Before Rice football’s game against the Texas Longhorns last week, Head Coach David Bailiff stressed the importance of that game was to prepare for conference play. This week, Rice will open their Conference USA schedule against the University of North Texas.According to Bailiff, this week’s game will be the first step toward Rice’s ultimate goal of winning the conference for the first time since 2013.“That’s what it’s all about,” Bailiff said. “Winning Conference USA.”The Owls (1-1) will travel to Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas to take on the Mean Green (0-1). Founded in 1890 as a teachers’ college, the University of North Texas enrolls 29,723 undergraduates. The football program has won two Division I bowl games in its history. Most recently, the Mean Green won the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013 to cap a 9-4 season. Although the North Texas football program began in 1953, Rice and North Texas did not play each other until 1988.In their sixth meeting with North Texas since that 1988 game, Rice will attempt to bounce back from a 42-28 loss to the Texas Longhorns Saturday night.According to Bailiff, the loss, though disappointing, provided some positives to carry into this week’s game.“Even in the loss, we can learn a lot of lessons to improve this football team,” Bailiff said. “I think this is [a game] that will strengthen our resolve.”North Texas will be looking to make improvements of its after a season-opening 31-13 loss to Southern Methodist University. Senior quarterback Andrew McNulty threw for 128 yards and ran for 50 more and senior running back Antoinne Jimmerson ran for 40 yards and a touchdown as the Mean Green led 13-10 entering the fourth quarter. The defense, however, surrendered 21 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to send the Mean Green to their 16th season opening loss in the last 19 seasons.North Texas’ roster has changed significantly since a 4-8 season last year. They return five starters from an offense that ranked No. 79 in Division I in points per game. The returners include McNulty, senior tight end Marcus Smith, senior wide receiver Carlos Harris, junior wide receiver Darvin Kidsy, and sophomore center Kaydon Kirby. The defense, however, returns only two starters: senior cornerback Kenny Buyers and junior linebacker Fred Scott.This new-look North Texas defense will be tasked with stopping an Owls offense that has averaged 502.5 yards in its first two games, including 314.5 rushing yards per game.Freshman running back Samuel Stewart said that practice with the other Rice running backs has led to this success.“It’s a competition everyday,” Stewart said. “Everyday in practice we’re pushing each other and making sure we’re good in pass protection, ball security, making our reads in the zone game, all of that.”Stewart was not the only one to stress the value of practice. Last week, Bailiff noted that the players were excited to begin watching film and practicing for the Texas game. After a spirited performance this past weekend, Bailiff said he hopes the team can keep its motivation high.“We’ve got to go to North Texas with the same demeanor and the same effort we displayed [against Texas],” Bailiff said.Rice will try to ride that effort to a victory in its Conference USA opener this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas. The game will be televised nationally on Fox College Sports.
After two consecutive berths to the Club Soccer National Tournament, the Rice Men’s Club soccer team, known as the Lads, has set a new bar for success. With the team’s recent achievements, making Nationals is no longer an unattainable goal, but rather an expectation.
During his “We choose to go the Moon” speech on Sept. 12, 1962, former United States President John F. Kennedy asked the crowd “Why does Rice play Texas?” and explained, “Because it’s hard.” According to Head Coach David Bailiff, Kennedy was right.“I think [Kennedy] summed it up,” Bailiff said. “It’s because it’s hard.”On Saturday, Rice (1-0) will travel to Darrell K. Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin to take on the University of Texas, Austin (0-1). Despite the daunting challenge, senior running back Luke Turner said Rice is relishing the opportunity to go up against the Longhorns.“It’s really exciting,” Turner said. “Not every game we get to play in is against a big opponent like Texas.”Texas plays in the Big 12 Conference, one of the “Power Five” conferences. Texas’ football stadium holds over 100,000 fans, and its student body with 38,463 enrolled undergraduates dwarfs Rice’s student body with only 3,965 undergraduates. The Longhorns have won four national championships, most recently in 2005. The last time Rice faced off against Texas was in 2011 when the Owls fell to the Longhorns 34-9. Though it has been four seasons since their last matchup, Rice and Texas have a long-standing rivalry. From 1914 to 1996, both schools belonged to the Southwest Athletic Conference. After playing against each other for the first time in 1914, Texas and Rice have faced off 93 times. Texas leads the all-time series 71-21-1. The last time Rice beat Texas was in 1994, and the Owls have fallen in all 12 games since then.According to Bailiff, Rice needs to focus on itself rather than the stature of their opponent.“We don’t really have to worry so much about them,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got to worry about us, just play our game and be the best team that we can be this week.” Going into Saturday’s game, Rice will try to maintain its momentum from a 56-16 win over Wagner College last weekend. The win was the first season-opening victory for the Owls since 2008. The Longhorns, meanwhile, will try to rebound from a loss last week. Led by second-year Head Coach Charlie Strong, Texas fell to No. 11 Notre Dame 38-3. The Longhorns managed only 163 yards of offense in the defeat, passing for 106 yards and rushing for 60. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes led the passing offense, going 10 of 19 for 93 yards passing, and senior running back Jonathan Gray was the Longhorns’ leading rusher with 40 yards rushing on eight carries. Despite Texas’s loss, Bailiff said Rice is not approaching the game any differently.“When a team struggles like that, they’re going to turn around the next week,” Bailiff said. “You know those are proud young men, that’s a proud program and I really feel like we’re gonna see a very different University of Texas team.”Texas has undergone significant roster turnover since last season, losing six starters from last year’s defense that allowed 23.8 points per game, the 32nd best in the country last year. Returning starters on defense include senior cornerback Duke Thomas, senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, junior nose tackle Hassan Ridgeway, junior safety Dylan Haines and sophomore safety Jason Hall. Rice will be wearing special white helmets for the game in Austin. On the back, there is a circular black sticker emblazoned with the word “Froggy” in honor of legendary Rice player Froggy Williams. Williams, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the “unofficial historian” of Rice Athletics according to Bailiff, passed away this summer. While stressing that the purpose of this game is to prepare for Conference USA play, Bailiff said he knows playing Texas means a lot to him and his team. “This [game] is one you go into dreaming big,” Bailiff said. “We’re dreaming big right now.” Rice will try to make those dreams come true Saturday night in Austin. Rice will matchup against Texas at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 and the game will be televised on the Longhorn Network.
Aside from her 5-foot-10-inch frame, senior soccer player Lauren Hughes’ most distinguishing feature on the soccer pitch is the number seven stamped across her jersey. Her number, typically reserved for an attacking soccer player, fits her play style perfectly. She nervously laughs as she explains that her number decision was not a soccer decision, but rather one Hughes made at a young age in an effort to replicate her older brother’s teammate and her first crush. “I have two older brothers who both played hockey and I would always go to their games,” Hughes said. “There was a guy on my oldest brother’s team, and he was my first crush and biggest crush ever. It came time to pick our soccer numbers and I decided to wear number seven because [he] was number seven.” As soon as she started playing soccer, her coaches saw potential for a future career in the sport. Hughes said she quickly fell in love with the game and soon after made her first competitive team at age eight. “When I was 10 years old, I had a coach who pulled me and my mom aside and said ‘Lauren can go as far as she wants with soccer,’” Hughes said. “That’s when I was realized I could go play soccer or go play pro.” An interconnected chain of opportunity and coincidence took Hughes from Ottawa to Houston for her college soccer career. Her road to Rice began when her club team, the Ottawa Fury, competed in Florida during her sophomore year of high school. There, John Adams, an assistant coach at Houston Baptist University, saw Hughes play and contacted her. The following year, Adams became an assistant coach at Rice and led the way for Hughes to join the Owls’ soccer team. Hughes decided to come to Rice without ever stepping foot on campus, a move Hughes said was “a huge leap of faith.” According to Hughes, the decision to come to Rice was not very informed. “At first I had never heard of Rice but my dad and I looked into it together,” Hughes said. “I didn’t even have an unofficial visit, which is unheard of.” Hughes said the academic reputation of Rice was a primary concern as she worried about the workload and difficulty of the university. “Academically, I was really nervous,” Hughes said. “Obviously, athletes have a different standard to get into Rice. I found the transition academically to be fine. I am challenged but I am not in over my head.” Hughes quickly impressed players and coaches around the conference and began her stockpile of awards. She was named to the All-Conference USA second team and shared the team’s Rookie of the Year Award with teammate Holly Hargreaves during her freshman year. She followed up with an impressive sophomore year performance in which she was named to the All-Conference USA first team. In her junior year, she led the conference with 14 goals en route to another All-Conference season and a Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year award. According to Hughes, the Offensive Player of Year award is especially important to her due to the process through which rival coaches vote to select it. “Last year, winning Offensive Player of the Year was really cool because it is an award that the coaches in your conference vote on,” Hughes said. “It is cool to know that I am respected as a player in this conference.” Hughes has already left her mark on the Rice record books and is the current all-time leader in goals scored with a current total of 36 and almost a full season left to go. She said holding school records is a significant personal achievement, but she hopes future players will strive to one day pass her. “It’s just great to be able to make an impact on the program,” Hughes said. “And I hope people come in and break my records.” Nicky Adams, the head coach since 2011, has coached Hughes throughout her college career at Rice. Assistant Coach Allison Martino has also been a large influence on Hughes’ soccer game, especially her current transition to occasionally occupying the midfield role, where the Owls have not found a permanent starter after the departure of players such as Quinny Truong (Will Rice ’14). According to Hughes, she credits her coaches for her level of success at Rice. “Ever since I got to Rice, Nicky and Allison have challenged me to be a big player and win awards and break records,” Hughes said. “Nicky is so passionate and it is awesome. I have never seen anyone love the game of soccer so much. Allison has also been helping me learn the role of midfielder more.” Hughes, a Will Rice College senior, said the residential college system has complemented her student athlete experience at Rice. “I love Will Rice,” Hughes said. “I think the college system is so awesome because there are so many people I wouldn’t have been able meet. Some of my best friends are people I matriculated with at Will Rice and I never would have met them if it weren’t for the college system. I just would have been in the athlete bubble.” Hughes also said the college system, particularly at her college, supports athletes with a fan base and a culture of inclusivity. “Athletes for the most part do a good job of being around and Will Rice does a good job of supporting its athletes,” Hughes said. “There are always Will Ricers at our games and I love going to Will Rice for meals. This is my first year not living at Will Rice but Will Rice has made me want to come back and hang out.” As she looks to graduate with a double major in sport management and sociology and a minor in poverty, justice and human capabilities, Hughes said she is looking to play professional soccer after graduation before pursuing a career in her academic field. “I think I’m going to try to keep playing soccer,” Hughes said. “I am going to be only 21 when I graduate and I don’t want to get settled down and rooted into a career and regret not trying to pursue soccer.” However, Hughes said she is still not certain in her long-term plans after a summer playing for a Christian soccer team in North Carolina, during which she began to strongly consider a life in sports or youth ministry. “This year, I have definitely been questioning whether that is what I want to do,” Hughes said. “I am thinking that after soccer, I may want to get into ministry. I never would have thought I would have wanted to go into that before this summer, but it was super rewarding and something I could totally see myself doing.” For now, she is working toward her plans of playing in a European women’s soccer league, as playing soccer in the U.S. would require her to leave Rice before graduating. According to Hughes, she would play in a semi-pro league until the European league’s signing period in August. “I want to play in Europe and don’t have much of a desire to play women’s pro soccer in the U.S.,” Hughes said. “I’ve always wanted to travel so why not use soccer? I think that’s the plan, but who knows?” Hughes and the rest of the Rice soccer team will look to continue their five-game unbeaten streak beginning Sept. 11 against the University of Dayton.
September 5 marks the deadline for all National Football League teams to complete their 53-man rosters. Nine Owls were drafted, two of which, Bryce Callahan and Christian Covington, made an NFL roster for the first time.The Chicago Bears signed Callahan as an undrafted free agent. During the preseason, Callahan saw time at cornerback and on special teams. He recorded six tackles during the preseason, with his best game coming in the final preseason game against the Cleveland Browns in which he got the start, had three tackles and a recorded a pass defended. The Bears will use him mostly on special teams with a few occasional snaps on defense.The Houston Texans drafted Christian Covington as a sixth-round draft pick. Throughout the preseason, Covington has received tremendous praise from coaches and players about his attitude and skill. In four preseason games, Covington recorded 10 tackles, and has now secured one of five defensive line spots for the Texans.According to Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien, Covington is a versatile player who can make an impact on the Texans’ defense.“I see him in different roles,” O’Brien said. “He’s very active. He gets off blocks and makes plays.” James Casey, the longest tenured Rice Owl in the NFL, is entering his seventh season in the league. Casey is listed as the starting fullback for the Denver Broncos and finished the preseason with three catches for 30 yards. For his career, Casey has 72 receptions for 842 yards and six touchdowns.Besides Callahan, the Owls have two other defensive backs are on NFL rosters: Phillip Gaines of the Kansas City Chiefs and Andrew Sendejo of the Minnesota Vikings. Entering his second year, Gaines earned a starting spot this season after a strong second half of his rookie year. Last season, Gaines recorded 20 tackles and defended four passes while starting five games. In a strong preseason, Sendejo recorded 15 tackles with one pass defended. Sendejo is currently listed as a backup to start the season.Rice’s last defensive player on a NFL roster is Rice career sack leader Scott Solomon. Solomon, an outside linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, is looking to earn a starting spot this season. During the preseason, Scott started three games and recorded five tackles.Rounding out the Owls in the NFL are tight ends Vance McDonald and Luke Willson, both are entering their third seasons. McDonald, a member of the San Francisco 49ers, has been overshadowed by all-pro tight end Vernon Davis throughout his first two years in the league. With Davis entering the final year of his current contract, McDonald is now looking to make a statement to become the starting tight end next season. Willson, a member of the Seattle Seahawks, also has an all-pro tight end ahead of him on the depth chart with the offseason acquisition of Jimmy Graham. In his career, Willson has caught 42 passes for 634 and four touchdowns.Three Owls who played in preseason games did not make NFL rosters. Wide receiver Jordan Taylor was placed on the Broncos practice squad, while wide receiver Mario Hull was cut from the 49ers and kicker Chris Boswell was cut from the New York Giants.
After starting the 2015 season off with a loss in the home opener, the Rice soccer team has not experienced a loss since. On Thursday night, Rice battled against Southern Methodist University to end with a 1-1 tie in double overtime. The Owls played again Sunday night and were victorious over Southeastern Conference opponent University of Arkansas by a score of 2-1. With a 1-0-1 weekend, Rice now has an overall record of 4-1-1 in the season. With a cast of newcomers to the 2015 squad, the first-year Owls and the veteran players have seemingly had no problems linking up. In Thursday afternoon’s game against SMU, six new players contributed valuable minutes against the Mustangs for the entirely of the 110-minute match. In the 21st minute, SMU forward Lauren Guerra redirected a bouncing ball out of a crowded penalty area and into the back of the net for a 1-0 advantage. Rice remained scoreless for the first half, but after the intermission, came out vying for the tying goal in the 54th minute. Junior defender Jenny Fichera took a corner from the right side of the field and drove a bending ball into the box. Freshman midfielder Gabby Martinez rose up and connected with a shot on goal to tie the game at 1-1. That was the 10th assist of Fichera’s career and the first collegiate goal for Martinez. Despite outnumbering SMU in shots 25-11 and in corner kicks, 7-2, the game’s final score was a 1-1 draw. On Sunday night, the Owls hosted the Arkansas Razorbacks for the first time in the last 28 years. Arkansas, known for being a physical team, had some opportunities in the first half but the combination of the Owls’ defense and sophomore goalkeeper Zoe Pochobradsky squandered their attempts. With a long run starting just shy of midfield, senior forward Lauren Hughes managed to get enough space to fire a shot from outside the penalty area and connect with the bottom corner of the net to put Rice ahead 1-0. Following the first half, Arkansas continued to come out firing but Rice held strong. Riding the momentum of squandering the Razorback opportunities, Hughes and freshman forward Annie Walker completed a sequence that led to a second goal. After a lead pass out to a streaking Hughes by the near sideline, Walker continued her run into the box to anticipate a cross. Hughes drove a ball low into the box while Walker scored off a header. Hughes, with 36 career goals, was credited with the assist on Walker’s first career goal. With over 35 minutes to play remaining, Arkansas continued to fight and got one goal back in the 78th minute of the match following a corner set piece. As play got more physical in the final 12 minutes of the match resulting in yellow cards given to players from each side, Rice managed to hold on and secure the 2-1 victory. According to Head Coach Nicky Adams, the team needs to finish on their opportunities.“We are creating so many chances but we are not putting them away,” Adams said. “For us to get to the next level we’ve got to put them away.”Adams said the team succeeded against one of the more physical opponents they will face this season.“We knew with Arkansas coming in [that they are] one of the most physical, direct teams that we are going to face all year,” Adams said. “They never fail to prove how dangerous they are … so I’m really proud of this team for playing 90 minutes of just pure battling.” Walker said her first career goal was one of the best moments of her athletic career.“Basically I just sprinted as hard as I could to get into the box after I hit [Hughes] on the outside and when I looked up, it was there [so] I dove and it went in,” Walker said. “Under the lights, playing against a team like Arkansas [with an] awesome crowd here today … It was definitely one of the coolest goals of my life.”Martinez, who scored the only goal in Thursday’s matchup, said playing under veteran leadership has helped her early in her career.“Fichera served in an amazing ball and I was lucky enough to be able to get a head on it and it went in which felt amazing,” Martinez said. “Playing with [Hughes, Hargreaves and Fichera] helps me so much. They have so much experience … and I’m grateful and blessed to be able to play under them.”Rice will play their next four matches on the road. Beginning this weekend, the Owls face off against the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio on Sept. 11 followed by Miami of Ohio University on Sept. 13.
Led by senior quarterback Driphus Jackson and junior running back Darik Dillard, the Rice University football team defeated Wagner University 56-16 to give them their first opening game victory since 2008.Despite losing junior starting running back Jowan Davis to injury on the opening drive of the game, the Owls were able to gain 401 yards rushing and gave up only 86. Rice also outgained Wagner on the day, 543 yards to 285, while also picking up 28 first downs to Wagner’s 13. The Owls took a 35-3 lead into halftime, after which several starters were pulled. Senior safety Zach Espinosa, who had Rice’s only interception in the game, said he was pleased with his team’s effort.“It was a great all-around team game,” Espinosa said. “The offense played well and we won the special teams battle. We were able to rotate a lot of young guys in, get the starters some rest, which we’ll need.”According to Bailiff, it was a performance that had coaches and players very satisfied.“It was a great way to start the season,” Bailiff said. “I thought [Jackson] really led our way through the football game. I was pleased with how our tight ends blocked, I thought [redshirt junior] Zach Wright was very physical with his blocking. [Redshirt junior] Alex Lyons was all over the field, he was our leading tackler. I was really pleased with our freshman [kicker] Jack Fox.”One of the more interesting aspects of the game was Rice’s use of senior Luke Turner in a sub package at quarterback. Turner, who was a high school quarterback, is capable of playing quarterback, tight end, receiver, halfback and special teams. Against Wagner, he had six carries for 21 yards and two touchdowns, while also completing an eight-yard pass.Bailiff said Turner is a critical component of the team’s offense.“[Turner] is the best pure athlete on this team,” Bailiff said. “He very rarely makes mental mistakes and we count on him to do a lot of things.”Turner fully embraces all of the roles in which the coaching staff puts him, including his quarterback package.“It’s fun to catch a snap and be the QB when you’re not always the QB,” Turner said. “We said it was a pretty good formation to run out of.”As Rice’s lead grew, fans were able to get a glimpse of the depth that this team possesses, and some of the players that make for a very exciting future such as redshirt freshman Austin Walter. In his first collegiate game, Walter entered the game as a reserve, yet still eclipsed 100 yards rushing, picking up 107 yards on 12 carries. Among those carries was a 32-yard touchdown scamper, which Bailiff said was “electric.”“Those Walter twins are going to be exciting for Rice fans for the next four years,” Bailiff said. “Our future with [redshirt freshman Samuel] Stewart and the Walter twins, we’re going to have some dynamic people back there. We haven’t had a lot of guys like those.”Jackson previously described this year’s schedule as being “a better layout” for the team, given the caliber of the opening opponent. According to Bailiff, the Wagner game provided the Owls with much to learn heading into the week two matchup against the University of Texas, Austin.“We learned a lot from Wagner,” Bailiff said. “We learned about the running backs, who can play on third and long. We’ve got to figure out our protections, figure out the passing game. We just worry about trying to go 1-0 every week and get ready for Conference USA. That’s all these games are for.”Heading into what many consider to be the biggest game of the year against the University of Texas, Austin, two things are certain: The Owls will be ready, and they will be tested. Bailiff tends to recruit more students from the state of Texas than elsewhere and as such, many Owls have personal ties to the University of Texas. Texas will be very motivated by their 38-3 opening game loss to Notre Dame and are led by Head Coach Charlie Strong, a coach that Bailiff said he deeply respects.“Charlie [Strong] will have them ready, we all know what he did at Louisville,” Bailiff said. “We don’t really have to worry about them, we have to worry about being the best team we can be this week.”The Owls will look to push their record to 2-0 on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
“Get the ball out! Get the ball out!” one can hear Defensive Coordinator Chris Thurmond yelling at his defense during practices. Since Thurmond took over as defensive coordinator in 2012, turnovers and energy have been the hallmark of a defensive mentality that has steadily been implemented in his four years at Rice, a strategy the team hopes will lead to success in 2015.The team will run a multiple defense, meaning the defense will change its formation based on its opponent. According to Thurmond, the defensive strategy will allow the defense to read and adapt to different offenses.“We have the ability to change up depending on whoever we play and what their tendencies are,” Thurmond said.The 2015 defense is returning four of 11 starters from the 2014 team. The lack of experience on the defense may concern some, but according to redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons, the defense is determined to make a name for itself in 2015.“We’re young, but we’re talented and we’re very hungry, and I think we’re going to put on a show,” Lyons said.The Owls will have a young defense in 2015, particularly in the secondary. While the team lost considerable leadership and talent in the form of defensive tackle Christian Covington, defensive end Brian Nordstrom and cornerback Bryce Callahan this past season, several pillars remain. Lyons, the team’s leading tackler in 2014 with 71, will be returning to lead the linebacking core. On the defensive line, redshirt sophomore Graysen Schantz is joined by fellow redshirt sophomore Brian Womac and redshirt senior Stuart Mouchantaf, both of whom are returning from injuries. In the secondary, senior Ryan Pollard, the team’s top cornerback heading into 2015, is also coming back for his final season. With the returning talent, Lyons said coaches and returning players are not concerned. “We have a lot of great athletes on the back end who can play the ball, and up front we’re experienced and can beat people up,” Lyons said. “So [we can] get the ball out, get a couple ducks and get a lot of turnovers this year.”Head Coach David Bailiff is also confident in his 2015 team, despite the losses sustained. In particular, the coaching staff knew during the 2014 season they would lose seniors in the secondary. According to Bailiff, they were prepared for these losses and are confident in their ability to hold up against the pass.“We spent a lot of time getting young guys some playing time last year, since we knew we’d be hit hard by graduation,” Bailiff said. “We’ve got guys like Ryan Pollard and [redshirt junior] J.T. Blasingame that have played well in practice, and [sophomore] V.J. Banks got some playing time last year. It’s a young secondary, and a young team, but we have a lot of depth.”While they were happy with their performance in a 30-7 victory in the Hawai’i Bowl over Fresno State University that concluded the 2014 season, the team has been motivated this offseason by their performance in the game prior. Heading into the season finale with a 7-4 overall record and a 5-2 record within Conference USA, Rice faced off against Louisiana Tech University with a berth in the C-USA title game on the line. The Owls, however, were unable to pull it out. They were outgained in total yardage 677-371 while also committing four turnovers, resulting in a 76-31 loss.Bailiff said the loss pushed the players to redeem themselves in the bowl game, and has even provided continuing motivation going into this season.“I think you saw in the bowl game how motivated our guys were, how prepared we were for that game and how well we played,” Bailiff said. “That loss has definitely kept us energized heading into this season. Every year we want to win conference, we want to be a top 25 team. And we think we can do that this season.”Lyons and the defense was similarly motivated by the loss.“It’s extremely motivating during workouts when we’re out here in 100-degree weather,” Lyons said. “We had a power outage in our weight room and we were still working out. There’s nothing more motivating when you see that clip and the highlights of that clip. You never want that to happen.”Given the Owls’ 2015 opponents, one thing is certain: The defense will be tested. They will face off against the University of Texas, Austin and Baylor University this season, two schools that have consistently sent top-tier talent to the National Football League in recent years. Within C-USA, two opponents in particular stand out: Louisiana Tech, who will be quarterbacked by former Florida Gator Jeff Driskel, and Western Kentucky, a team led by 2014 C-USA MVP quarterback Brandon Doughty. Though these prolific offenses are on the schedule, Lyons said the defense is up to the task.“A lot of people are questioning the defense because we’re going to be pretty young,” Lyons said. “Anybody who has questions can come see for themselves, sit back and enjoy the show.”The season commences Sept. 5 at 2:30 p.m. in a home matchup against the Wagner Seahawks.
Rice volleyball opened its 2015 season with a trip to Austin, Texas for the American Campus Classic this weekend. The Owls began the tournament with a 0-3 loss against the nationally ranked No. 3 University of Texas, Austin on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, Rice made a dramatic comeback against Louisiana State University following a 2-0 deficit and completed the tournament with a 3-1 win against University of California, Irvine.Junior libero Kimberly Vaio said she attributes Friday’s loss to the team’s anxiety.“First matches typically are not the cleanest; we went into UT and the first set environment and the nerves got to us,” Vaio said. “We were missing serves, the passes weren’t crisp and we were making errors at the wrong times.”Rice struggled on offense during their match against UT. The Owls trailed behind the Longhorns, hitting only .067 compared to UT’s .333. According to Head Coach Genny Volpe, Rice was unable to compete against Texas’ consistent offense.“They had firepower coming from all directions and a great setter who ran a very balanced offense,” Volpe said. “We had trouble defending this and, more importantly, had a hard time getting our offense going due to their tough serving.”Despite the loss, Vaio said the match against UT prepared the Owls to face LSU.“Though we lost, we knew we had things to work out and we knew that our best volleyball was yet to come,” Vaio said. “It made us that much more motivated for LSU.”Following Friday’s loss, Rice rallied back Saturday morning and beat LSU after overcoming a 2-0 deficit. According to Vaio, the Owls were frustrated after the first two games against LSU and every member of the team was committed to rallying back and winning the match. “We all knew that we were the better team and we were tired of giving them the game, so we looked at each other and we made a commitment that we were going to win the next three games,” Vaio said. “Each one of us knew that there was no other option than winning and we were ready to do everything it took to pull it off.”The last time the Owls beat the Tigers was Nov. 27, 2009, and Rice’s all-time record against LSU is a mere 3-19. Volpe said she attributes the surprising victory to mental toughness.“This team is certainly showing that they are resilient and that they are mentally tough,” Volpe said. “It takes that level of mental toughness to come back and win against a solid program, after losing five straight sets in a row.”Rice completed the weekend with a 3-1 win against UC Irvine and finished second in their opening tournament. Vaio said she was proud of her team’s performance and improvements from past seasons. “I am really proud of the team for our performance this weekend,” Vaio said. “It’s tough to bounce back from a loss right away,but we proved that we have the mindset to do it. Also,for the past three years we have struggled winning fifth games and we proved right off the bat that even if we are down by two games, we have what it takes to finish.”According to Volpe, the Owls need to improve on their consistency and execution on offense.“We need to improve our consistency,” Volpe said. “We were up and down all weekend which made us less efficient. We will continue to work on this and keep pressing the envelope in what we can do offensively.” The Owls will next play at Yale University on Sept. 4, where they will face off against University of California, Santa Barbara.
With a mix of senior leadership and talented newcomers, the Rice Owls soccer club defeated two in-state foes this past weekend, winning a total of three consecutive matches. On Friday, Aug. 28, the team defeated Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi 2-0. Rice followed up this performance with a 2-0 victory over Sam Houston State University at the neutral site of BBVA Compass Stadium. After falling to the No. 5 nationally ranked Texas A&M University squad in the opening match of the 2015 season last week, the Owls have remained unbeaten and are currently 3-1 in the season. The senior duo of forward Lauren Hughes and midfielder Danielle Spriggs led the Owls to the 2-0 victory over Texas A&M, Corpus Christi. The scoring began in the 30th minute when Hughes launched a free kick from the left side of the 18-yard penalty area that connected with the top corner of the net to give Rice the 1-0 advantage. The Owls continued to push in the second half to attempt to increase their lead. The second goal finally came in the 76th minute of the match. Hughes found Spriggs on the outside of the goal, who then fired a strike past the keeper to give Rice an insurance goal and a 2-0 lead. On the same day opposing goalkeeper Megan Delaney registered 12 saves, the Owls defense limited the Islanders attack to just seven shots and three corner kicks en route to their first shutout of the season. Sunday afternoon, the Owls competed in the first-ever women’s collegiate soccer match held at BBVA Compass Stadium, the home of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash professional soccer clubs. The Owls were victorious in similar fashion to Friday’s matchup with a final score of 2-0 led by one goal and one assist by Hughes. With 17 first-half shots taken against Sam Houston State, the high-pressure and constant Owl attack paid off in the 41st minute when freshman forward Annie Walker sent a ball into the attacking middle and found Hughes, who tapped it into the near post for her third goal of the season and 35th goal of her Rice career. Riding the momentum from opening up the scoring, the Owls scored again just 62 seconds later when Hughes drove a ball to freshman forward Nia Stallings running alongside her for the tap-in that gave the Owls a 2-0 advantage. A significant play occurred 73 minutes into the match when Sam Houston was awarded a penalty kick following a Rice foul in the box. Junior goalkeeper Zoe Pochobradsky blocked the kick, halting Sam Houston State’s momentum.Head Coach Nicky Adams said she was pleased with the toughness her defense and midfield showed in recording back to back shutouts.“I thought this was a good weekend for us after coming off A&M and San Jose, where we had goals scored on us,” Adams said. “This was a weekend where we really wanted … to get tougher back there [and] overall I think our back line and our midfield did a much better job."Adams said certain key bench players stepped up and contributed to the overall performance of the team.“I thought we had some key players step up for us off the bench in a big way,” Adams said. “Madeleine Lundberg in the midfield, Nia Stallings [and] Annie Walker all gave us that spark and attacking presence.”Spriggs said she felt the team played their best game of the season on Friday by coming out the gate ready to go.“I think Friday was our best overall [and complete] game so far that we have played,” Spriggs said. “Every single position was on point and … we didn’t take any time to get adjusted to the game; we just came out strong at every position.” Pochobradsky said her penalty kick save combined skill and a bit of luck.“I never guess on a penalty kick, [but] my coach always says to trust your instincts,” Pochobradsky said. “You get up to the line and you kind of hope for the best and I guess I got lucky today.”Pochobradsky said the team must remain focused in the face of a tough out-of-conference schedule ahead.“We’ve got to start recovering from this weekend and stay mentally checked in,” Pochobradsky said. “We’re going to work on organization and keeping the ball, because when we keep the ball we are absolutely unstoppable.”The Owls return home to Holloway Field this upcoming Thursday, Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. to face Southern Methodist University. The Owls will then play on Sunday, Sept. 6 against the University of Arkansas, a team the Owls played to a 1-1 draw last season. Kickoff for the match is scheduled for 7 p.m.
When Rice University takes the field for the first time this season, it will be against a very unfamiliar opponent.Wagner College, a liberal arts school in Staten Island, New York, will make a trip to Houston on Sept. 5. With an undergraduate population of under 2,000, Wagner is the seventh-smallest school at the Division 1-AA level, the second-highest division of collegiate football and a tier below Rice’s Division 1-A status.Wagner College first began competing in football in 1927, where today they compete in the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks’ home field is Hameline Field at Wagner College Stadium, named in honor of Walt Hameline, the current athletic director who just resigned as head football coach after the 2014 season. Hameline, the 49th-winningest head coach in college football history, compiled 223 wins in 34 seasons as head coach, including winning the 1987 NCAA Division III National Football Championship. Wagner made the move to Division I in 1992.Wagner will now begin its first season since 1981 without Hameline leading the team. First-year Head Coach Jason Houghtaling will take the helm of the program where he previously served as offensive coordinator. Houghtaling has spent seven seasons at Wagner, serving as offensive coordinator during Wagner’s 2012 and 2014 Northeast Conference title runs.During the 2014 season, the Seahawks posted a 7-4 season record including 4-1 in conference play, which placed them in a tie for first, but did not earn a trip to the FCS playoffs. Among their four losses was a 34-3 road defeat at the hands of Conference USA first-year member Florida International University. Rice defeated FIU last season 31-17. Offensively, Wagner returns seven starters from a squad that averaged 20.7 points per game in 2014. Senior quarterback Chris Andrews will lead the offense after throwing for 657 yards and three touchdowns on 42 percent completion percentage. Andrews also possesses dual-threat ability, adding 468 yards and four touchdowns through the ground. Additionally, leading rusher Otis Wright returns after rushing for 598 yards and six touchdowns last season. Wagner was more effective rushing the ball than passing last season, as the rushing attack outgained the passing game 1,767 yards to 1,484. Conversely, Rice rushed for 2,181 yards and passed for 3,009 last season.Defensively, Wagner only returned five of 11 starters from last year’s team which sacrificed 18 points per game. Wagner gave up only 914 yards on the ground last season but allowed 2,180 yards passing. With a defensive unit returning only one defensive back, Rice redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson and the offense may look to capitalize on Wagner’s rebuilding defense.According to Head Coach David Bailiff, Rice cannot overlook Wagner despite their lower-division status.“All we’ve talked about since January is Wagner,” Bailiff said. “We’ve been telling them that it’s the most important game on the schedule and that you can’t overlook them. ... But you listen to the seniors talk and the theme is pretty consistent that we’re not going to overlook these guys.”Bailiff also said he knows Wagner will give their best effort to try and upset a bigger-name program.“This is the first time in 100 straight games that we’re playing a [Division 1-AA] team,” Bailiff said. “That’s one where we know that we’re going to get their best. I used to coach at that level. We used to play the [Texas] A&M’s and I remember how motivated our guys were to make a point. We know that Wagner is going to be challenging for us.”Rice is 7-3 all-time against Division 1-AA opponents. The Owls last played such an opponent in 2007, a 14-16 loss which came at the hands of Nicholls State University. Rice will open its season against Wagner on Saturday, Sept. 5 at 2:30 p.m. at Rice Stadium.
For years I have been a proponent of increasing Rice pride. I’ve said it to friends, family and I’ve even used this column to increase awareness of this issue. Rice students are often too focused on schoolwork or the happenings in their residential colleges to realize that we all have something in common: We’re all Owls.The administration seems to agree. Having participated in this year’s Orientation Week, that much was readily apparent. It seemed the administration tried to cultivate a unity within Rice that may have been lacking in the past. During O-Week, it was clear that Rice tried to increase school pride, but at the expense of residential college pride. Seeing it first hand, my attitude toward the issue changed. The two are not mutually exclusive, and the assumption that they are has a negative impact on our college experience.I do and will always stand by my belief that Rice students need more pride in their school. That does not mean, however, that they cannot simultaneously have college pride. With the elimination of cheer battle and the deferral of teaching anti-cheers until the very end of the week, it was clear the administration sought to promote a unified campus focused on inclusivity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the concept, but the execution was flawed. Events such as Rice Rally during O-Week are fun and effective in cultivating Rice pride, but eliminating other events designated to promote college pride are not helping the issue.Part of the reason many of us came to Rice is the residential college system. Trying to tone down college rivalries and understate the differences between colleges is counter to what Rice has been and should be. We need to protect the college system that makes Rice special. There is no reason college and university pride need to be exclusive. Have pride in your college, but understand what binds us all together. Our colleges are all great, but there is something even greater than that. As Rice students, we are afforded the ability to live in our colleges, obtain a great degree and continue to have a connection to our university. One of the best ways to stay connected to your alma mater is through athletics.When we all graduate, are we going to watch college powderpuff games or Rice football games? Both are great, but a college represents around 400 students while the university represents every Rice student and alum the world over. Love your college and love your university. They are both incredible institutions that need to be preserved and improved. One does not need to improve at the expense of the other.I consider myself both a Rice student and a Murt. The two are not mutually exclusive. Trying to decrease the influence of individual residential colleges to increase Rice spirit is not a solution. It is trying to fix a problem in an ineffective and potentially harmful manner. Go to Rice games. Go to college games. Root for both with spirit and pride. In the end, remember your college and how it acted as your home for four years. But never forget what we all have in common: We are all Rice Owls.The Fifth Quarter is a column written by Sports Editor Evan Neustater. The opinions expressed in the column are solely his own.
The stadium that, prior to last year, hosted Rice’s soccer and track and field teams was destroyed over the summer, a precursor to the rebuilding of a new $2 million stadium.According to the university, the new stadium will feature 1,500 seats for fans. The seating will include a mix of bleacher and chairback seating, an asset largely missing from the previous stadium. Additionally, the new stadium will have an enclosed press box and facilities for the teams, both improvements over its predecessor. The renovation, which is being fully funded by the university itself, is the next of several stadium improvements Rice has witnessed in recent years. Last year, Rice began construction on the Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center in the north end zone of Rice Stadium. Additionally, the new George R. Brown tennis complex finished construction last year and Tudor Fieldhouse underwent renovations in 2014.The new stadium will replace the previous stadium which served for nearly 50 years. Built in 1966 on the original site of Rice Stadium, which moved to its current location in 1950, the Ley Stadium was deemed unsafe last season and spectators and athletes alike were forced to avoid using its facilities. For the entirety of the 2015 soccer season, fans will be seated in temporary bleachers and standing room. The new stadium will be designed by Jackson & Ryan Architects and is expected to be completed in January 2016. Athletics could not be reached for comments.
Rice football will look to build upon its recent success under Head Coach David Bailiff, confident that they can compete for their second Conference USA title in three years and qualify for their fourth consecutive bowl game. Bailiff has engineered one of the more remarkable turnarounds of an athletic program in recent memory. When he was hired as coach in 2007, Rice had qualified for only one bowl game in the previous 45 years; in his eight years as coach, Rice has qualified for four, including a 30-7 victory over Fresno State University in the Hawai’i Bowl last season. The talent coming through the school is also being recognized by the National Football League: Seven Owls have been drafted under Bailiff, including at least one draft pick in each of the last four seasons. Members of last year’s team currently playing in the NFL are Houston Texans defensive tackle Christian Covington, a sixth-round pick, as well as Chicago Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Taylor, and San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Mario Hull. One of the hallmarks of Bailiff’s tenure at Rice has been continuity. Over the past two seasons, there have been no changes to the coaching staff, a rarity in Division I college football. An additional advantage Rice has is continuity at the game’s most important position: quarterback. Rice’s redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson is entering his second season as the starter. Much of the excitement surrounding Rice football in 2015 is based on anticipated improvement from Jackson, who threw 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his first season as the sole starter.In addition to being a redshirt senior and the quarterback of the team, Jackson is also entering his second year as a team captain. Bailiff said the leadership role is one that Jackson has accepted and one in which he has excelled.“He’s out there, he’s leading,” Bailiff said. “He’s not too worried about being liked, he wants to win. He’s there to hug people when they need it, reminding his teammates of their responsibilities, and we’re very excited about it.”Several key players from 2014 are returning this season with Jackson: junior running back Jowan Davis and redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons. However, graduation has taken several starters from both sides of the ball, which cannot be overlooked.Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull were the leading receivers on last year’s team, so at first glance, losing both may seem harmful to the 2015 team’s chances. Despite their leaving, Bailiff said he is confident in their younger replacements.“At receiver, we have [redshirt junior] Zach Wright and [senior] Dennis Parks stepping into bigger roles,” Bailiff said. “Both have looked good in practice. Also, [redshirt freshman] Lance Wright is a younger guy who didn’t play a lot last year, but is very talented.”Additionally, Bailiff specifically mentioned a few players who could make an impact this season. According to Bailiff, senior Luke Turner is a versatile player who could make significant plays at a variety of positions this season.“[Senior] Luke Turner is a guy that plays tight end and some [halfback] — he does a lot of things for us,” Bailiff said. “He’s a player to look out for this season.”According to Jackson, the loss of the top two receivers has not slowed the efficiency of the offense.“We haven’t had any falloff,” Jackson said. “A lot of guys have stepped up and been watching Mario [Hull] and those guys play. I’m just excited for those guys to step up and show their talent.”A common idiom in football is a team is only as strong as its offensive line. Three offensive linemen were lost to graduation, which may be a cause for concern. Jackson, however, is not concerned, and said he has faith in the new offensive line.“[Bailiff] has done a good job in mixing lineups and getting everybody comfortable with one another, so I don’t see too much falloff there at all,” Jackson said. “Maybe it’ll take a couple of games for them to gel, but once we get to the grit of the season, we should be fine.”Rice opens its season on Sept. 5 against Wagner University. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Rice Stadium.
Following a successful 2014 campaign, Rice volleyball will look to build off of its momentum to capture a Conference USA title and an NCAA tournament bid this fall. Rice last appeared in the 2014 C-USA championship game where they fell to Western Kentucky University and the team’s overall record (23-10) was the fifth-best in school history. Rice was picked by the conference’s coaches to finish third in their conference behind University of Texas, San Antonio and WKU.According to Head Coach Genny Volpe, consistent leadership and a balanced offense led to last season’s successes.“Last season we had some great senior leadership. … We had several players pushing each other every day in practice, which led us to improve over the course of the season,” Volpe said. “We also had a very balanced offense, which we look forward to replicating this year. … We really stepped up our kill numbers and our hitting efficiency was one of the best in the nation.”Newly elected captain and junior libero Kimberly Vaio said the team’s strongest asset last season was the its cohesiveness on and off the court.“We wore the same shirts to practice, ate team meals without cell phones and made decisions as a unit,” Vaio said. “Our discipline we demonstrated off the court translated to our positions on the court; we were mentally prepared before matches, and we welcomed adversity with confidence because we knew that together we could overcome anything.”Despite their strengths and ability to work together, Rice was unable to earn the C-USA title and advance to the NCAA tournament. Volpe said last season’s shortcomings were due to an inability to finish at critical moments. However, Volpe said she believes the fresh team will not suffer from the same issues.“We were in the driver’s seat on some occasions against really strong teams, including the C-USA championship match, and we didn’t finish,” Volpe said. “This is a new team with a lot of new faces; I believe that those issues have not carried over to this group.”This season, Rice has 11 returning players and four new additions, including a transfer student, a junior walk-on and two freshmen. Volpe is confident in her players’ abilities despite the loss of strong players such as Jillian Humphrey.“We have a strong group of returners, even though we lost some key players from last year’s squad,” Volpe said. “This could be the best team in terms of depth we have had in the history of Rice volleyball.”According to Volpe, the team needs to concentrate on winning conference.“We are very focused on competing at the highest level we can every time we step on the floor,” Volpe said. “We want to win C-USA and make it to postseason. We were very close last year, and want to finish strong this year.”The Owls will begin their season Aug. 28 against the University of Texas, Austin.
The 2015 Rice women’s soccer team is coming off what was perhaps their greatest season in school history. Last season, the Owls closed out the season with a 14-4-3 overall record. The 14 victories tied the school record for most wins in program history, while the four losses set the record for fewest losses in program history. Additionally, the Owls went undefeated at home, securing six victories and two ties. The program set another record by maintaining a nine-match unbeaten streak from Aug. 24 to Oct. 5, 2014. As the No. 2 overall seed in the 2014 Conference USA tournament, Rice won all three matches and earned an automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA tournament as conference champions for just the third time in school history. The historic run ended at the hands of the University of Texas, Austin in the opening round of the tournament. In 2015, Rice was selected by the Conference USA head coaches to finish first in C-USA for the first time since 2001. The accolades did not finish there as senior forward Lauren Hughes was named the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and junior defender Jenny Fichera was named Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Senior forward Holly Hargreaves rounded out the honors as a member of the C-USA All-Conference team. Despite losing four key players to graduation in goalkeeper Amy Czyz, midfielder Gabriela Iribarne, defender Ashton Geisendorff and midfielder Quinny Truong, a core group of remaining starters and a talented recruiting class have not dampened any expectations for the upcoming season. Six true freshmen from all over the country have already contributed to the team’s chemistry and success. The freshman trio of midfielder Dominique Mazero, defender Gabby Martinez and forward Annie Walker has already seen significant playing time early in the season. Additionally, junior transfer from the Air Force Academy Madeleine Lundberg promises to make an impact this season.Hughes is coming off a season in which she earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Year honors. She led not only her squad but the entire conference in goals and points with 14 and 35, respectively. The Ottawa, Ontario native has one more year as a Rice Owl, but has already set the Rice record for career goals with 33 and points with 88. During one stretch in the 2014 season, Hughes scored in seven consecutive matches, also setting a Rice record. On the defensive end of the pitch, Fichera was a staple of a 2014 defense that posted 11 complete game shutouts on the season. Fichera has been a starter for all 39 games of her Rice career and has recorded 90 or more minutes in 18 of 21 matches played last season. In addition to her defensive abilities, Fichera has the capability to attack from an advanced midfield position, scoring four goals last season and serving in five assists. The final preseason honor by a Rice Owl was awarded to Hargreaves, who was the complement to Hughes all season long. Hargreaves ranked among the top in C-USA and the NCAA last season with 10 goals to her name. She broke the Rice school record for goals in a single game with four against Louisiana Tech and is currently the school record holder with 12 game-winning goals and 209 career shots.Head Coach Nicky Adams, who was awarded C-USA Coach of the Year last season, spoke highly of Hughes and Fichera and said they are deserving of the recognition. “It’s very exciting that those two have been recognized,” Adams said. “They completely are 100 percent deserving of those accolades. Again, those are two players who have been nothing but steady for our program. Lauren Hughes is scoring goals and Jenny Fichera provides us a spark in the back so I think they got the voting right on that one.”According to Hughes, the accolades are representative of Rice’s increasing success and attention.“To have Jenny and I named to those spots just shows that the conference really respects our team and to be tagged as the team that’s going to go out there and is expected to win it, that’s a huge compliment,” Hughes said. “[Preseason awards] show the respect we’ve earned from our conference and I just hope that we are willing to do the work and live up to the expectations our conference has for us.” Adams said the team will respond to high expectations with confidence and hard work. “It’s definitely a target on our back off the gate and we can do one of two things: freak out from the pressure, or take it and have confidence and grow from it,” Adams said. “With the personnel we have on our team, I think it will be the latter to do that.” According to Fichera, the team needs to take control of games early on and not allow the media’s expectations to interfere with their play.“We need to keep coming out here every single day and realize what we have on our shoulders,” Fichera said. “Everyone’s going to be gunning for us and we need to be ready for it every single game. I think it’s important just for us to play our game. Let us dictate the pace and how fast we are going to play, how slow we are going to play, and not play down to the teams we play but play our best at every opportunity.” The team split two games against Texas A&M University and San Jose State University in the opening weekend of the season. The team will next play at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi Aug. 28, and will return to Houston Aug. 30 to play Sam Houston State University at BBVA Compass Stadium.