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Hold on to your syringes - Big Mac is back. Even though the Yankees clinched the American League pennant on Sunday, the most surprising story in baseball Monday was not the Bronx Bombers' return to the Fall Classic. No, that honor went instead to St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's announcement that Mark McGwire, the steroid swinger, will be his hitting coach next season.
The underclassmen may have carried the bulk of the men's cross country tournaments thus far this season, but the seniors, nagged by injuries, appear to finally be coming around. Seniors Simon Bucknell and Scott Zivick finished first and fifth, respectively, at the Oct. 10 Houston Baptist University/ Puma Invitational. Redshirt sophomore Michael Trejo and redshirt freshmen Gabe Cuadra and Matt Carey filled in the middle to grab the win over HBU by 10 points. Lamar University and Texas Southern University filled out the remaining spots in the lineup of teams.
Now that the season is halfway through, it's time to look back and see just where we are - besides last in the conference. Here's what assistant sports editor Jonathan Myers sees in the Owls' performance so far.Running Backs: D+
To beat the best, you have to play, or in the case of the men's cross country team, run, against the best. The Owls did exactly that last Saturday at the 73rd Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla., facing the likes of 13th-ranked College of William and Mary, second-ranked Northern Arizona University and the host, fourth-ranked Oklahoma State University. Rice finished an impressive 13th out of 23 teams, led by a 72nd-place finish from senior Simon Bucknell. Sophomore Michael Trejo was two seconds behind Bucknell to finish 75th, and redshirt freshmen Gabe Cuadra and Matt Carey and senior Scott Zivick rounded out the top five for the Owls.
Rumor has it that the men's cross country team was chanting the popular Under Armour slogan "We must protect this house!" before the start of Saturday's Rice Invitational. While no one will fess up to it, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Their finish would have made the folks at Under Armour proud.
Like any sports team, class project or '80s hair metal band, Rice's men's cross country team is defined by its leaders, the guys who make the engine run and fix it when it's broken. Senior Scott Zivick is one of those guiding forces for this year's edition of the team. Even before Zivick, 21, stepped through the Sallyport in fall 2006, the Houstonian had shown flashes of what this year had in store. His sixth-place finish at the Texas 5A state cross country meet his senior year of high school, as well as his eighth-place finish in the 1600-meter run at the state track meet were just a few of his prep accomplishments. However, Zivick freely admits that the team experience at Humble High School was nowhere near to the camaraderie and unity he has experienced with the cross country team at Rice.
The men's cross country team knew it was going to have to rely on its newcomers for success this season. It just didn't expect their ascension to come about so quickly. The youths on the squad served up an important victory at the Johnny Morriss Invitational last Friday, as sophomore Michael Trejo and redshirt freshman Gabe Cuadra teamed with senior Scott Zivick to lead Rice to a first-place finish on the University of Houston intramural fields. Rice's 31 points defeated Houston's 43, Sam Houston State University's 58 and Houston Baptist University's 81.
With a heady influx of young legs, no one really knows what to expect from this year's men's cross country squad. The Owls enter the 2009 season without three of the five runners that paced them to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA South Central Regional last November. However, the roster boasts eight true freshmen, all of whom are capable of cracking the top seven runners but whose talent, for the time being, remain unknown. Leading the Owls this year are seniors Scott Zivick and Simon Bucknell and sophomore Michael Trejo, all of whom were among the top six runners last year, and the first two of whom now have three years' experience under their belts.
As the Rice baseball team walked off the field at Alex Box Stadium on June 13, reeling from a 5-3 defeat at the hands of Louisiana State University in the NCAA Super Regionals, the players were already thinking to the arrival of the 2010 season and the new freshman class. However, because the Major League Baseball amateur draft had already taken place, the Owls knew that they stood a fair chance of losing several key components of the team who had fallen to the eventual national champions in two closely contested games.
If you thought Jason Colwick would slow down after his indoor national championship season, think again. The junior vaulted 5.70 meters to win first place at the Texas Invitational in Austin May 2 on his way to his third Conference USA male athlete of the week award for the outdoor season.
After legendary American athlete Jim Thorpe won the decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, in Stockholm, Sweden, King Gustav V told Thorpe, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." While King Gustav V is no longer with us, the fans of Owls' track and field could echo him by giving freshman Clayton Chaney the title of "Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational's Greatest Athlete," as he set a personal best of 6,539 points in winning the decathlon last weekend at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational in Los Angeles, Calif. In addition to Chaney's performance, Rice collected strong performances in the steeplechase, 1500-meter run, triple jump, shot put and discus throw.
Many taekwondo enthusiasts, and probably some Rice students, are surely aware that three of the four members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic taekwondo squad hail from nearby Sugar Land, Texas. But what most do not know is that Steven, Mark and Diana Lopez's trip to Beijing would not have been possible without the unflappable efforts of some Rice student. As Mark took silver and Steven and Diana took bronze in Beijng, Rice senior Nir Moriah, the Lopez' training partner, was smiling, knowing that his work with the Lopez's had gotten America a trio of medals.
The past two weeks held some mundane results for the men's track team, but there was one result that left everyone, if not speechless, then at least in awe. First, the typical. Over the last few weeks, the Owls stayed in the Lone Star State to compete in the Victor Lopez Bayou Classic, held at Rice Track Stadium, and the 82nd Annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin, Texas. During a fifth-place finish at the Bayou Classic, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) spotted some star performances, as senior Simon Bucknell took first place in the 1500-meter run and freshman Collin Shurbet finished third in 400-meter hurdles.
A textbook performance, and a storybook ending. Clearing heights of 5.35, 5.50 and 5.60 meters all on his first attempt, junior Jason Colwick, Rice's pole vaulter extraordinaire, earned himself the title of national champion last Friday at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, held at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas. Colwick came into the championship as the top-ranked collegiate pole vaulter in the nation and did nothing to make anyone at the meet think otherwise. Colwick's championship was Rice's first individual track and field championship since Allison Beckford (Lovett '03) won the 400 meter run indoor title in 2002. Colwick's performance also continued to add to the accolades that Rice pole vaulters have accrued over the years, as five Owls have won championships in the pole vault, including Dave Roberts (Will Rice '73) and Fred Hansen (Hanszen '63).
Going into spring break, the men's track and field team was primed to put the finishing touches on the masterpiece that was the 2009 indoor season, but a third-place finish at the Conference USA Indoor Championships had the Owls feeling like the last movement ended on a sour note. Despite several outstanding performances, Rice had several minor injuries and mishaps that ultimately led to their diminished performance at conference.
As the Houston Dynamo professional soccer team prepares to start its fourth season against the Columbus Crew on March 21, many of its players are preparing for life after their playing days. Members of the team attended a sports business seminar held in Rice Stadium's "R Room" on Tuesday afternoon, discussing the topic. The seminar, hosted by Dr. Clark Haptonstall, Dr. Jimmy Disch, Dr. Jason Sosa and Tom Stallings of the Sport Management department, focused on providing the players with a crash course in handling interviews, as well as an introduction to the opportunities that exist in the sports industry for former athletes.
The University of Houston's Yeoman Fieldhouse has suddenly become one giant good luck charm for the men's track team. After finishing in first place two weeks ago at the Leonard Hilton Invitational, also held at UH, the Owls turned in some incredible individual performances on Saturday. Junior Jason Colwick started the weekend with a new school record for the pole vault in indoor competition. His vault of 5.40 meters broke Paul Bratloff's mark of 5.26 meters set in 1983. Both Colwick, who was just named Conference USA Male Athlete of the Week on Tuesday, and sophomore Shea Kearney tied Bratloff's mark last year. Colwick now owns both the school indoor and outdoor records for the pole vault, as he vaulted 5.55 meters to win the Texas Relays last April. Saturday's vault was the third-best in the nation this year and was a provisional qualifying mark for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Most undergraduates at Rice do not venture into the dark bowels beneath Keck Hall that house Valhalla, the graduate student pub. We all surmise that amidst the crazy paintings on the wall and the loud music pumping against the walls, some of America's brightest graduate students are sharing a beer or two, discussing ideas far beyond undergraduate comprehension. What undergraduate students do not know, however, is that there is an elite runner among them. Colin Carroll is his name, a native Connecticuter who rises every day at 5:30 a.m. and runs loops around the Buffalo Bayou. At the Chevron Houston Marathon last Sunday, his time of 2:30:26, was good enough for a 13th-place finish overall, 11th among men and the fastest by any Texas resident.
If you witnessed last Friday's Leonard Hilton Invitational at the University of Houston, you would have watched a men's track and field meet that was a competition in name only. Rice used incredible individual performances in all events to earn an impressive 82.25-point win, easily besting the University of Texas-San Antonio's runner-up total of 68.25 and Houston's third-place grab of 65.25. Head coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) said even though Houston's showing was incomplete, the same was true for Rice.
The University of Houston Cougars continue to become an increasingly larger target on the Rice University Athletic Department's office dartboard. Not only did the football team circle the final tilt on the 2008 schedule against UH as an important matchup that could possibly make or break their season, head men's track and field coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) has stated that the Houston men's indoor track team will be a competitive rival in the battle for the Conference USA men's indoor track title.