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SPORTS 12/7/15 11:23am

Football closes 2015 with C-USA victory

In what was likely the final half of his collegiate career, senior running back Luke Turner ran his wildcat package of the offense to perfection, catalyzing a 27-point outburst that secured a 27-7 victory over the University of North Carolina, Charlotte to improve to 5-7 (3-5) on the season. The 49ers got the ball to open the game but were forced to punt after three plays by the Owls defense, giving Rice the ball at its own 29-yard line.

SPORTS 12/1/15 3:30pm

Football closes 2015 with C-USA victory

In what was likely the final half of his collegiate career, senior running back Luke Turner ran his wildcat package of the offense to perfection, catalyzing a 27-point outburst that secured a 27-7 victory over the University of North Carolina, Charlotte to improve to 5-7 (3-5) on the season.The 49ers got the ball to open the game but were forced to punt after three plays by the Owls defense, giving Rice the ball at its own 29-yard line. While the Owls were able to drive the ball to Charlotte’s five-yard line, freshman kicker Hayden Tobola missed a 22-yard field goal that set the tone for a scoreless first half. The Owls failed to generate any rhythm on offense throughout the half, going three-and-out on two occasions, while also turning the ball over on an interception and having the missed field goal. Fortunately, the 49ers were no better. Three missed field goals from Charlotte helped keep the game scoreless entering the second half.Rice Head Coach David Bailiff made numerous halftime adjustments that proved effective, such as more frequent utilization of Turner’s wildcat package and additional running plays. While the Owls were unable to score on any offensive drive in the first half, they scored on each of their five complete drives in the second half. The defense also continued to excel, keeping the 49ers off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter. The second half performance provided a strong finish to what had been a very uneven season.Bailiff said he was very pleased with his team’s effort.“I’m really proud of this football team,” Bailiff said. “It was amazing that in the first half, we just couldn’t get rhythm offensively, and the defense just kept playing. It’s a tribute to the type of young men we have. There’s no finger pointing. We just continued to work and pull for each other.”Redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons, who led the team with nine total tackles in the game, said he was similarly impressed with his team’s effort on defense.“I’m very proud of how the guys performed today,” Lyons said. “They sent the seniors home with a win.”According to Bailiff, Turner provided versatility for the offense over his career.“[Turner] is amazing,” Bailiff said. “If you just look at all that he has done for this team this year alone: He plays quarterback for us, he plays tight end for us, he’s played running back, he’s our deep snapper, he’s returned kicks for us, he’s returned punts for us. What he’s done is similar to what [former Rice tight end] James Casey did for us with all of the different skill sets that he has.”In a video that has since gone viral, Turner was emotional in expressing his appreciation for Bailiff’s belief in him as a player and as a person, and said he will never forget his time at Rice.“This was my only Division I offer,” Turner said. “I broke my leg my senior year in high school, and everyone sold me off, but that man right there [Bailiff] stuck with me and I’ll love him forever for it. He helped me get a great education that I know I’ll use very well, and he let me keep playing this game that I love. I love this university and I love that man back there; I’ll do anything for him and anything for this university.”Due to a lack of six-win teams in Division I college football this season, at least two and as many as five 5-7 teams could earn berths to bowl games, depending on the outcomes of several games this upcoming weekend. Should this occur, the Football Oversight Committee will determine the 5-7 teams that will play in bowl games. As such, there is an outside chance that Rice, despite its 5-7 record, could qualify for a bowl game. The Football Oversight Committee will use Academic Progress Rate scores to determine which 5-7 teams will qualify for a bowl. Rice is currently tied with the University of Illinois for sixth place in the rankings, making their chances of receiving a bowl invite incredibly slim.While the team would undoubtedly accept such an invitation to a bowl game, they have already began to look toward next season, and the things they must improve in 2016.“We have a lot to build on,” Bailiff said. “It’s what we’ll talk to the juniors about, and we’ll go back to work on Monday and get this football team better.”

SPORTS 12/1/15 2:42pm

Men’s basketball records first two wins of season

The Rice men’s basketball team played three games over the Thanksgiving recess and earned their first win of the season against Lamar University on Wednesday afternoon. The Owls were victorious once again against the University of California, Riverside on Friday night before dropping a contest to the University of Texas, Arlington on Sunday. The Owls currently sit at 2-5 on the season. Rice got off to a hot start against Lamar by jumping out to a 21-6 lead by the 13:17 mark of the first half. The Cardinals would respond over the next five minutes of play to make the score 27-23 with just over eight minutes left to play in the half. Despite shooting 60.7 percent from the field for the first half and knocking down 28 of 34 free throws for the game, the Owls continued to go back and forth with Lamar to the extent both teams were tied at 70 with eight minutes remaining. The Owls finished strong and held on for a 92-84 final score. Six different players scored in double-digits for Rice, led by 20 from freshman guard Marcus Evans. Other first-year players, guard Connor Cashaw and forward Egor Koulechov, scored 16 and 15 respectively while senior Max Guercy found most of his success from the free throw line going a perfect 10-10.In similar fashion to Wednesday night’s game, the Owls played Big West Conference foe, UC Riverside, in a back and forth high-intensity game. Towards the end of the first half, Rice managed to give themselves some breathing room, breaking off an 8-0 run to take the game into halftime leading 48-42. Late in the second period, the Owls broke off another run, this time of a 13-4 advantage to open up a 74-60 advantage. Another big offensive day allowed the Owls to outlast their opponent and win by a final score of 87-82. Four more players scored in double-figures for Rice including a career night from freshman forward Marquez Letcher-Ellis who contributed 17 points and 7 rebounds. The Owls had 16 assists on 33 field goals and won the rebounding battle for the first team this season 39-37. Riding a two-game winning streak, the Owls welcomed in the University of Texas, Arlington, a team who had recently beaten two of the most recognizable teams in college basketball, Ohio State University and the University of Memphis. The Owls could not contain the hot-shooting Mavericks who opened the game on 7-9 shooting from the field including four 3-pointers. Rice trailed 24-13 early but came back to cut the deficit to 29-26 at the 7:21 mark of the half. The Owls got as close as eight in the second half but could never trim the deficit that remained around the 12-14 point range most of the game. Rice had an opportunity to get close but the long-range shot was off for the Owls, who shot just 7-29 from three. Despite a memorable night for Koulechov, who was 10-15 from the floor with 28 points, the Owls lost 92-74. Just two days after a hard-earned and successful team win, Head Coach Mike Rhoades said he was disappointed by the lack of intensity his team had against the University of Texas, Arlington to close out the homestand.“I know we have young guys and we’re going to be inconsistent at times but we have to have a level of urgency to play, play the right way and play our way,” Rhoades said. “They’re a really good team, but if we would have had better urgency today it might have been a game we could have won.” According to Rhoades, there is a lesson to every victory as well as every loss that can be used as encouragement for the future of this program moving forward.“The moral of today’s story is you have to be ready to play basketball,” Rhoades said. “We learned the hard way today that we wasted an opportunity. I bet you all the guys including myself wish we had this one back but you don’t get them back. [That is] part of having a young team and working on changing the culture … but we’re going to fix it.”According to Rhoades, the team will have to move on and get stronger moving forward.“A lot of times it never goes as you want in life,” Rhoades said. “It’s not going how we want it right now so here’s your life lesson: What are you going to do? Pout, make excuses, point fingers, quit … or are you going to find a way to figure it out and fix it?”The Owls will make the short trip to Houston Baptist University on Wednesday, Dec. 2  night at 7:30 p.m. for a intra-city battle against the Huskies. Following this game, the Owls return home to Tudor Fieldhouse to face St. Edward’s University on Saturday, Dec. 5  at 7:00 p.m. The team will then enter a 10-day recess period for final exams and the ending of the 2015 academic semester. 

SPORTS 11/24/15 6:18am

Loss to UTSA snaps three year bowl streak

Despite impressive offensive performances from redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson, redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard, and redshirt sophomore receiver Nate German, the Rice University football team was unable to overcome three turnovers against the University of Texas, San Antonio, losing the contest 34-24. The loss dropped the Owls to 4-7 (2-5) on the season, ensuring a streak of three consecutive bowl game appearances will be snapped.

SPORTS 11/18/15 9:11am

Men’s basketball drops opener to Golden Bears

After coming off a thrilling 102-78 home exhibition victory over LeTourneau University, the Owls men’s basketball team traveled to Berkeley, California to take on the No. 14 University of California, Berkeley. With a 2015-16 roster made up of just three upperclassmen, many of the players experienced facing a top-15 college basketball program for the first time. The Owls were defeated by a final score of 97-65 on Friday night, but they gained valuable experience to draw from for the remainder of the season. Rice was greeted at Haas Pavilion by the roars of 10,530 fans. The raucous atmosphere didn’t faze the Owls at the start as the team came out and stuck right with their opponent. By the 14:19 mark of the first half, Rice led 14-11 with six quick points by true freshman guard Marcus Evans. However after that point, California caught fire running off a 23-4 run over the next eight minutes of play to take a commanding lead. However, the Owls put on a run of their own in response. Rice outscored Cal 14-4 over the next 4:16  to cut the lead to 10 with just 1:56 left in the half. Rice would take a 16-point deficit into halftime. Head Coach Mike Rhoades acknowledged the close lead in the first half but said the loss was due to a lack of momentum.“We cut it to 10 with the ball, but they scored the final six points of the half,” Rhoades said.  “The best way to have momentum is to take it into the half, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t shoot very well. We shot it a little better in the second half ... Now we have to do a better job.”As the course of the game progressed, the Owls could not keep up with the hot California offense that also kept Rice in check defensively. California shot 50.7 percent for the game while Rice shot just 36.7 percent. Sophomore transfer forward Egor Koulechov led Rice with 19 points and also registered eight rebounds in 31 minutes of play. Evans contributed 18 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor to give himself 42 combined points through just two games this season. The Owls were 15-22 from the free throw line and showed ball control by committing just nine turnovers for the game. California held the advantage in 3-pointers 10-6 and a clear rebounding advantage 48-30 which contributed to their 97-65 victory.Rhoades is now in his second year at the helm of the Owls, and said the young team needs more games to adjust to college play.“We didn’t play well today,” Rhoades said. “I thought we were selfish with the ball. We have a lot of young guys [and] it’s a lot harder to win in college basketball. They just figured that out. We’ve got to get a lot better.” Before the regular season began, Rice was already down two key players at the guard position to knee injuries, freshman Chad Lott and Preseason All-Conference USA guard Marcus Jackson. With their absence, the remainder of the team will need to work hard and play extra minutes even while running a fast-paced offense and a high-pressing defensive scheme. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Rhoades said the team will rely heavily on freshmen.“We’ve planned a schedule this year to throw our freshman in the fire,” Rhoades said. “We’re really throwing them in the fire now. We’re going to figure it out and keep moving forward [regarding the injuries] … There is no other way to do it.” Koulechov, a native of Volgograd, Russia and former member of the Israeli national team, is entering his first season with the Owls. He said he feels a deep connection with his teammates and enjoys the mutual respect granted by his coaching staff. “My favorite thing so far about [transferring to Rice] is just the connection we as players have with the coaching staff,” Koulechov said. “It never feels solely as basketball or business; it is something beyond that and it’s a great thing to have.” Koulechov said he shared Rhoades’ sentiments about the team’s selfishness.“We can’t play selfish, and [we] can’t do it by ourselves,” Koulechov said. “It takes a team effort and I think we didn’t play for each other on Friday. We will definitely fix that.” Following their trip to California, the Owls return home for their home opener against Oregon State University on Thursday, Nov. 19. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thresher Sports Writer Aaron Shi contributed to this article.

SPORTS 11/18/15 9:11am

Basketball prepares for opener at Tudor

Tudor Fieldhouse will be rocking on Thursday night as the Rice University men’s basketball team hosts Oregon State University in its first home game of the 2015-16 season. According to Head Coach Mike Rhoades, the team cannot wait to play in front of the home crowd.  “We have 17 home games this year, and that’s really great for the [players],” Rhoades said. “I wish every game was a home game.”The home crowd will see a very different team from the one that took the court last year at Tudor. It will be the first home game for five freshmen on the team: guard/forward Harrison Brown, guards Connor Cashaw and Marcus Evans and forwards Marquez Letcher-Ellis and Amir Smith. Sophomore forward Egor Koulechov, who transferred from Arizona State University, will also be playing in his first official game at Tudor Fieldhouse. Rhoades said that while these players are new to the Rice program, he is not afraid to let them play. “We need them to play significant minutes and make an impact,” Rhoades said. “We’re throwing them in the fire right as the season starts, but that’s the fun of it.”The newcomers are not the only players being challenged. Rice opened the season with two road games on the west coast against strong opponents: the University of California, Berkeley and the University of San Francisco. In their first game of the year, the Owls fell to No. 14 California 97-65. Egor Koulechov led the way for Rice with 19 points and eight rebounds, but it was not enough to defeat the Golden Bears. The Owls played San Francisco on Monday night before returning home to prepare for Oregon State. Thursday will mark the fourth meeting between Rice and Oregon State. The Beavers have won two of the three previous matchups, including a 67-54 victory over the Owls last November. Oregon State competes in the Pacific 12 Conference, a conference that currently has four schools ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The Beavers return all five starters from a team that went 17-14 under first-year Head Coach Wayne Tinkle. They are led by senior guard Gary Payton Jr., who was honored as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year last season and was named to the first team all-conference. According to Rhoades, the matchup will be a challenge for the Owls. “They’re very good,” Rhoades said. “Coach Tinkle has done a great job with his program in just one year.”The likely starting lineup for Oregon State includes Payton, senior guard Langston Morris-Walker, senior forward Olaf Schaftenaar, junior guard Malcolm Duvivier and freshman forward Drew Eubanks. These five players started the Beavers’ season opening 74-52 victory over Northwest Christian University.The Rice starting lineup, however, remains in flux. The Owls were forced to adapt after losing their top scorer, junior guard Marcus Jackson, and a highly touted newcomer, freshman guard Chad Lott, to knee injuries before the season began. The starters against California included senior guard Max Guercy, freshman guard Marcus Evans, sophomore guard Bishop Mency, junior center Andrew Drone and sophomore forward Egor Koulechov. According to Rhoades, the lineup is not set yet, but the uncertainty may be helping the team.  “It’s a tryout every day,” Rhoades said. “We’ve improved our competitiveness because guys think, ‘If I beat that guy out today, I’m going to play more than him.’”Rice is hoping its competitiveness can help it to defeat top-tier programs like Oregon State. According to Rhoades, the Owls are confident that if they play hard, they can win this game. “Getting close isn’t good enough,” Rhoades said. “For those 40 minutes, let’s be on edge, let’s be aggressive, let’s be loose, let’s be very confident and let’s see what we can do.”Rice will look to win its third straight home opener when it takes the court at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 at Tudor Fieldhouse. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and broadcast on TuneIn Radio. 

SPORTS 11/18/15 9:01am

Homecoming Heartbreak: Nine-year homecoming winning streak comes to an end

On Homecoming 2015, the Rice University football team fell to the University of Southern Mississippi in a 65-10 defeat. The Golden Eagles were led by 386 passing yards and five touchdowns from junior quarterback Nick Mullens. The Owls’ senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was sacked five times in the first half and replaced by redshirt junior Tyler Stehling at the end of the second quarter. The homecoming loss dropped the Owls to 4-6 (2-4) on the season and extended the team’s losing streak to three games.The Owls received the opening kickoff and were able to pick up a first down courtesy of a 16-yard run from redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard, though this would be their only first down of the opening quarter. The Owls and the Golden Eagles traded punts on their opening drives, after which Mullens hit sophomore running back Ito Smith for a 28-yard touchdown pass. While the Owls forced Southern Mississippi to punt on their following drive, the Golden Eagles would find the end zone on the following possession courtesy of a fake field goal. Junior punter Tyler Sarrazin found redshirt sophomore lineman Xavier Thigpen for a touchdown that was the turning point of the game. These scores initiated the beginning of a blowout. The Owls’ inability to get on track offensively and defensively eventually led them to a 58-0 fourth quarter deficit and a devastating defeat.The Owls did attempt to turn the blowout around. Redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was pulled out of the game with his team down 28-0, having just lost a fumble and not having completed any of his eight pass attempts. The Golden Eagles racked up 682 yards of offense to Rice’s 214, gained 26 first downs to Rice’s 15 and possessed the ball for just over 31 minutes of the game. Most notably, however, Southern Mississippi set a school record by putting up an impressive 35 points in the second quarter alone, effectively deciding the game long before the final whistle.Predictably, Head Coach David Bailiff was disappointed with his team’s poor showing, and said the team’s performance can be blamed on the coaching staff.“It starts with me,” Bailiff said. “This is an embarrassing loss. We’re going to keep analyzing everything that we do from top to bottom in this program. We didn’t get to three bowl games from being bad coaches, but every year is a different year and every year is a new set of problems and we’ve got to figure out solutions to what’s happening to us.”The Owls were penalized seven times for 67 yards in the game. Bailiff said he was upset with the team’s lack of discipline and eventually changed quarterbacks to try to light a spark.“We start the game with a penalty,” Bailiff said. “Then we get a nice run from [redshirt freshman] Austin Walter on the perimeter and we get a penalty. We can’t do that, we don’t have that margin for error. When I took [Jackson] out, I was hoping Tyler [Stehling] could stimulate it and get it going.”During the postgame press conference, Bailiff said he was particularly frustrated with his team’s poor tackling on defense. According to Bailiff, the Rice team wasn’t playing with a team mentality.“Some of those missed tackles tonight weren’t missed tackles,” Bailiff said. “It’s because we tried to hit them so hard we didn’t wrap up and tackle. That’s not what we work on. We work on tackling. And when we start to put this team first and tackling instead of trying to get the big hit, then we won’t have as many missed tackles. It’s not a team-first attitude, and that’s my biggest frustration at this time.”The Owls are now 4-6 on the season with upcoming games against the University of Texas, San Antonio and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte on the schedule. They will need to win both games to qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl game. While both opponents are not of Southern Mississippi’s caliber, it remains to be seen if Rice can recover from the 55-point loss in time to salvage what remains of their season.While Bailiff and his team are undoubtedly frustrated and unhappy with these recent performances, he said they are prepared to do whatever is necessary to rectify a turbulent situation.“We’ve been a winning football team around here,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to take this frustration and anger in our stomach and turn it into something positive on the football field. We’re going to get this figured out as a team, as a coaching staff, and it’s something I believe we can do.”The Owls will look to snap a three-game losing streak and move to 5-6 (3-4) in a matchup against UTSA in the Alamodome on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:27pm

The Fifth Quarter: In college athletics and life, money talks

This past year, Missouri has become a hotbed of racial tensions. Amid seemingly countless controversies and racial lines being formed, the state has become the center of a growing national concern. The issue has spread across college campuses across the country, including right here at Rice. It has moved to the forefront of issues in Missouri, and it has become unavoidable. The sports world is no exception.Over the weekend, black players on the University of Missouri football team threatened to boycott playing until university President Tim Wolfe stepped down. Wolfe was accused of avoiding comment or action regarding the racial tensions Missouri has faced recently. Specifically, protesters were upset with how he reacted, or rather didn’t react, to racially charged incidents on campus and his refusal to appropriately acknowledge protests. Eventually, Wolfe and university Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down amid the controversy.White and black players alike joined in the strike and threatened to end Missouri’s season early. Had Wolfe not stepped down, Missouri would have had to directly pay Brigham Young University, the next opponent on the Tigers’ schedule, $1 million in compensation for canceling the game. That financial loss does not include the revenue the university would have pulled in from television and other sources. The football team’s victory in forcing Wolfe’s resignation showcases an issue with college athletics that goes beyond racial boundaries. These athletes, these unpaid athletes, can bring in huge profits for their universities without ever seeing a dime of their contributions. This issue has been discussed and debated at length, but this particular event has the opportunity to revolutionize how we view college sports. Missouri’s players, whether realizing it or not, unionized to create change. Their unionization had such a tremendous impact on the university that the president had no choice but to listen to the demands of a varsity sports team. Consider the magnitude of the act: College athletes have the power to change their university from the top down.Just how much influence these events will have remains to be seen. If other teams in the future decide to sit out, who knows what demands they could make. The athletes bring in so much revenue that universities have no choice but to listen to them. Football, and to a lesser extent basketball, teams have the potential to hold a great deal of financial power over university administrations. What makes it more impressive is that protesters and social activists have been calling for Wolfe’s resignation since summer. It was only until this much money was involved that real change happened.Naturally, there are limits. These kinds of influences can only really happen at large Power 5 schools where football teams make profits. Only 20 Division 1 athletic departments profited in 2013; 103 schools lost money from athletics. Regardless, a team’s ability to sit out games and force their school to pay fines is a substantial power move that athletes can use to their advantage.I do not believe, however, that strikes and boycotts will become a regular thing. Most athletes want to play and realize they have been given a scholarship to do just that. Missouri, however, saw a perfect storm of geographic, financial and athletic circumstances to encourage the weekend’s events. The football program nets roughly $3 million in revenue each season, adding to its financial power. Additionally, the team is currently sitting at 4-5 with its postseason hopes looking bleak. The issue is not very clear cut, either. According to an anonymous Missouri player, the team’s decision was not unanimous, and only occurred because of the team’s disappointing season.“As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed,” the athlete told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy on Nov. 8. “If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”The issue speaks to the incredible power college football has over universities and the sports world. It also speaks to the importance of winning in modern athletics. Social change can be instituted by these boycotts, but not at the expense of winning. Too much money is on the line.Once again, college athletics has shown the foothold it has over administrations. While Missouri’s boycott ultimately proved successful, we once again learned an important lesson about college athletics and, indeed, the world: Money talks.Evan Neustater is a McMurtry College junior and Thresher Sports Editor.

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:25pm

Reis Fight: Men’s basketball is poised to compete in Conference USA

“Try and get thrown out tonight.”Those were the words Head Coach Mike Rhoades told the student section as he walked by before the exhibition game against LeTourneau on Saturday night. His team will play with that high energy all season long, and he wants us students to match that energy in the stands. For me, the excitement for Saturday’s game started 25 minutes before tipoff. I got to Tudor that early for three reasons. First, I needed to secure my spot in the front row. Second, I couldn’t study anymore because of my excitement for the upcoming game and season. Third, I wanted to watch warm-ups to witness the new student athletes to this program. While watching warm-ups, I witnessed something that I have not really seen from Rice basketball: dunks. And these dunks were not just your boring two-handed flushes, but dunks that one would witness in a dunk contest. Each player added a little extra flavor to his dunk, which was getting the blood flowing among all of the students in the student section. Dunks in warm-ups are exciting, but they don’t really matter because they do not change the score. But this team didn’t save the dunks just for warm-ups — they had dunks that changed the score, specifically one that gave the Owls triple digits. There was under a minute left in the game. Rice already had the win secured, but all the students wanted to see the team reach triple digits. The play started with a block by freshman forward Amir Smith that then led to a fast break the other way by sophomore guard Oliver Xu. Xu missed the layup, but Smith was there to throw down the putback dunk that put Rice over 100 points, causing Tudor Fieldhouse to erupt. When the clock showed three zeros, the party began as the players and Coach Rhoades joined the student body in the stands for the alma mater. They were truly appreciative of the support and wanted to thank us for showing up, cheering and staying till the end. The team this year is ready to shock the world, but to us this should not be a surprise. If you have ever listened to Coach Rhoades, you know he creates excitement and expects nothing but success from his team. If you have ever watched a video of the off-season workouts this team goes through, you know that they are putting in the work to become a championship team. If you have ever attended a game, you know this team is exciting to watch and able to play. This year we don’t have to rely on the 3-point shot to be successful. This year we don’t have to rely on Seth Gearhart scoring over 40 points to be successful. This year we don’t have to count on three players playing more than 35 minutes a game. This year we will see a team with multiple players who can score in multiple different ways. This year we will see a team that will press for all 40 minutes. This year we will see a team that will create buzz around campus as a place you need to be on a Saturday night. What do I believe is possible for this team? An NCAA tournament berth this season. What do I believe is most realistic? A Top Four finish in Conference USA with a spot in the National Invitational Tournament, hosting a postseason game in March in front of a sold-out crowd in Tudor. If you thought last year was exciting, buckle up for this wild ride. In the words of Coach Rhoades, put down your books for two hours and head to Tudor to act like a crazy person having the time of your life. Jeremy Reiskind is a Duncan College junior.

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:24pm

Men’s hoops dominates in exhibition

Scoring their most points since 2011, the Rice University men’s basketball team handily defeated LeTourneau University to cruise to a 102-78 preseason win. Rice had five players score in double figures, with freshman guard Marcus Evans leading the way with a game-high 24 points on nine-of-11 shooting. Evans also notched five rebounds and four assists. Sophomore swingman Egor Koulechov recorded a double-double, with 23 points and 10 boards, and freshman guard Connor Cashaw contributed 17 points. Sophomore guard Bishop Mency and freshman forward Marquez Letcher-Ellis each posted 11 points.LeTourneau was led by sophomore sharpshooter Alex Colhoff, who scored 23 points, which included seven 3-pointers, and pulled down 10 rebounds for a double-double. He was complemented by senior guard CJ Edwards, who had 16 points, and junior guard Jeff Martin, who had 11 points. From a statistical perspective, the Owls played efficiently, scoring 57.4 percent (35 of 61) of their field goals and 40.0 percent (10 of 25) from 3-point territory. The Yellow Jackets shot only 39 percent (28 of 71) from the field but scored a high 51.5 percent (17 of 33) from three. Rice also led LeTourneau in rebounds 45 to 30. According to Rice Head Coach Mike Rhoades, the team enjoyed finally playing a real game.“It was great to get out there and play somebody else, for the coaches as well as the players,” Rhoades said. “When you go as long as we did, from the first of October, you just want to play somebody else. Of course, when the bleachers are pulled out and the stands are full, it’s always fun.”The Owls took the lead early and never trailed throughout the game. Rice began with 13 straight points, holding LeTourneau scoreless until the fifth minute when Colhoff hit a three to give the Yellow Jackets their first points of the game. Rice then pushed to a 21-6 lead, but LeTourneau went for a 6-2 run to close the gap to 23-14. The Owls returned the favor with a 16-2 run for a convincing 39-16 lead and finished the half 53-27.After trading baskets in the first three minutes of the second half, Rice pushed ahead with a 7-0 run and never looked back. Although LeTourneau outscored Rice 51-49 in the second half, Rice led by as many as 32 and finished with a 102-78 victory. Rice now turns to their season opener against No. 14 University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, CA on Friday, Nov. 13 at 10:30 p.m.

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:23pm

Soccer bids farewell to senior class

Many, if not all of us, recognize the famous saying, “All good things must come to an end.” It appears that this also is true for the Rice Owls soccer team who bid farewell to a group of five talented seniors. With a loss in the opening round of the Conference USA tournament this past Wednesday in Miami, FL, the 2015 campaign concluded with a 10-7-2 record. The senior class brought home two C-USA championships during their time at Rice and depart holding numerous team records and individual school records.Entering as the No. 4 seed of the tournament, Rice played the No. 5 seed, Middle Tennessee State University, a team in which they battled to a 0-0 double overtime draw earlier in the season. The game shaped out be very similar to the first in that Rice held the clear advantage in shots with 21-10 but could not find the back of the net. In the 78th minute of the match, Middle Tennessee forward Grace Summers hit the top right corner of the goal from just outside the 18-yard box to give the Blue Riders 1-0 lead. The C-USA defensive player of the season and goalkeeper Kelsey Brouwer proved why she was selected when she registered nine saves on the day. The Owls continued to fight getting off five shots in the final 11 minutes but never found the equalizer. Middle Tennessee was eliminated in the semifinal round of the tournament by the No. 2 seed Marshall University two days later. Regular season champions, the University of North Texas went on to defeat Marshall in the championship game of the tournament on Sunday to take home the 2015 trophy. The season for the Owls was one of ups and downs for the preseason Conference USA favorites. The club was coming off a 14-win season in which Head Coach Nicky Adams was named C-USA Coach of the Year while senior forward Lauren Hughes was awarded Offensive Player of the Year honors. The club also welcomed six freshmen and one transfer who all made impacts in one way or another this season. The Owls soared to a hot start to the season, opening with a 4-1-1 record through their first six games. Over that span, Rice’s only loss came at the hands of No. 5 nationally ranked Texas A&M University. After one stretch in September saw the Owls lose three games out of four, Rice fell to a 5-4-1 record. The month of October was much better for Rice as they rattled off four wins in their next five games to improve the record to 9-5-1. However, Hughes was a consistent piece all season for the Owls, playing up to her preseason expectation earning 2015 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Hughes led the team and the entire conference with ten assists on the season and also scored ten goals on the season, five of which were game winners. She is just the third player in Rice school history to be tabbed First-Team All-Conference three times in her career. She is ending her career holding school records in goals (39), assists (28) and points (106), among numerous other accolades.Senior forward Holly Hargreaves, a four-year starter for the Owls, set a magnificent record earlier in her career by starting every single game of her Rice career from freshman year through junior year, a streak of 60 matches. Hargreaves is finishing second in school history in goals with 32, trailing only behind Hughes in the record books. She has tallied 5,993 minutes as an Owl and also holds the school record for goals scored in one game, with four goals last season against Louisiana Tech University. Yet another star player for the Owls, senior midfielder Danielle Spriggs, has started 52 of her last 54 games for the Rice Owls from the outside midfielder position. Known for her hard style of play and lengthy runs, Spriggs was crucial throughout her Rice career in setting up Hughes and Hargreaves up top with good looks on goal. Spriggs registered three goals and four assists this season. The Owls squad earned a total of six conference awards for their efforts. Hughes was named First-Team All-Conference for a third straight season. Sophomore midfielder Samantha Chaiken and senior defender Jasmine Isokpunwu earned All-Conference Second Team honors. Hargreaves and junior defender Jenny Fichera both earned All-Conference Third Team honors. Freshman midfielder Dominique Mazero was named to the all-freshman squad. Head Coach Nicky Adams talked about the season in general as well as highlighted some of the greatest moments of the season. “Overall this has been a very positive season,” Adams said. “In 2014 we lost some key players in key positions and I am proud of how some our players stepped up in some new roles. This season started off with a bang being able to host the No. 3 team in the country at the time, Texas A&M. We [also] scored some unbelievable goals this year: a diving header vs. Arkansas by [Walker] and a tying goal vs. FAU with five seconds left on the clock by [Isokpunwu], just to name a few. Adams had many positive things to say about her senior class and will remember them for being such great ambassadors for Rice University. “This senior class will always be extremely special to me [because] this is the first class we recruited when I became the head coach,” Adams said. “All of these players have provided us with some of the most unbelievable moments on the field, but every single one of these young ladies have [also] been an amazing ambassador for Rice University. I am sure we will see a few of these players in the Rice Hall of Fame in the future.”Adams and her coaching staff are already focused towards next season and bringing home a conference title in 2016. “We do have quite a few younger players for 2016, but they all gained such valuable experience this fall,” Adams said. “The coaching staff is extremely excited to work this spring with this team [because] we have some amazing talent. We are looking forward to really pushing them and testing them this upcoming spring season to be the best they can be.” Team captain Danielle Spriggs believes strongly in the rise of the Rice Owls program moving forward long after her graduation.  “I am really excited for the future of this program,” Spriggs said. “I know the program has all the tools that they need to succeed, with great coaches, players and with the facilities coming along. I see conference championships becoming an annual thing for this program and [deep] NCAA runs [to match].”

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:23pm

National Player of the Week finds new home at Rice

According to the American Volleyball Coaches Association, there was no better volleyball player in the country last week than Rice sophomore setter Madison McDaniel. McDaniel was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week for her performances in wins over conference rivals No. 22 Western Kentucky University and the University of Southern Mississippi last week. In the two wins, she posted a combined 109 assists and 27 digs in eight total sets. Although McDaniel thought she played well this week, she said she was surprised by the award.“I was so excited,” McDaniel said. “I actually didn’t really know until I got tagged in a Twitter post then got a call from my old club coach, and he told me how huge of a deal it was.”The award was a culmination of a long journey — a journey that led her less than an hour’s drive from her home. McDaniel hails from The Woodlands, TX, just under 40 miles from Rice. According to McDaniel, her father first pushed her to play volleyball, but her older sister Morgan first inspired her to commit to the sport. “[My sister] was trying out and of course I wanted to be like her,” McDaniel said. “So when I was in fourth grade I started playing on my first club team.”McDaniel continued playing on club and school teams while honing her skills throughout middle school and high school in The Woodlands. According to McDaniel, it was easy for her to fall in love with volleyball. “My favorite part about volleyball is that there is constant action on the court,” McDaniel said. “You see the ball and you instantly react, and you’re always needed for something.”While attending high school, McDaniel was honored as an AVCA Phenom in 2012 and was named to the high school All-Texas Second Team in 2013 and 2014. After high school, McDaniel chose to attend Arizona State University. She appeared in 25 sets as a freshman, accumulating 23 kills, 14 kills and 12 blocks. After her freshman year, however, she chose to transfer to Rice, a decision she said was easy after meeting with the team. “Of course when I visited I fell in love with the coaches and the players,” McDaniel said. “I have never played with a group of girls who are so nice and supportive of one another.”Since coming to Rice, McDaniel has accumulated 49 kills, 892 assists, 266 digs and 44 blocks. She has been named Conference USA setter of the week five times. While McDaniel is honored to receive the individual award, she remains focused on team-oriented goals. Currently, the Owls are 19-9 with a 9-5 record in Conference USA. They have two games remaining before the conference tournament begins on Nov. 20 in San Antonio. According to McDaniel, the team is hoping for much more success. “We have so much talent in all areas of the court and we are always composed in tough situations,” McDaniel said. “I really think this will help push us to hopefully finish out the season by winning the conference championship.”The Owls’ next game is Thursday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. in Tudor Fieldhouse against the University of Texas, El Paso. Rice volleyball will be celebrating Senior Night to honor graduating seniors Kyley Reed, Kimberly Vaio and Noelle Whitlock. The Owls will then have one final road match against the University of Alabama, Birmingham to conclude the regular season. 

SPORTS 11/10/15 3:22pm

Late field goal gives UTEP win over Rice

Despite 116 receiving yards from redshirt junior wide receiver Zach Wright, the Rice University football team was unable to come up with what would have been a huge victory over the University of Texas, El Paso. Rice lost the contest 24-21 on a last-minute field goal from UTEP junior kicker Jay Mattox.After a scoreless first quarter in which neither offense was able to sustain any rhythm, both teams got rolling in the second quarter, as the Owls struck first on a three-yard touchdown run by senior halfback Luke Turner. Rice, however, was unable to keep the lead. The defense’s propensity to give up big plays at times again surfaced, as UTEP sophomore quarterback Mack Leftwich connected with junior wide receiver Jaquan White on a 58-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven.For the remainder of the game, the teams engaged in a back-and-forth affair in which neither team was able to take full control, leading to another nail-biting fourth quarter for the Owls. While the Owls were able to pull out close victories against Florida Atlantic University and the Army with game-winning fourth quarter drives earlier in the season, they found themselves on the opposite end this time around. Leftwich and senior running back Jeremiah Laufusa were able to lead the Miners down the field on what would be the game-winning drive, as Mattox put his team up for good with just 48 seconds left in the game.For the second consecutive game, the Owls’ offense appeared to stagnate due to an inability to run the ball consistently. Despite 31 attempts, the team was only able to muster 90 rushing yards, 53 of which came courtesy of redshirt junior running back Darik Dillard. Head Coach David Bailiff mentioned after last week’s loss to Louisiana Tech University how crucial it is for his offense to run the ball effectively, and that was evident yet again. The Owls were out-possessed for one of the few times this season — holding the ball for only 26:36 — which undoubtedly played a factor in the team’s loss.Bailiff, whose team only had 22 plays in the second half, said the team needs to do a better job of capitalizing on offense.“When you’re playing a team that’s keeping the ball and you’re having trouble stopping them, we’ve got to take advantage of when we had the ball, and we just didn’t do it,” Bailiff said. “We weren’t moving people at the line of scrimmage well. You’ve got to sustain blocks, keep your helmets on people. We’ve got to look at this video and figure out why we’re having trouble establishing the run, because earlier in the year we were good at it.”Redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson shared the same sentiments and said he attributes the loss to a lack of physicality.“We just got outmatched,” Jackson said. “They were more physical than us, they wanted it more than us, and they got it.”Several players lamented how inconsistent the team has been this season, as the most recent loss against UTEP added to an incredibly up-and-down season. While there have been impressive victories over the University of North Texas, Florida Atlantic and Army, there have also been numerous bad losses, such as those to Western Kentucky University, Louisiana Tech University and now, UTEP. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Ross Winship said the team needs to work on fixing these inconsistencies.“Tonight we played really inconsistent football and left a lot of plays on the field, defensively and offensively,” Winship said. “We have to make the plays we have to make to score or have stops in the critical times of the game. The inconsistencies of how we’ve been playing has really been eating us up.”The loss to the Miners eliminated the Owls from contention within the Conference USA West Division, leaving the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and the University of Southern Mississippi as the remaining contenders. With a Conference USA title therefore out of reach, the Owls will shift their focus to qualifying for a bowl game for the fourth consecutive year. To do so, however, they will need to win two of their final three games, the next of which comes against Southern Mississippi. According to Jackson, it will be challenging road ahead, but one on which the Owls are ready to embark.“We’re just looking forward to getting back to it this week and moving on to Southern Mississippi,” Jackson said.The Owls will look to improve their record to 5-5 and get one win closer to bowl eligibility with a homecoming matchup against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles on Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Rice Stadium.

SPORTS 11/4/15 5:27am

Soccer senior class leaves legacy

Thursday night at Holloway Field, we witnessed the end of an era. Every year in college athletics a group of seniors leave, but the five seniors leaving from the soccer team have done amazing things to solidify themselves as one of the best senior classes in Rice soccer history.  To start, this class is the only class to secure multiple conference championships. In 2012, their freshman year, they won the Conference USA regular season with eight conference wins. Then after a disappointing 2013 campaign, the team rebounded in 2014 to win the C-USA tournament and secure a berth to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. A great class normally needs a star player. This class does not have just one star but two. Holly Hargreaves and Lauren Hughes have been causing havoc for C-USA backlines for four years. Hargreaves and Hughes are the best scorers in Rice history; Hughes will finish her career first in goals, assists and points while Hargreaves will finish second in goals and points. They have combined for six First Team All-C-USA honors (three each), Hargreaves was named C-USA Freshman of the Year in 2012, and Hughes was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015. Every superstar needs a strong supporting cast. First there is Danielle Spriggs, the outside midfielder who runs more 40-yard sprints in a game than most collegiate football players preparing for the NFL combine. Over the last two years, Spriggs has become a constant on the wing, starting every game and helping Hughes and Hargreaves put goals in the back of the net. Next is Jasmine Isokpunwu, who has helped solidify the defense. She has played center back and center defensive mid, but she is most exciting to watch in the air. Isokpunwu is so strong in the air, winning 50-50 balls as well as using her head to redirect corners or free kicks towards the back of the net. Her play this year earned her Second Team All-C-USA honors. Rounding out the five seniors is goalkeeper Kara Dugall. She has not started many games in her career, but has provided quality minutes in net when called upon. However, I know for all the seniors on this team, the past does not matter. What matters is this week, the 2015 C-USA championship and defending their C-USA title. The Owls enter the tournament as the fourth seed, which means a potential semi-final match up against the University of North Texas, the first seed in the tournament, in a rematch of last year’s C-USA title match. The two teams faced each other two weeks ago in Denton, TX on senior night, and the Owls dropped the match 2-1. Rice conceded two goals in the first 20 minutes. Afterwards, Rice calmed down and possessed the ball, however we were unable to complete passes in the offensive third and unable to put multiple quality shots on goal to test their keeper. Even in defeat, the team knows they can beat North Texas and wants a chance at revenge.Hopefully this senior class gets at least five more games and can add another accolade to its legacy: The first ever NCAA tournament victory in school history. 

SPORTS 11/4/15 5:27am

Volleyball upsets WKU in thriller

On Halloween afternoon, the Rice University volleyball team defeated the conference-leading No. 22 Western Kentucky University in a thrilling five-setter (25-23, 25-21, 22-25, 23-25, 16-14) at Tudor Fieldhouse, snapping Western Kentucky’s 17-match win streak and avenging Rice’s five-set loss to Western Kentucky last year in the Conference USA championship match. With the win, the Owls hand Western Kentucky their first C-USA loss of the season and improve to an 18-8 overall record and 8-4 in conference play, placing them third in the C-USA standings.According to Rice Head Coach Genny Volpe, the Owls performed and competed at a high level. “Today was fun,” Volpe said. ”Our team has been up and down all season, but it seems like when we play strong opponents, we step up our game. It was a battle to the very end, and we happened to come out on top this time. It was great volleyball between two evenly matched teams that run a balanced offense.”Rice recorded season-highs in kills (83) and assists (81) with three players posting double-doubles. The C-USA Setter of the Week, sophomore setter Madison McDaniel, set a career-high 70 assists in addition to notching 12 digs. Junior outside hitter Leah Mikesky led all players with 21 kills (.280) complemented with 16 digs, and senior outside hitter Noelle Whitlock achieved a match and career-high 24 digs while also contributing 16 kills (.231). Whitlock also eclipsed 1,000 career digs late in the third set and became the 16th Owl in school history to reach such a feat.Whitlock said the achievement helped propel the team to victory.“I think [this achievement] helped me realize that this is going to be a big win,” Whitlock said after the match. “That would make that day so much better, just having both this win and 1,000 digs.” Rice took the first set 25-23 without ever trailing and held Western Kentucky to a .222 hitting percentage. The Owls never trailed in the second set either, winning 25-21 and led by as much as seven, maintaining a match-high .465 kill percentage. However, the Toppers rallied from behind to take the second and third sets 25-22 and 25-23, respectively, to force a deciding fifth set. The Toppers jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the fifth set, but the Owls responded with a 7-1 run and never looked back, winning 16-14 to complete the upset.Rice now prepares for their upcoming road games against the University of Texas, San Antonio on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Marshall University on Sunday at 12 p.m. UTSA sits just above Rice at second place in the Conference USA standings, while Marshall is in eighth place with an even 6-6 record.