their thoughts and interactions with this literary art.

Brendan Frizzell, a Martel College freshman

"I was introduced to poetry through Jon Lupin's Instagram (@the_poetrybandit) in middle school and did a project in 9th grade on him. He published 3 books and I have all of them. At first, I felt like I never really needed to write poetry and when I did it wasn't good, but obviously published books take a lot of time to make them crisp. I always thought poetry was cool because you get more of a feeling from reading it than prose.

What inspires me is usually just my emotions. It helps to word vomit on the page and better understand how I'm feeling. One of my favorite poets is Federico García Lorca; he wrote an emotional piece about mistreatment of the Romani people in Spain during the Spanish Civil War that resonated with me. My favorite poem that I've written is 'What the Flower Taught Me.' It's about reflecting on what I learned in a relationship and that romantic love truly does exist, because as a kid I didn't know that and even though there was love in the relationship, it was better to part ways."

Morgan Seay, a Hanszen College junior

"I stumbled across Button Poetry on YouTube. This was the first I'd heard of spoken word. I think I was drawn to the delivery of poems in spoken word. I liked when artists took dramatic pauses, deep/sharp breaths in between lines and the way they'd change the pitch of their voice. The words were powerful, but they hit deeper when the delivery was so well thought out. Most of my work relates to my own experiences with pain, often racial trauma. It's an outlet for sharing things I fear, find frustrating, etc. I wrote a piece called 'My Body, A Diaspora,' and I think it's most relevant to how I feel with my Blackness today. I want to immerse myself in Black culture, but I'm constantly reminded of a missing history that I will never get back. Sometimes, I feel like I'm not 'Black enough' in terms of the mainstream idea of what it is to be Black, and it seems like if I had a deeper connection to the continent of Africa, I would not feel this disconnection."

Katimah Harper, a Duncan College junior

"I read a lot in middle school and I think in one of the books I was reading, the main character was really into writing poetry and talked about how it was an outlet for them and so I just decided to give it a shot myself since I had a lot of pent up feelings at the time that I needed to express somehow. I've known since elementary school that I wanted writing to be a part of my life somehow. When I got to middle school though and started learning more about poetry, it just felt more right to me. I liked that with poetry there was a lot more intentionally in what might seem like small details to other people - how you write a single line and how that line fits into a single stanza, whether or not you choose to use punctuation, how much white space you have on a page, etc. It felt like a bit more of a creative challenge to me personally and also just allowed me to communicate in a way that felt more authentic to my story. I'm really inspired by the events happening in my life, particularly those that I don't know how to say out loud and share with others. Writing has always been how I communicate with the world, and poetry in particular has allowed me to process a lot of trauma and share it with others in a way that feels right for me. I love Langston Hughes. He was the first Black poet that I came to really know and he's the first one that made me feel like there was a space in the poetry community for Black voices to talk about the Black experience."

Dr. Joseph Campana, English professor and Center for Environmental Studies director

"Poetry is a concentrated version of something you don't get elsewhere in other kinds of writing; it's like a surprise. What inspires me to write is when I become fascinated by something, I can't stop paying attention to it. I find myself embedded in a place, strange and new. That's why my favorite poem is the one I'm currently reading or writing, you're inhabiting it and being in the moment with the poem. I grew up in a small town in New York with farms and leather mills, it was hauntingly beautiful.

When I moved to Houston, I was fascinated with the outstanding oaks and their persistence. Since there's really no winter, they don't shed their leaves and stay lush and green. That was my inspiration for 'Live Oak,' [the current name of a collection I am working on]. During the pandemic, I haven't had enough time for poetry sometimes. But some strange and distracting new things could come up in poetry because of the pandemic. Though, from a scholarly point of view, I'm not sure we'll know that for a while. At the moment, I'm writing 'Spring of Ephemerals.' Ephemerals are a kind of plant that comes quickly and doesn't last, so that's what the poem is centered around."

Mr. Tomás Morín, Assistant professor of Creative Writing

"I write poetry because it brings me joy in the same way that playing basketball brings me joy, or taking my son for a walk. It doesn't have anything to do with inspiration, it's not the right word. A silly question will pop into my head...like a poem in my first book about the dog Laika in Sputnik, what must have it been like for her to be in that capsule? Tons of people probably had the same question and moved on. For me, I stop at each one of those questions because the answer is a poem I haven't written yet. I pause and make art out of them. My favorite collection is my most recent book that will be out in October. I'm most myself in that book. In my first book I wrote a lot of personal poems (historical figures, characters, animals). Then the second book was characters with similar experiences. This book, there's no mask, and it took me a long time to get to that place. I've been writing for 20 years, since I was a grad student in 2000.

My initial thoughts about poetry, I thought it was just something fun to do. I was a writing minor at Texas State [University], and it was a fun way to fill that minor; never thought one day I would make a life as a writer. It was a fun way to pass the time. It was an escape, because I could write about anything, any time period, any place. Each poem is a plane ticket to somewhere. The pandemic has left me with less time for reading and writing. Me and my partner are both working with two kids. I did write a poem about the pandemic, it appeared in "Together in a Sudden Strangeness [America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic]" by Alice Quinn in November. It touches on [the question of] how is life different [during the pandemic]? Some of my favorite poets include Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Levine, a dear friend of mine and mentor, and Wisława Szymborska. One of the beautiful things about poetry is that it's there when you need it. Somewhere, there is a poem that is waiting for someone, and they don't realize it yet. When they're at a loss to describe what they feel or find someone who has felt what they feel, it's out there. People say poetry is a lonely art, but there is a community. It's about finding the person who wrote that poem and we feel less alone."

<![CDATA[Soccer upsets No. 5 WVU in NCAA tournament, advance to round of 16]]> No. 25 Rice soccer upset No. 5 West Virginia University 1-0 on Saturday afternoon, moving on to the third round of the NCAA tournament in Cary, North Carolina next week. While the Mountaineers controlled possession for most of the game, the Owls managed to squeeze out a narrow victory behind a penalty shot in the 74th minute and lockdown defense throughout the game. In the round of 16, the Owls will play the No. 12 University of Virginia. After the match, head coach Brian Lee lauded his team's effort in pulling off the upset.

"Obviously, [I'm] super excited that we got the winner and held them off there in the end, and [now] we're off to the Sweet Sixteen," Lee said. "Regardless of results, the effort our kids put in mentally and physically and how well they took to the preparation with the game plan, it's just a very fulfilling day win, lose, or draw."

Fresh off their win over Furman University on Wednesday afternoon, the first NCAA tournament victory in program history, the Owls looked to continue their run on Saturday by knocking off No. 5 WVU. This would be a tall order as the Mountaineers were making their 21st consecutive NCAA tournament appearance tournament this year as an at-large bid after posting a 10-2-1 record. Considering the athleticism and size of the Mountaineers lineup, Lee said he knew his squad had to be efficient in order to win the match.

"It's one of those games where we're going to have to be the better soccer playing team and we're going to have to be super efficient in how we defend [and] communicate," Lee said. "And then when we get the ball, we have to move the ball fast [as] nobody can run as fast as you can pass a ball."

Both teams opened the match aggressively, as counter-attacks and corners were plentiful. However, as the match progressed in the first half, the Mountaineers took control, pressing higher up the pitch and retaining a majority of the possession. As a result, the Owls struggled to get out of their own half and create chances offensively, and didn't attempt a single shot in the first half. While the Owls' offense struggled to find its footing, their defense, led by senior defenders Mijke Roelfsema and Caleigh Page, stood firm in denying the Mountaineers from having any clear goal-scoring opportunities, despite nine shot attempts in the first half. Roelfsema credited the team's defensive effort and communication for their successful performance.

"The communication was really good and everyone got it together and stepped up," Roelfsema said. "It was a team effort, and I'm really happy about how the defense played [in] this game."

As the halftime whistle blew, the match remained a scoreless deadlock. WVU had been the more aggressive team, but they had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

The start of the second half was more of the same. The Mountaineers continued to stifle the Owls' offense and command possession by winning the ball higher up the pitch. A WVU goal seemed in the cards after a Mountaineer header careened off the post early in the half. Just as it seemed WVU would convert their long-building momentum into a deciding goal, the Owls found themselves knocking on the Mountaineer's door.

Senior defender Callie Ericksen lofted a ball into the box for sophomore forward Izzy McBride. As McBride was about to make a play on the ball, WVU's sophomore goalkeeper Kayza Massey came off her line to make a challenge. Massey missed the ball, and instead made contact with McBride, who went down in the box. The referee awarded a penalty to the Owls in the 74th minute, and junior midfielder Delaney Schultz stepped up to the spot, looking to give the Owls the improbable lead. Schultz collected herself, and then powerfully struck her shot into the top left corner out of Massey's reach, giving the Owls a 1-0 lead on their first and only shot attempt of the entire game. After the game, Schultz said she felt confident that she'd be able to convert the eventual game-winner.

"I was confident," Schultz said. "We take [penalty kicks] every day at practice, so I think the repetition of that made me really confident [before taking the shot]."

Lee had initially opted to go for a three centre-back backline, with two wing-backs who looked to push up the field, but after taking the lead, Lee pulled the wing-backs into the defense, to help preserve the lead. WVU pushed many of their players up the field to try and score an equalizer late in the game, but once again, the Owls defense resisted every incoming attempt that the Mountaineers threw at them, earning the Owls their 11th shutout of the year. With the Owls defense limiting their opposition's scoring chances, junior goalkeeper Bella Killgore knew that it was only a matter of time before the Owls offense would come through.

"I think we shut them down defensively and limited their chances a lot," Killgore said. "As long as the defense can keep shutting them down and frustrating them, we have faith in the offense to make something happen. We knew we were going to get a goal."

By the end of the game, the Mountaineers had managed 20 shots, compared to just one attempt by the Owls. While the full-time stats tell the story of a one-sided affair, numbers never tell the full story, and now the Owls find themselves farther into an NCAA tournament than any other Rice team in the last 15 years. Their next game, against No. 12 UVA, will kick off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Soccer defeats Furman in first round of NCAA tournament]]> Rice soccer defeated Furman University 3-1 on Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Cary, North Carolina. The Owls will now advance to the second round, where they will face off against No. 5 West Virginia University on Saturday. Head coach Brian Lee was proud of his team's complete performance in the opening round matchup.

"I thought we put in a really good shift and a complete 90-minute performance," Lee said. "Even at the end of the game, I thought we ran out the game very, very well."

The Owls headed into the NCAA tournament on a hot streak, winning their final nine games and shutting out their last eight opponents, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the Conference USA championship game. Making their fifth appearance in the NCAA tournament, the Owls matched up against Furman, who were fresh off a Southern Conference title and boasted an undefeated record of 8-0-2.

The Owls were the aggressors early on in the game, dominating possession in the attacking third, creating multiple chances and forcing many corners. However, the Owls had little to show for it on the scoreline, and the game script soon flipped as the Paladins struck first in the 18th minute. An overhit pass out of bounds by the Owls led to the Paladins taking possession. A quick one-touch pass split two Owls defenders, finding redshirt sophomore forward Kyndal Anderson in the middle edge of the box. Anderson tucked her shot into the bottom left corner to give the Paladins an early 1-0 lead. While it was a less than ideal start for the Owls, Lee was pleased with how his team righted the ship shortly thereafter.

"[We] came out of the gate great and, I thought, created a bunch of chances, and then all of a sudden we're down one-nil," said Lee. "I thought our reaction was really good; we stayed the course and got ourselves back in it. If we get down, they are good about staying the course and keeping on the way we're headed."

Despite going down early, the Owls continued putting pressure on Furman's defense, and they were soon able to score an equalizer in the 25th minute. A long throw-in into the left side of the box by senior defender Caleigh Page allowed freshman forward Natalie Gorji to connect on a looping header that found its way into the top left corner, out of the goalkeeper's reach. Coming into the game, Gorji had found the back of the net only once, but getting on the scoresheet against Furman was no surprise to Lee.

"She sure did have a great flick header on the long throw," Lee said. "[Gorji] is a real fox in the box. In training, she scores goals consistently, and it's part of getting used to college soccer, she's gotten better and better over the course of the spring this year, and she keeps improving."

Soon after equalizing the scoreline, Gorji netted her brace at the 37-minute mark. Solid buildup play from the Owls led to junior midfielder Delaney Schultz drew the attention of three Paladin defenders and found an open Gorji in the middle of the box. Gorji took a touch and powerfully struck a left-footed strike above the keeper's reach and below the crossbar to give the Owls a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.

The Owls continued to add to their lead in the 66th minute when Schultz sent a through ball between two Furman defenders, finding freshman midfielder Mikala Furuto who was making a run into the box. Seeing the Paladins' goalkeeper coming off her line, Furuto slid a well-timed ground shot out of the keeper's reach to make the scoreline 3-1 in favor of the Owls. Despite conceding first, the Owls defense stifled the Paladins in the second half, allowing Furman to only two shots in the half.

"The communication of our team is really good, and our effort is very high, so if you have those two things, you are going to be good defensively," Lee said. "[Killgore] fits this system really well and couldn't ask for anybody more as the last line of defense."

The Paladins could not overcome the deficit, and the Owls held on to take the victory and advance to the next round of the tournament. The Owls' offensive prowess, which saw them create 22 shots to Furman's eight, will look to be on full display when they take on their next opponent, West Virginia. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 5 in the nation, and come into the tournament with a 10-2-1 record, unbeaten in their last four games. Lee knows the challenge that the Mountaineers pose, but is excited for his team to prove themselves in the next round.

"Obviously, they're very good and really well-coached, and it's going to be a challenge, but that's [how] the NCAA tournament works; every round you advance, you get a chance to prove yourself [and] compete against higher-level teams," Lee said. "But for today, we're going to celebrate this win and then work on getting our bodies right tomorrow and then turn our attention to West Virginia."

The Owls will look to continue their recent unbeaten form and progress in the NCAA tournament at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning against No. 5 West Virginia in the second round. The game can be streamed at NCAA.com.

Courtesy Furman Athletics

<![CDATA[Baseball splits weekend series with UTSA]]> This past weekend, the Rice baseball team faced off against conference rivals University of Texas, San Antonio in a four-game series. After winning the first two games of the series, the Owls lost the final two matchups against the Roadrunners. With more than half of the season completed, the Owls have amassed an overall record of 17-23-1 (5-14-1).

After winning only two of the 10 games prior to their series against the Roadrunners, this series has provided a sense of momentum for the team as it heads into the final weeks of regular season play, according to freshman outfielder and pitcher Guy Garibay.

"I think there were a lot of good things that happened this past weekend against UTSA," Garibay said. "Overall, the team energy was great and will transition into these next few weeks."

Head coach Matt Bragga agreed with Garibay's thoughts, as he believes that his team's split series this weekend was positive for the team's momentum while he hopes that the team can build upon their performance and improve. Bragga also mentioned the team's improvement compared to their earlier series against UTSA this season, when they lost three matches and won one.

"Splitting the series is certainly better than losing, that's for sure," Bragga said."We showed improvements from the last time we played UTSA earlier in the season which is great, but we can never be satisfied with a split of a series. We want to win the series or sweep the series and we are working towards that."

While assessing his team's performance over the weekend, Bragga said he also believed that the team performed well and showed great fight.

"The performance over the weekend was fine as there were some nice highlights and some really good individual performances," Bragga said. " I am proud to continue to see a never die mentality from our guys and it is always encouraging when things aren't going the exact way you'd like them to go. This is a great group of young men and they continue to work hard to improve."

Despite the positives that came from the team's performance against the Roadrunners, Garibay believes that the inconsistent pitching performance is something that the team can improve on.

"Our bats have been great, but there were times our pitching struggled which put us in a hole the rest of the game," Garibay said.

Bragga also believed that the team can improve through improvements in their squad's inconsistencies, especially on the pitching side of the ball. However, Bragga said that he is optimistic that the team will be able to improve on their weaknesses as the season continues.

"Our biggest weakness, especially from this weekend's series, is playing high-level baseball consistently. We are very up and down in many facets of the game," Bragga said. "For example, we pitch well one game, but then the next is not a good pitching performance. We need continual improvement in each phase of the game, and while our guys have done a pretty good job with this, we just need to be more consistent."

Garibay stood out over the weekend, giving the Owls four hits and driving in four runs. Garibay said that the guidance provided by his older teammates has helped him improve over the course of his freshman year.

"I believe that my freshman year has gone quite well. This year has been different than usual because I have been playing with fifth- and sixth-year seniors like Brad Gneiting and Braden Comeaux," Garibay said. "They have a lot of experience under their belt and they have helped me mature as a player and they made me feel as if I had been playing with them for years. I am really going to miss having those guys around next season."

Garibay also gave the Owls a scoreless inning on the mound on Saturday. Garibay said he is thankful for his role on the team, which allows him to contribute on the mound and at the plate.

"I've had some memorable moments both at the plate and on the mound and I have also grown as a hitter," Garibay said. "I think it's pretty cool being able to do both at this level. There's not many people who are able to say they both hit and pitch at the Division I level, so I'm thankful for that."

This weekend, the Owls' season continues against the University of Southern Mississippi. The four-game series, which includes a doubleheader Saturday, will take place at Reckling Park.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[Women's track ranked No. 14 after impressive showing at Duckett meet]]> In the final home meet of the year, the Rice women's track team made sure they left Ley Track with a bang. The Owls racked up two individual school records, 13 top-five competitors and three individual champions. Following the meet, the Owls jumped 15 spots in the latest U. S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll, now ranking No. 14 in the country.

Head coach Jim Bevan said he was ecstatic with the team's performance and their new ranking.

"Due to the performances, we are now ranked No. 14 in the nation," Bevan said. "I am super proud of this team."

In the morning field events, the Owls' throwers, jumpers and vaulters had a strong showing. Freshman thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan started off the day with a second-place finish in the women's hammer throw, breaking her own school record for the fifth time this season. Simpson-Sullivan, last week's Conference USA Field Athlete of the Week, threw 68.91 meters, pushing her to third in NCAA.

Staying in the throws, sophomore Erna Gunnarsdottir won the shot put with a throw of 16.14 meters for her third victory of the season. In the discus, sophomore Julie Perez placed second with a throw of 53.01 meters, followed by freshman Morgan Fey in fifth place.

In the jumps, senior Michelle Fokam dominated the field, winning both the long jump and the triple jump with marks of 6.75 meters and 13.45 meters, respectively. Fokam, who has already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the triple jump, set a personal record in the long jump that moved her up to fifth in the NCAA. Bevan said Fokam's performance stood out over the weekend.

"Fokam's double win in the long jump and triple jump [was a highlight]," Bevan said. "Her big long jump moved her up to fifth in the U.S."

In the pole vault, all four Owls placed in the top seven with freshman Ali Goodson finishing second with a vault of 3.77 meters. Junior Emily Harrison finished fourth, while freshman Elena Siemens and Audrey Ho tied for seventh.

Before the start of the evening running events, the members of the 2020 C-USA championship team met in the middle of Holloway Field to receive their championship rings. The team led by many of the same athletes competing on Saturday won the meet with a score of 110 points, winning the first indoor conference championship since 2009.

Later in the afternoon, the Owls continued to dominate the running events, putting up multiple personal records and top three finishes. In the sprints, freshman Justice Coutee-McCullum placed third in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.90 seconds, followed at No. 12 by freshman Lindsay Simms with a time of 14.66 seconds.

In the distance events, freshman Grace Forbes continued her strong season by winning the 1,500-meter with a time of 4:14.16, adding to her collection of school records. In her home debut and her first 1,500-meter outdoor race, Forbes moved up to No. 10 in the NCAA this year. Afterwards, Bevan praised Forbes' performance.

"Forbes winning the 1,500 by a mile and setting a new stadium record was very impressive," Bevan said.

Multiple Owls ran their way to success in the distance events later that evening. In the 5000-meter, senior Khayla Patel placed third with a time of 17:27.89, followed by junior Lourdes Vivas De Lorenzi and freshman Haley Allen. In the 3,000-meter steeplechase, senior Natalie Goddard ran her way to fourth place with a personal record of 11:09.42, moving her up to third in C-USA. Sophomore Maddie Forbes and senior Lauren Goddard also ran well, placing sixth and fifteenth, respectively.

After the meet, Bevan was thrilled with the team's performance and was proud of the multiple first-place finishers.

"We were so excited about our performances this [past] weekend," Bevan said.

The women's track team looks to follow up this performance in College Station this weekend, where they'll compete in the Texas A&M Alumni Muster.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

<![CDATA[The Backies 2021]]>