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Sports


SPORTS 2/18/15 4:05pm

New podcast covers Rice athletics

The Rice community has a new digital source for Rice athletics news, a podcast dedicated to Rice sports coverage. Duncan College sophomore Jeremy Reiskind and Wiess College senior Trevor Caswell founded the podcast, JR and Caz, this January. The podcast is updated weekly and consists of four segments, including an update on Rice athletics, an interview with a student athlete, a debate between Reiskind and Caswell called “The Struggle” and a preview of upcoming events in Rice Athletics.Reiskind said he and Caswell hatched the idea at the end of last semester.“Last semester, [Caswell] and I really enjoyed talking about Rice Athletics,” Reiskind said. “We thought, ‘why not turn this into something bigger?’Reiskind and Caswell have released four episodes of JR and Caz. The show tackles issues on a large and small scale of collegiate athletics. Reiskind said they interview a new Rice student athlete each week to give listeners an idea of what it’s like to be a Rice student athlete.“We try to give insight into the lives of some of the Rice athletes,” Reiskind said. “We try to bring in an athlete to give insight into Rice Athletics in general, and more specifically on their one sport.”According to Caswell, the pair created the podcast in the hope to improve their communication skills while generating interest for Rice athletics.“This podcast is a way Jeremy and I can improve our communication skills on air,” Caswell said. “We want to highlight Rice sports and its athletes and satisfy our passion for talking sports.”According to Caswell, he hopes that JR and Craz experience will translate into his future career.“I am trying to become a sports information director for a college athletics program,” Caswell said. “I see my radio skills as a way I can eventually positively impact my team.”According to Reiskind, the Rice community benefits form the podcast.“We have heard positive feedback from students who enjoy hearing us speak about Rice athletics especially in this successful time,” Reiskind said. “People also love hearing the interviews with the athletes since it isn’t something that happenseveryday.JR and Caz releases a new podcast weekly on Thursdays. The podcast can be accessed at https://soundcloud.com/trevor-caswell.


SPORTS 2/18/15 4:04pm

Baseball splits weekend series against Texas Longhorns

In a matchup of two of the nation’s top baseball programs, the no. 13 Rice Owls and no. 10 University of Texas, Austin split a four-game series played this past weekend at Reckling Park. Both Rice victories came on the same day as Rice swept the Saturday doubleheader, giving junior pitcher Blake Fox and freshman pitcher Ricardo Salinas their first wins of the season. The Longhorns, who trailed in both Friday’s and Sunday’s games, battled back to claim the two victories. Rice is now 2-2 in the season. The Owls scored first in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by junior shortstop Leon Byrd to take a 1-0 advantage. The Owls’ Friday night starter, Kevin McCanna, struck out six Texas batters through his first four innings of work while allowing zero runs. However, the Owls’ inability to execute with runners in scoring position would come back to hurt them, and Rice did not see another runner cross home plate the rest of the game. Despite out-hitting Texas 10 to five, the Longhorns defeated Rice by a score of 3-1. Looking to even up the series at 1-1, Rice scored six runs on seven hits in the first inning of the first game of the Saturday doubleheader on their way to a 10-9 victory. Senior catcher John Clay Reeves hit his first home run of the season with a two-run shot, and fellow senior second baseman Ford Stainback recorded four hits on the afternoon with two RBIs. Junior pitcher Matt Ditman closed the game, pitching 3.0 innings while striking out seven batters to earn his first save on the year.In game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, true freshman pitcher Ricardo Salinas took the mound for his first career collegiate start. Salinas threw 6.0 scoreless innings while his teammates scored five runs through the first half of the ballgame. Senior left fielder Kirby Taylor led the offense, going 3-4 on the day with 3 RBIs. The Owls won the game 5-2.For the first four innings of the final game, both teams were deadlocked at zero runs, but quickly changed in the fifth when the Owls put three runs on the board. For the second day in a row, the Owls’ starting pitching kept the Longhorns off the board for the first six innings of the game. However, Texas broke through in the seventh inning after a costly error in the outfield allowed two runs. With the game tied at three runs apiece, the two teams headed into extra innings where the Longhorns would go on to win by a score of 4-3 to even up the series. True freshman pitcher Glenn Otto appeared twice in the series and faced a total of eight Longhorn hitters, of which he struck out seven. In total, Rice struck out 17 batters in Sunday’s game. Otto said he felt the pitching staff was prepared all weekend thanks in part to pitching coach Patrick Hallmark. “I think Coach Hallmark did a really good job getting us ready to go out there and compete,” Otto said. “Overall, [our pitchers] had a remarkable opening weekend, and we hope to keep it up all season.” Hitting Coach Clay Van Hook said he was proud of his hitters, who recorded double-digit hit totals in all four contests. He credited aggression and swinging at good pitches for the .343 batting average on the weekend. “Our hitting was successful due to the fact we were aggressive at the plate, and when we got good pitches to hit, we didn’t miss them,” Van Hook said. “Our walk-to-strikeout ratio was very good, meaning we were disciplined enough to handle Texas, who has really good [pitchers].” Taylor led the offense over the weekend, hitting .643 with two doubles and four RBIs. Taylor said he was satisfied with the play of the younger players. “As a senior, I am very satisfied with where we are at … because we could have been 4-0 this weekend if not for a few mistakes we made ourselves,” Taylor said. “Being an older guy, you definitely want to see the younger kids and the freshmen play well and compete, [and] I’m really looking forward to Arizona because they will be another big test for us [as a team].”The Owls travel to Tucson, Arizona this upcoming Friday to play the University of Arizona in a three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 4 p.m.


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:12am

The arm: Blake Fox

Rice University baseball’s 2014 NCAA Regional matchup against the University of Texas had just concluded the bottom of the seventh inning. The Owls, holding a 2-1 lead over their rivals at Reckling Park, received a standing ovation from their supporters. Thanks to timely hitting and a dominant start from sophomore left-handed pitcher Blake Fox, Rice was six outs from a crucial victory over their in-state rivals. Fox said the moment was surreal; he described it as the single coolest moment of his career thus far. “It gave me the chills,” Fox said.Though the Owls were unable to win the game, the strong performance they received from Fox was nothing out of the ordinary. As a freshman, Fox finished with a 6-0 record while coming primarily out of the bullpen. As a sophomore, he compiled a 12-0 record with a 1.46 earned run average. His success on the field has earned him a number of accolades. Following his sophomore season, Fox was named a first team All-American by the National College Baseball Writers Association, first team All-Conference USA and Rice Male Athlete of the Year, among several others.Fox made the transition from reliever to starter between his freshman and sophomore years. Typically, such a transition requires considerable strength training to build stamina, as well as an expansion of the pitcher’s repertoire. According to Fox, strength training was a big part of the offseason and the addition of a slider to his repertoire over the summer of his freshman year as necessary for the progression to start.“It’s about having your goals in mind during the season [and] offseason and having the discipline and focus to achieve them,” Fox said.Head Coach Wayne Graham said Fox is a well-rounded pitcher and the ideal Rice player.“We’re always looking for good, reliable players, and that’s exactly what Blake is,” Graham said. “He’s very disciplined on the mound.”According to Fox, the coaches have had a significant impact on his success on the mound.“[The coaches] coach the mental side of the game very well,” Fox said. “They’re really aware of different situations, and that helps us perform better as players.” Through his development, Fox has developed a unique pitching style that has allowed him to enjoy so much success in a short amount of time. His greatest strength, perhaps, is his confidence in each of his four pitches: fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. While most pitchers have one “out pitch” that they will call upon in pressure situations, this is not the case with Fox. According to Fox, he has the confidence in his pitches. Further accentuating this point is the fact Fox pitches to his strengths. While he is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of hitters on the mound, Fox still prefers pitching to his strength rather than a hitter’s weakness in a given situation. Additionally, Fox describes himself as a strike thrower who prefers to go for a direct strikeout, rather than trying to get the hitter to chase.“I throw strikes,” Fox said. “If someone in our infield makes a play or if I strike a guy out, I don’t really care as long as the guy’s out. But if I walk someone, then nobody gets to make a play, and that hurts us.” The ability to throw strikes, as Fox said, is particularly important given an NCAA rule change regarding the baseballs that will be used during games. While balls that were used last year are described as “high-seam” balls, the ones that will be used this year “low-seam.”This upcoming season, Fox will serve the role of “weekend starter” for the Owls. Doing so gives him six days of rest between starts, all of which are necessary to recover from the soreness that results from consistently pitching deep into games. According to Fox, the rest is a critical aspect of being able to pitch at a consistently high level throughout the season.“There definitely is some soreness the day after you pitch, so you spend a lot of the week recovering from that,” Fox said.As for what constitutes this recovery, Fox mentioned long toss, bullpen sessions and running, all of which he uses in addition to typical resting protocols to stay sharp between starts. While six days is longer than most professional pitchers have to recover from starts (typically four days at the Major League level), the pitcher’s responsibility of staying sharp places additional emphasis on the fitness and conditioning training that is typically done during the offseason.As for Fox and the Owls, the goal this year is the same as it always is: win the Conference USA title en route to winning the College World Series in Omaha. The 19-time reigning Conference USA champions begin their season Feb. 13 against Texas in Reckling Park.


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:12am

The bat: John Clay Reeves

John Clay Reeves has finally found a baseball home at Rice University. Coming from Monroe, Louisiana, the Owls’ starting catcher played his first two seasons at the University of Arkansas and Navarro College, respectively, but has finally established himself at Reckling Park.  Last season, his first season as an Owl, was Reeves’s breakthrough year in which he recorded a .317 batting average led the Owls to another conference championship and earned him a collection of individual accolades. He was named the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in addition to being a second team All-Conference USA honoree.  Reeves played his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, where he helped the Razorbacks reach the College World Series as a true freshman. However, due to a crowded depth chart at catcher, he transferred to Navarro College after the season. According to Reeves, he enjoyed his time at Arkansas but felt he could achieve greater accomplishments at other programs. “Arkansas was a great experience for me my freshman year,” Reeves, a McMurtry College senior, said. “I had some great times and got to learn from a great catching coach, but I was splitting time and it was best for me to move on.” At Navarro, Reeves led his team to the Junior College World Series while posting a .367 batting average. After completing his junior college year, he landed at Rice. Reeves said ending up at Rice was a dream come true. “Not many people want to pass up the opportunity to come to Rice and play for a great coach in Wayne Graham,” Reeves said. “I thank God every day that he gave me the opportunity to be on a team like this.”  After sustaining a hip injury last season, he had surgery on June 26 to begin his rehabilitation. He missed fall baseball practice as part of his five-month recovery process. Reeves said he has been aggressively training to get back into top-tier baseball form since mid-November. “I have been hitting it real hard,” Reeves said. “I have been catching and hitting as much as I can to get ready for the season and handle all these great pitchers that we have. I want to put up some of the same numbers I put up last year and maybe improve since I am healthier this year.” Reeves is focusing on fixing the last season’s mistakes. Despite his all-conference-caliber numbers from last year, he believes there is plenty of room for improvement,  for both himself and the team. Primarily, Reeves said the team needs to do a better job taking each game with the same intensity.  “I want to have a good season, not only for myself but for my teammates,” Reeves said. “We want to take each game one at a time and win the series every weekend.” Head Coach Wayne Graham is also looking forward to another impressive season from Reeves, whom he named Most Valuable Player of the team last year. According to Graham, Reeves has a chance to improve his performance from last season due to his improved health. “He played hurt [last season] and he played well and called a great game,” Graham said. “He has a chance to have a great year. He is just a fine and intelligent player.” In addition to his hitting prowess, with his six home runs and 41 RBIs in 2014, much of Reeves’s contribution to the Owls comes from his job as a game-managing catcher. Reeves said he works closely with the Owls’ top-tier pitching staff and is entrusted by Coach Graham to call the pitches in games. “As a catcher, I want to be able to lead our pitching staff and help call pitches,” Reeves said. “I can’t say enough about this pitching staff. We have so many good pitchers on this team.” This year, Reeves will have some defensive help with junior Hunter Kopycinski ready to take on some of the load at the catcher position. According to Reeves, Kopycinski has shown promise and will be able to fill in for him, if needed. “Toward the end [of last season], I got a little tired,” Reeves said. “This year we have Hunter Kopycinski to share some of the games at catcher. He’s been playing great and had a great fall.” With Kopycinski ready to share the load, Graham said Reeves and Kopycinksi would be splitting games defensively at catcher. When not catching, Reeves will be the team’s designated hitter, replacing the pitcher in the batting lineup. “Reeves will always bat in the lineup,” said Graham. “Kopycinski is hitting better but will not always be in the lineup.” Reeves’s goal is to return to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since his freshman year at Arkansas, and he said he believes this team has the ability to achieve their objective. “I think this is a great team and a great group of guys,” Reeves said. “This is a team that does have potential to go to Omaha.” Reeves, who is entering his final year of eligibility, said he is looking to play professionally after this year. He said his goal is to continue to play baseball and someday continue working in the field as a coach. “I want to try to play baseball as long as I can like every guy in that locker room,” Reeves said. “Eventually coaching is something that I think I have a lot of passion for. These coaches here have done nothing but great things for me.” Reeves, a sports management major, said he is also thankful for the academic value that his Rice experience has given him. He has been working hard in the classroom to make up for the 30 hours he lost when he transferred. Named to the C-USA All-Academic Team last year, Reeves will walk at graduation, but will be six credits short of a diploma. “Rice does a lot of great things for you other than athletics,” Reeves said. “It is a great school for academics, which is another reason I came here. It has given me the opportunity to have some great internships through our sports management program.” Reeves looks to stay healthy and be on the lineup card for the entire season as he enters his final year as a college athlete, having found a place in which he could excel. “There is no better place to me than Rice,” Reeves said. “It really has been a blessing to have the opportunity to play here and I could not be more thankful.”


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:10am

Perfect Pitch: Baseball goes for 20th straight title

Coming off their 19th consecutive conference championship and 40-win season, Rice will compete to earn their 20th straight trip to the postseason and advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Rice, selected by Conference USA coaches as the unanimous favorite to once again win conference, has not been to Omaha since their three-year run ended in 2008.The 2015 Owls completed a 42-20 season last year (23-7 in Conference USA play) and earned both the regular season and C-USA tournament championships in 2014. With preseason rankings of no. 13 on d1baseball.com and no. 15 on Baseball America, many believe the Owls will be able to continue their conference streak.This season, Rice returns a slew of high-profile pitchers, including junior all-conference pitchers Blake Fox and Matt Ditman. Last season, Rice ranked second in C-USA with a 2.56 team ERA, compared with the conference’s average of 3.41. Rice looks to build upon those pitching statistics and allow the pitching staff to lead the team deep into the postseason. Starting Pitchers Fortunately for the Owls, the Rice Owls pitching staff is returning nearly all of their 2014 rotation and is expected to be one of the top programs in the country. Last season, right-handed pitcher Zech Lemond was drafted in the third round of the MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. With the exception of Lemond, a multitude of pitchers have returned to the roster.Now in his 10th season with Rice, Pitching Coach Pat Hallmark said the team’s pitching staff will help the team win a lot of games.“We got a lot of guys back from last year, which means we expect to add to last season’s success,” Hallmark said. “They [all] have good stuff, [and] the biggest thing with our guys is to always throw strikes. If we get a lot of strikes from our pitchers, we feel very confident that they will have good games.” Hallmark said he knows two of his most reliable and experienced pitchers, juniors Kevin McCanna and Blake Fox, will be on the mound for the opening series against Texas.“We think Kevin and Blake will certainly be in there somewhere over the weekend,” Hallmark said. “The other two we are not sure about but we do know they will be very capable and compete at a high level.” 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore pitcher Jon Duplantier looks to have solidified a spot in the weekend rotation, having had a successful summer playing in the California Collegiate League. With a fastball capable of hitting 95 on the radar guns and a power slider, he was named the top prospect of the CCL and will be heavily relied on this season.Additionally, right-hander McCanna, who spent much of last year as the Friday night starter, is back and has shown command in intrasquad games thus far. He went 8-3 on the mound last year and was second on the team in both wins and innings, pitching behind only fellow teammate and All-American Blake Fox. Fox is coming off a season in which we went 12-0 (9-0 against Conference USA opponents) and was a finalist for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year. This year, Fox was named the preseason favorite for Pitcher of the Year in C-USA.  Closer Junior reliever Matt Ditman was the surprise story of 2014. Ditman emerged as a dominant pitcher for the Owls last season. The former bullpen catcher appeared in 26 games for Rice and had nine saves on the year. His 1.83 earned run average and opponent hitters’ batting average of .198 on the season earned him preseason All-Conference honors this year. He is the only relief pitcher to have made the list. Ditman discussed being recognized by the conference for his achievements, and said he believes the important accolades come when the preseason honors can become postseason. “I am honored and happy to have gotten [recognized],” Ditman said. “But at the same time, I’d rather see postseason all-conference as opposed to preseason. I really want to focus on receiving postseason accolades for the sake of my teammates.” When Ditman looks at his fellow pitchers, he sees experienced guys who have tasted success. According to Ditman, he feels the Owls have the potential for another strong season. “When you look at our pitching staff, it’s a lot of guys who have already displayed success and have the capability to succeed at this level,” Ditman said. “We have a lot of potential to do something really special as a pitching staff.” Other notable pitchers for the Owls include juniors Ryan McCarthy and Austin Orewiler, who are midweek starter candidates. Additionally, junior Jordan Stephens is set to return from Tommy John surgery this season. In 2013, he led the Owls in innings pitched with 118.2 and recorded 100 strikeouts. Notable freshman standouts this year have been Ricky Salinas and Glenn Otto, who have the potential to see significant action.  Hitters On the opposite side of the ball, the Owls have many gaps to fill, having lost five of their nine offensive starters last season. Seniors Keenan Cook (RF), Michael Aquino (LF), Shane Hoelscher (3B), Chase McDowell (DH/RHP) and junior Skyler Ewing (1B) were either lost to graduation or drafted by MLB teams. Hitting Coach Clay Van Hook, in his fourth year as the Owls’ coach, talked about the highly restructured lineup for 2015. According to Van Hook, replacing the departed players will not be easy, but he believes the team has the talent to continue its winning tradition.“You know it’s always tough to replace four out of your top five hitters, not just from [the] hitting standpoint, but from the leadership that a lot of those guys had,” Van Hook said. “We feel we brought in a very athletic group of kids that we know will have a good future here at Rice.” Ahead of facing no. 10 ranked Texas, Van Hook said he needs his hitters to remain calm and realize that, in the game of baseball, composure in all situations is a must. “In terms of preparing the guys for Texas, it’s opening weekend and the juices are going to be flowing, [and] the adrenaline is going to be there,” Van Hook said. “The biggest thing for the young guys is to keep [their] composure and stay in the moment. I think the guys are prepared and [have done] a good job hitting in practice and intra-squads, so hopefully they are ready.”  Infield Returning for the Owls is the sure-handed duo of middle infielders, junior shortstop Leon Byrd and senior second baseman Ford Stainback. Both are effective runners and excellent hitters capable of hitting the ball to all areas of the field. Rounding out the infield is junior Connor Teykl at first base and junior college transfer Grayson Lewis at third base. In his first year with the Owls, Lewis said he is excited about being part of a team he claims is the most talented he’s ever been on.“It’s all been very exciting and really different from junior college [playing for Rice],” Lewis said. “This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on and is an honor to be a part of it. They continue to amaze me with all their talent on the field … [and] I feel lucky to be on a club that has such great team chemistry.” Outfield The outfield for the Owls has considerable depth, thanks in part to the addition of talented freshmen. Returning from last year’s squad is Charlie Warren, who is expected to transition to right field after spending most of his time last season at center field. The other two outfield positions are undecided as of yet as multiple Owls ranging from freshmen Ryan Chandler and Tristan Gray to seniors John Williamson and Kirby Taylor have each received significant reps at left and center field. Sophomore outfielder Dayne Wunderlich has also emerged as a hard-hitting sophomore with athleticism and speed who may prove to be a real weapon for the Owls.  Chandler projects to see significant playing time for the Owls. Entering his first season for Rice, he said he has learned much about the game at the collegiate level. “It’s a lot different [from] high school because the competition is much better,” Chandler said. “When you consider that everybody here was the best player on their high school team, you must turn it up a notch. You have to grind and give it your best every single day.”According to Chandler, the constant message he receives from his coaching staff and fellow teammates is to always remain confident at the plate.“The thing they have preached to us is being confident every time you are out there,” Chandler said. “It has really changed me personally as a hitter. Trusting them and trusting my teammates to help me and hold me accountable for what I’m supposed to do on the field has been key.”  Catchers Senior John Clay Reeves and junior Hunter Kopycinski will share the duty behind the plate this season. Reeves is arguably the best hitter on the roster with a 2014 batting average of .317 and was named the Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year. Entering his senior season, Reeves will be a threat on both sides of the ball, especially when it comes to two of the most important aspects of the game: Calling pitches for the pitching staff and power hitting. Kopycinski is a defensive-minded catcher capable of catching multiple innings. Coaches agree he has shown improvement this offseason and Kopycinski has made a case to be inserted in the lineup on a more consistent basis this season.  Outlook The Rice schedule includes notable non-conference games against many notable non-conference opponents. A few of these top-tier teams include Texas, Stanford University, Texas Christian University, the University of Arizona, the University of Houston and Sam Houston State University. Head Coach Wayne Graham, who earned his 1,000th Rice victory last season, said he enjoys playing these elite teams because it tests where Rice stands on a national scale. “You find out by playing good teams where you are and where you’ve got to go,” Graham said. “We think we can compete with [these top teams], and aside from these games being developmental it gives you a good power rating for later.” Entering his 24th year as head coach, Graham said he realizes the Owls streak of 19 straight conference championships and 20 straight NCAA tournament appearances is remarkable, but is not the ultimate goal of the season.“We always want to keep the string going because obviously it’s hard to get a streak like that going,” Graham said. “But we’d rather get to Omaha and win the national championship.” The 2015 season is set to begin this upcoming Friday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m, when the Owls take on the University of Texas, Austin at Reckling Park.The last time the two teams played was the 2014 NCAA regional matchup where the Longhorns defeated Rice 3-2 in 11 innings and gave Rice their first of two losses in the regional tournament.


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:08am

Women's tennis falls to Texas Tech

The Rice University women’s tennis team faced off against Texas Tech University this weekend, falling 4-1. Senior Natalie Beazant, ranked no. 24 nationally, continued her unbeaten career against the Red Raiders. Beazant improved to 9-0 lifetime against Texas Tech. She beat the Red Raiders’ Kenna Kilgo 6-0, 6-3, but her victory wasn’t enough against a Texas Tech team that won the last three matches on courts three, four and five.Junior Solomiya Zinko, senior Stephanie Nguyen and sophomore Katherine Ip went into their matches tied 1-1 but came up a just bit short. Zinko fell 7-5, 4-1, Nguyen lost 6-4,6-4, and Ip lost 7-6, 2-1. Additionally, the team lost both doubles points 6-4 and 6-3.According to Head Coach Elizabeth Schmidt, the loss hurts but will provide the team with insights into how they can improve.“I thought we put ourselves in [a] good position to win it but [we] just didn't keep our energy and aggression up enough to seal the deal,” Schmidt said. "While we are frustrated with this result, I am encouraged and confident that our team is walking out of Lubbock with a clear picture of what we need to do to continue to improve and grow."The Owls will try to bounce back against no. 6 ranked Baylor University on Friday, Feb. 13, and the University of Louisiana, Lafayette on Sunday, Feb. 15. 


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:07am

NCAA to rethink marijuana policy

On the heels of two University of Oregon players’ suspension from the college football National Championship game after testing positive for marijuana use, the NCAA announced that it will be reexamining its drug policy.According to the NCAA website, the association's Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended extensive changes to the NCAA's drug testing policies, particularly with regards to testing for marijuana.According to the NCAA, the recommendations were to "First, strengthen the NCAA drug testing program for performance-enhancing substances; second, development of a shared model of deterrence for recreational drug use (e.g., marijuana, alcohol and opiates) with a focus on educational programs instead of a traditional testing model" and "the responsibility for deterrence will be shared between the NCAA and member schools."It remains unclear whether any policy changes will have an immediate impact at Rice. As of last semester, student athletes cannot be randomly tested for marijuana. Some, however, are skeptical of the decision. Mike Rhoades, head coach of Rice men’s basketball, said he still condemns drug use, regardless of what the NCAA decides. According to Rhoades, any change to NCAA policy would not impact his expectations of his players.“We’re in a position right now [where] our guys know what’s right and wrong, what is becoming of a Rice basketball player,” Rhoades said. “The NCAA can look at anything it wants, but we will always abide by the rules: The rules of the school, the rules of the NCAA.”According to Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard, Rice takes a hard stance against both recreational and performance-enhancing drug use.“Our approach is that both types of drugs are unhealthy for our students and may also lead to negative consequences for our programs,” Karlgaard said.According to a Rice student athlete, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of this topic, the policy will only encourage drug use and will ultimately reflect poorly on the student and the university.“I really think it’s bad; I don’t think drugs should have any part in Division I sports,” the athlete said. “Athletes receive scholarships to represent their school and should show a certain respect to the people paying for their education and to the sport itself.”The NCAA said it is considering changes because the current drug policy has, in their opinion, failed to deter recreational drug use. Student athlete drug surveys conducted by the NCAA have indicated that alcohol use has dipped only slightly, marijuana use has remained consistent and opiate use has increased. Furthermore, players who lose eligibility due to drug use are more likely to drop out, according to the NCAA’s study. The results have prompted the association to focus on recreational drug education rather than punishment.Some pro-marijuana legalization advocacy groups, however, have expressed their approval of the NCAA’s decision. Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the NCAA should not penalize athletes for marijuana use as it does not provide a competitive advantage, nor does it harm other non-users.“Punishing athletes for marijuana use has nothing to do with fairness or safety in competitive sports and everything to do with inappropriate extensions of the drug war into American life,” Nadelmann said. “It's great to see the NCAA join with other sports associations in revising this hypocritical and harmful policy.”According to Karlgaard, Rice Athletics will accept any future changes to the NCAA drug policy. “We will embrace any additional resources provided by the NCAA to educate our students on the consequences of drug use,” Karlgaard said. “I think it’s terrific that the NCAA is looking for better ways to educate students about drug use.”The NCAA will announce any changes by the end of 2015.


SPORTS 2/11/15 7:06am

Football inks 18 on National Signing Day

Each year, the first Wednesday in February is celebrated nationwide as the first day high school athletes can accept an athletic scholarship from a university. The day has become something of a spectacle in recent years, with recruiting websites and large networks such as ESPN joining in on its coverage.This year, Rice football signed 18 players to football scholarships beginning in the 2015-16 academic year. The class includes four defensive linemen, three offensive linemen, three cornerbacks, two safeties, two quarterbacks, two running backs, one tight end and one kicker.Additionally, 16 of the 18 seniors come from within the state of Texas. Three of the sixteen Texans hail from the Houston metropolitan area. Head Football Coach David Bailiff said Signing Day was the culmination of nearly a year’s work of recruiting and establishing relationships with the players. 16 of the 18 players who signed either went to Rice’s Junior Day workouts or attended Rice’s annual summer football camp.“It has been a fabulous day for Rice, but today has been a process where this really started back in March on Junior Day,” Bailiff said. “We’ve been developing relationships with a lot of these young men for quite some time and that really makes it special.”J.T. Granato, a local quarterback prospect from the Kinkaid School, has already garnered high expectations from the coaching staff. According to Bailiff, Granato, who threw for over 9,000 yards in his career, may be the future starting quarterback for the Owls due to his athletic and leadership abilities.“Not only is [Granato] a great quarterback, he’s a great leader,” Bailiff said. “We just think our future is bright at that position.”Bailiff and his staff added two more skill position players in Emanuel Esukpa and Nahshon Ellerby. This past season, Ellerbe had over 2,000 yards rushing and 700 receiving yards. Bailiff said Esukpa, who scored five touchdowns in a game this past season, reminds him of former Rice running back, Charles Ross, who led Conference USA in rushing in 2013.“He’s a powerful running back,” Bailiff said. “When you see him run ... he’s powerful, he’s explosive, but he’s still got the speed and agility to outrun you.”Defensively, Rice signed five defensive backs and four defensive linemen. According to Bailiff, the new defensive line recruits may be the best defensive recruits in the program’s history.“We have four of the best future defensive linemen we’ve ever signed here going into my ninth year,” Bailiff said. “The first young man, Zach Abercrumbia, had a lot of offers; he’s very disruptive and incredibly powerful with his hands. Blaine Plaggent is a kid when you watch his film you see how much he loves football. Carl Thompson is another guy like Zach Abercrumbia. We really think these three young men could play early for us if we needed. Carl is very explosive; he can play from sideline to sideline.”One of the players from outside of Texas, kicker Jack Fox, hails from Missouri and received high praise from Bailiff. Fox, the no. 28 kicker in the country according to ESPN, also played quarterback in high school but was recruited as a two-position player as a kicker and punter. Fox broke the Missouri high school record for field goals in a season this past year with 17. According to Bailiff, Fox’s athletic ability and leg strength made him an exciting signee.“He’s got an unbelievable leg when he punts,” Bailiff said. “We really liked the fact that he was also a quarterback, so he’s very athletic. He threw for 1,900 yards this year but we’re just going to ask him to get his foot to go to work for us.”According to Bailiff, Rice only wants student athletes who have a commitment to excellence both on and off the field.“We want young men who are serious about winning and serious about graduating,” Bailiff said. “We tell them all, ‘In five years we expect you to be a boss, and in ten years we expect you to pay your scholarship back to Rice and in 30 to 40 years we expect you to name a building after yourself.’ We have high expectations here, and I think we’re looking at a Conference USA championship-caliber class.”According to ESPN, 13 of the 18 signees are ranked as three-star prospects. However, not a single player on either Super Bowl team this year, the New England Patriots nor the Seattle Seahawks, was ranked as a five-star prospect out of high school. Bailiff said he believes in this class and believes they will help the team continue its winning ways. “It was a fabulous year,” Bailiff said. “We’re just excited for what these young men have stood for in their community, what they’ve stood for academically and athletically. They’re great fits and the future is bright.”


SPORTS 2/4/15 4:06pm

Baseball sweeps Conference USA preseason awards

The Conference USA coaches’ poll unanimously announced Rice as the favorite to be crowned 2015 C-USA champions on Jan. 28. Additionally, Rice junior pitcher Blake Fox was named the preseason Pitcher of the Year and senior catcher John Clay Reeves was named preseason Player of the Year. The Owls are currently ranked no. 13 in the nation on d1baseball.com and no. 15 on Perfect Game. Reeves made an immediate impact last season in his first year with the Owls. He was named C-USA Newcomer of the Year after starting 56 of the 62 games as catcher and designated hitter, and was among the top players in the Conference in multiple hitting categories with seven home runs, 41 RBIs and a .439 slugging percentage. Reeves said the seniors on the squad are focused on teaching the younger players what it means to be a part of Rice baseball and have a drive to win in the postseason.  “I think like every other year you want to win, and not just our conference, but go deep into the [NCAA] tournament,” Reeves said. “With this great group of guys and multiple seniors on the team, we want to lead by example and teach the younger guys how to uphold the Rice baseball name.” Reeves said individual awards are nice but do not take away from preparing and working hard day in and day out.“It’s always nice to be recognized, but every year is different, so we [have] to remain focused and keep working hard daily,” Reeves said. Fox earned first team all-American honors last season after going 12-0 on the mound with a 1.46 earned run average. He was named one of three finalists for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year award. Fox said he believes his teammates and coaching staff this season must have a competitive mindset to be successful. “As a pitcher, my goal is to get out there and compete to the best of my ability to give my team a chance to win,” Fox said. “I believe that if we all go out there and have that same goal then we will be very successful by [maximizing] all the talent on this team.” Fox said he was honored to be named as a finalist, but keeps things simple in terms of his approach to the game. “It was an honor to be named as one of the finalists, [but] just like my past two years … I want to go out there to compete, do my best and have fun,” Fox said.Head Coach Wayne Graham said Fox and Reeves are key players both on and off the field.“They are definitive leaders on the team and high citizenship, hard working men,” Graham said. “Obviously Fox has been a great pitcher for us and Reeves is a good catcher who can call his own game and is probably our best hitter.” 


SPORTS 2/4/15 4:05pm

The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter is a column written by Sports Editor Evan Neustater. The opinions expressed in the column are solely his.As I sat in the McMurtry Commons watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie in sports that Rice students rarely experience.The commons’ lights were dimmed and the big game was displayed on the projector screen in HD, large enough for anyone in the room to see. Fans of both the Patriots and the Seahawks sat in the commons and glued their eyes to the screen as the servery made chicken wings, beans and nachos. Even fans of neither team, including myself, packed the commons to watch the game. After any big play the crowd either erupted with approval, disappointment or both. Watching the game with all those people gave us all insight on how sports can bring a community together and unite people with a common cause.In the future, I believe Rice or the individual colleges should put in a greater effort to replicate events like this. Not just for the Super Bowl, but especially for Rice athletic events. This past football season it was almost impossible to find a group  watching a Rice football game. Willy’s Pub hosted a watch party for Rice’s game against the University of Notre Dame. Pub was packed with screaming fans who were all united around a desire for Rice to pull off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in school history. Even though Rice ended up losing the game, it showed that Rice students can come together under the banner of athletics and share a common interest in a goal that unites us as Rice Owls.If Rice athletics has an away game that is televised, Rice or the colleges should show them in a common place where everyone and anyone can watch it. Far too often the student body shows apathy toward sporting events, and perhaps this can be a solution to that problem. A little school spirit can go a long way in improving our quality of life and community.


SPORTS 2/4/15 4:04pm

Basketball drops two conference games

The Rice University men’s basketball team suffered two consecutive losses on the road this week to the University of Houston 48-59 and the University of North Texas 65-75.Although Rice and Houston were tied 22-22 at halftime, Houston managed to pull away in the second half, outscoring the Owls by 11 points despite Rice shooting 55 percent from the field. Head Coach Mike Rhoades said loss of focus was an important factor in the defeat against Houston. “Once again we got off to a good start,” Rhoades said. “I thought it was one of our games where we just lacked enough focus to continue through the game. We did some good things early, got it going a little bit, but we just allowed Houston too many extra shots. We weren’t as aggressive on both ends of the court as we have been in the near past.”Rhoades also said the team came out strong against North Texas, but once again played a weaker second half. Despite scoring a season-high 15 three-pointers and recording their highest-scoring first half of the season, Rice’s offense stagnated in the second half. Rice led 45-37 at halftime, but was held to only 20 second-half points on 21 percent shooting while the Mean Grean scored 38 points. “We played a great first half, but they are a very talented team,” Rhoades said. “Our defense was just okay. We had a lot of confidence going into the second half … We just did not get off to a good start [in the second half]. Then it became a dogfight, and we just allowed them too much confidence [and too many easy scores] throughout the second half. The Owls have two upcoming road games against Marshall University and Western Kentucky University. Rhoades said the team needs to improve its practices to win key road conference games.“We just [have] to have a really good week of practice and prepare to pull these games out,” Rhoades said. “They’re both good programs, but you know it’s league play, so you have to find a way to win on the road.”Rice’s next home game is on Thursday, Feb. 12 against Middle Tennessee State University.


SPORTS 2/4/15 3:46pm

Casey Clark qualifies for US Olympic Trials

Casey Clark excels in both the classroom and in the swimming pool. The Baker College senior will be graduating in May with a degree in civil and environmental engineering and already has a job lined up with Shell. With her friendly personality and relaxed conversational style, anyone speaking with her would not expect her to be the same person whose competitive drive and skill makes her one of the most accomplished swimmers in Rice history. Clark began swimming competitively year-round at the age of nine, but in about two months, her demanding schedule of two-a-day practices and traveling for meets might be over. She says the reality of the impending shock of not swimming competitively again has not hit her yet. “[Swimming] has been such a large part of my life,” Clark said. “Swimming takes so much time and it becomes your identity. People know me as ‘the swimmer.’” From the moment she came to Rice as a graduate of Klein High School, 45 minutes north of Rice, she took the pool by storm and made an immediate contribution to the Owl’s swim team. She shared the team’s Rookie of the Year award, won three individual bronze medals and broke a Rice record in her first season as an Owl. That summer, Clark competed in the United States Olympic Team Trials. Commonly referred to as “Trials,” the meet is held every four years before the Summer Olympics to select the participants for the U.S. swim team. Clark competed in those Trials in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle. According to Clark, her goal was to achieve Olympic Trials cuts in order to compete in more events at the meet and simply enjoy the experience. “Obviously, going into Olympic Trials, I didn’t think I was going to make the team,” Clark said. “It was more about the experience of going and trying to maximize the amount of swims there.” Clark said despite not placing very highly, she recalls the thrill of competing on one of the highest stages. “It was really cool to just be at that high-profile meet,” Clark said. “They had fireworks on the pool deck and everything. It was just cool to be in a setting in which swimming was getting the attention that I feel other sports get.” In a long-course meters (Olympic-size 50- meter pool) meet in Austin two weeks ago, Clark posted two lifetime best marks in the 100-meter freestyle (57.08) and the 100-meter butterfly (1:00.42), the latter being an Olympic Trials cut.  Despite qualifying for the Olympic Trials once again, Clark is leaning toward not competing in the meet once again in 2016. According to Clark, going to the Trials would require her to train rigorously for over a year more than she would otherwise.  “It is kind of a tricky situation because I am graduating in May and I accepted a job in New Orleans,” Clark said. “With that, I don’t think I would be able to train or compete at the level that I need to be at.” However, Clark said she has not completely shut the door on swimming in Omaha with the nation’s best once again in July 2016.  “I am just going to start working, but I could take a couple months off and then train again,” Clark said. “If I decide that it is something I can do, then I might.” Clark’s current focus, however, remains her college meets which take place in a short-course yards competition pool. While international meets such as the Olympics take place in 50-meter pools, most meets in the United States occur in 25-yard pools, which make for faster times due to the differences with the metric system and the larger number of turns in the races. Right now, Clark is working on tapering, or gradually beginning to rest, for the Conference USA Championship Meet in Knoxville, Tennessee on Feb. 18-21 and for the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina a month later. As possibly the only Owls swimmer to compete in both meets, Clark said she has to find a way to be rested yet prepared. “I am sort of half-tapering for conference and half-tapering for national,” Clark said. “Just points-wise, it does not make sense for me to not be rested and conference and not try to swim at the top level, but at the same time, I can’t put all of my eggs in that basket and not do well at nationals.” Clark is looking forward to bringing back a second consecutive conference championship to Rice. In last year’s meet where she was named the Swimmer of the Meet, the Owls won the conference. This year, she said it will be much more difficult to attain that level of success. “Our conference is going to be way more challenging,” Clark said. “Last year we won it handily by about 300 points. It is going to be a lot more challenging, but we are definitely a stronger team this year.” With a conference championship meet, NCAA championships and even possibly another Olympic Trials left for her, she currently sits atop the Rice swimming record books with individual school records in the 100 yard freestyle (49.26), 100 backstroke (53.86), 200 freestyle (1:45.69), 200 butterfly (1:57.28) and in her favorite event, the 100 butterfly (52.70). In addition, she has been a member of four of the school’s five record setting relays. Clark said it might take another record-breaking swim for her to attain her goal of reaching the finals at the NCAA championships this year. “I’ve been twice before but I didn’t make finals,” Clark said. “My goal is to final and score points at NCAAs.”


SPORTS 1/28/15 7:44am

Tennis continues strong start to new season

This weekend, the no. 75 ranked Rice University men’s tennis team played three non-conference matches to bring their overall record to 3-2.  On Friday, the Owls swept both games of a doubleheader against the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas, Pan American. Then on Sunday, the Owls lost a close matchup against Old Dominion University 4-2.  Friday’s matches were moved indoors to the Downtown Club due to rainy conditions. With the matches held indoors, singles took place first. The Owls won all but one of the 25 sets of the day en route to two victories against in-state opponents. Sunday’s match was once again held at the George R. Brown Tennis Center. Facing conference opponent Old Dominion University, the Owls started with an early lead after winning the doubles portion of the match. However, singles proved to be a much larger challenge for the Owls as they dropped four of the five finished matches to the Monarchs with the lone win coming from junior Adam Gustaffson on court four.  Rice Head Coach Efe Ustundag said his team could not capitalize on the lead that they opened with after winning five of the first six sets of the day.  “[Old Dominion] is a team that fights,” Ustundag said. “They are going to find ways to get back into those matches and that is exactly what happened.” Ustundag said the team was not aggressive enough in singles play to overtake the Monarchs. “We kept playing, hoping for them to give it to us,” Ustundag said. “We didn’t go and take it from them.” The Owls have now lost two matches –against the University of Texas, San Antonio and Old Dominion. Both games were close home losses against conference opponents. The Owls will now travel to Starkville, Mississippi to face off against no. 21 Mississippi State and no. 48 Texas Tech University. These two teams will be the highest-ranked opponents that the Owls have faced this season so far. According to Ustundag, the team must get used to the season’s increasing difficulty. “Now the competition gets even harder,” Ustundag said. “Our job is going to get tougher and tougher.” Despite being ranked lower than the teams that they will face next weekend, Ustundag said he is confident that the Owls can keep pace with the best of them. “I don’t think there is too much of a difference between us and the teams we are about to play,” Ustundag said. “It is a matter of who converts and who does a better job putting away matches.”


SPORTS 1/28/15 7:39am

Former Owl heads to second Super Bowl

Few National Football League players ever get to play in a Super Bowl, and even fewer get to do it twice. Rice University alumnus Luke Willson has accomplished that in just two years.With the Seattle Seahawks becoming the first team in 10 years to make consecutive Super Bowl appearances, Willson, the Seahawks’ starting tight end, will represent his alma mater in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.Willson, a former member of Lovett College, graduated from Rice with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science and a minor in business. Willson capped his Rice career with a victory in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl. Willson was then drafted the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks.According to Willson, his time playing football at Rice helped him prepare for his NFL career, as he learned how to move on from losses.“My first few years [at Rice] everyone faced a lot of adversity, so that really prepared me for the NFL,” Willson said. “Especially this year when we were struggling a little bit early on and going through some challenges. We kind of fall back on times when we faced adversity before and how we got through it and how we learned from it.”Willson also said he learned his work ethic during his time in Houston.“There’s a lot of hard-working guys on that Rice team and that’s kind of what the program is built on, and that’s what I took into the NFL,” Willson said.Last season against the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Willson recorded two receptions for 17 yards in a winning effort. This time, Willson will look to improve upon those numbers, but remains focused on winning the big game. Willson has improved on his rookie numbers this season, posting 22 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season, and making six receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown during the Seahawks’ playoff run.Willson has already made a name for himself in the NFL as the starting tight end for the reigning Super Bowl champions. In last week’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, Willson made a play that may have saved the Seahawks’ season.With 1:25 left in the game, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored a rushing touchdown to put Seattle up 20-19. Seattle elected to go for a two-point conversion to put them up three points, and Willson ended up catching the ball in the end zone after a broken play. According to Willson, he was not even supposed to be going for the catch on the play.“It was kind of just a backyard football play; not exactly how we were planning to go,” Willson said. “I was actually involved in protection and [Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson] scrambled around. I really thought I was out of the play and the next thing I knew the ball was in the air. It hung up there a while and I was able to come down with it, and it turned out to be a big play in that game.”The touchdown put the Seahawks up 22-19, and after the Packers scored a game-tying field goal near the end of regulation, Seattle was able to win the game in overtime.Only seven teams in NFL history have ever won back-to-back Super Bowls, and no team has accomplished that feat since the 2004 New England Patriots, who will be Seattle’s opponent in the game. According to Willson, the team will go into their second consecutive Super Bowl with the same mindset as last year’s, although they will be more aware of the off-field hype that surrounds the biggest annual event in the United States.“It’s a little bit different, but at the same time a lot of it is the same,” Wilson said. “We have a pretty good idea of how this game is going to as far as distractions go. But on the football side of it, it feels very similar. We’re playing a great team just like we did last year. We just have to come out and execute.”Despite being an NFL starter on the verge of playing in his second Super Bowl in two seasons, Willson hasn’t forgotten his roots. He still follows Rice football closely, and said he has some interesting, if not controversial, ideas about its future.“I hope one day we’ll be in the Big 12 Conference,” Wilson said. “Especially nowadays with everyone realizing how short NFL careers are and how important education is. I feel if we went to the Big 12 we could attract some people. The way the program is headed and how we’ve been able to win a bunch of games the last three years could send us into a Power 5 conference, and that would really get the ball rolling.”Willson and the Seattle Seahawks will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Feb. 1. The game will be televised around the globe on NBC at 5:30 p.m.


SPORTS 1/28/15 7:38am

Conference proves tough for women’s basketball

In six games, the Rice University women’s basketball game registered six losses.This week, the Owls fell to the University of Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech University. On Thursday night, the Owls took on Southern Miss and lost by a final score of 65-54. Following the loss, the Owls faced off against the Lady Bulldogs. Rice led for much of the game but Louisiana Tech finished the game on a 21-8 run and won 88-71.The team failed to reach 60 points for the seventh straight game against Southern Miss. At the 11:22 mark of the first half, the Owls took an 18-16 lead on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Maya Hawkins. The lead did not last long though, as Southern Miss went into halftime with a 34-26 halftime advantage. Rice would get as close as 34-32 with a quick burst in the second half, but would not regain the lead for the remainder of the game. Key contributors for Rice included senior forward Megan Shafer, who scored nine points off the bench in just 13 minutes of action, and fellow senior Christal Porter, who led the team with nine rebounds. Against Louisiana Tech, the Owls made the necessary adjustments on the offensive side of the ball and were rewarded by having three players score in double digits. Not only did Rice reach the 60-point mark for the contest, but they reached 70 points for only the third time this season. However, the defensive performance and turnover margin proved too much, as they allowed a season-high 88 points to the opposition and committed 22 turnovers. Louisiana Tech’s offense capitalized on Rice’s mistakes, shooting 59 percent from the field and scoring 20 points off turnovers. Senior point guard Chrisstasia Walter, who scored a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting and a perfect 11-of-11 at the free throw line, led the Bulldogs offensively.The game featured 13 lead changes and seven ties, including Rice having led for the majority of the first half. Porter earned her fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds while senior guard Nakachi Maduka scored 13 points and added eight rebounds for the Owls. Porter said, despite the six-game losing streak, spirits are high in the locker room and the seniors on the team contribute to keeping things positive. “The locker room has definitely been staying positive,” Porter said. “Senior leadership is important to remind the team of how successful we have been [in past years]. We have been [competitive] in every conference game, so it’s just a matter of keeping up the work.”Freshman guard Shani Rainey has been a spot starter for the Owls and is a key player off the bench. She said she feels she and her teammates need to take advantage of every single possession to revert back to their winning ways. “One thing that we as a team need to do is value every possession,” Rainey said. “We can’t take even one off because that could be the deciding factor on who wins the game [and who loses].”  According to head coach Greg Williams, the Owls need to focus on scoring consistently.“Offensive consistency has been a problem all season,” Williams said. “We do not have a proven scorer in late game situations, so we [find ourselves having] to adjust game to game to find that player.” The Owls return to Tudor Fieldhouse this coming Sunday, Feb. 1 to take on the University of North Texas. Tip off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.


SPORTS 1/28/15 7:35am

Basketball splits weekend conference matchups

The Rice University men’s basketball team (6-12, 3-4 C-USA) went 1-1 last week against the University of Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech University. The Owls came back to defeat Southern Miss 58-56 after being down by as many as 10 points. Sophomore guard Marcus Jackson scored the winning free throws after he was fouled when the game was tied with fewer than six seconds left. Jackson led the team with 19 points and senior forward Seth Gearhart added 16.Head Coach Mike Rhoades said he was pleased with how the team was able to come back in the game.“I was really proud of our guys,” Rhoades said. “We got down 10 there, and we could have bagged it. We’ve had a lot of games this season where we were in the position and came back but couldn’t get over the hump, but we [did].”Rice jumped out to an early lead against Louisiana Tech, who is currently second in Conference USA with a record of 15-5. The Owls never recovered after the 28-24 halftime deficit and ultimately lost 45-58. Gearhart scored 16 points for the second consecutive game, making it 12 straight games that he has scored double-digit points. Jackson contributed 12 points in the game.According to Rhoades, Louisiana Tech’s defense played tough and did not allow Rice many scoring opportunities.“It was a hard game to score in today,” Rhoades said. “It wasn’t lack of effort. I thought our guys did a great job of being composed and continuing to fight. We did not shoot the ball well, and their athleticism had something to do with that.”Gearhart is one of the 30 seniors in the country nominated for the national Senior CLASS Award. The award honors student athletes who excel in community, classroom, character and competition. The Owls will begin a four-game road trip on Wednesday, Jan. 28, against the University of Houston, their final non-conference game. The next home game is Thursday, Feb. 12 against Middle Tennessee State University.


SPORTS 1/21/15 2:48pm

Hawkins emerges from injury

Wearing a highly protective metal brace on her surgically repaired left knee, sophomore guard Maya Hawkins has overcome adversity to become one of the central players on the Rice women’s basketball team.Hawkins has spent much of her first two seasons at Rice recovering from an injury to her anterior cruciate ligament. In the first two games of her return from injury, Hawkins posted career-high scoring performances of 25 and 23 points to carry the Owls at the start of conference play.Whether it’s consistently diving on the floor for a loose ball or wrestling with the opposing team for possession, Hawkins said she has a tendency for making the “hustle plays.” “My favorite aspect of the game has to be defense [because] I believe defense is one of the few things in basketball that you can control the entire game,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes, your shot might be off, or you might have a few turnovers, but you can always sprint back and make a stop on defense and play with that edge if you really put your mind to it.”Hawkins has impacted her team in her limited time on the court with her leadership ability. Hawkins said she takes great pride in constantly motivating her teammates and said she attributes this to the perpetual support she received while sidelined with a torn ACL in her left knee. “My teammates have shown me nothing but support throughout the entire process of my rehabilitation,” Hawkins said. “They really showed me what it means to be a part of a team, and their support and confidence in me helped me regain confidence in myself. [My teammates] and other family members really push me to work hard every day so that I can show them that their investment was well worth it.” According to Hawkins, the ACL injury she sustained entering her sophomore year was not her first severe injury. “My first major injury was my freshman year at Rice when I fractured my tibia,” Hawkins said. “Thankfully, it did not require surgery of any kind, but I had to miss [most] of the season. The hardest part about coming back from that injury was coming back with confidence that I could perform well and compete at the college level.” The Owls return to Tudor Fieldhouse Feb. 1, where Maya Hawkins and the rest of the Owls will be in action against the University of North Texas in a nationally-televised game. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. 


SPORTS 1/21/15 2:44pm

Men's tennis opens at home

The newly constructed George R. Brown Tennis Center hosted its first official matches this weekend as the Rice men’s tennis team begins its 2015 season.  On Friday, the Owls (1-1) lost 4-3 to the University of Texas, San Antonio (1-1). On Sunday, the Owls defeated Cornell University (1-1) 4-1. At the beginning of Friday’s game, the UTSA Roadrunners won the doubles round and the Owls were unable to come back. Sophomore Zach Yablon, freshman Jamie Malik and sophomore David Warren won their singles matches, but senior Srikar Alla could not hang on to a 4-1 lead in the third set against UTSA senior Thomas Stillman. Stillman went on to win the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8), and the Roadrunners clinched the 4-3 victory. On Sunday, the Owls faced off against nationally-ranked No. 60 Cornell University. The Owls took control and won the match when Alla delivered the clinching point against Cornell senior Sam Fleck.  Head coach Efe Ustundag said the Owls were disappointed after losing their home opener in Rice’s new venue. “The nerves just got too much out of us,” Ustundag said. “The energy that was built up since last semester just came out differently than we had hoped for.” According to Ustundag, the team was able to rebound on Sunday by focusing less on previous mistakes and more on what could be improved. “We got better at not letting those opportunities that got away from us affect us,” Ustundag said. “Today, having that first match out of the way, we could come out and focus on the small details like the energy and intensity.”  According to Ustundag, the Owls have a long a way to go before they can consistently compete with teams like Cornell’s. “We still [need] a lot of improvements,” Ustundag said. “I think this was a nice preview of how good we can be when we are clicking on all cylinders.” The $8 million George R. Brown Center differs in its design from the Owls’ previous home at the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. Instead of having a concentrated seating area around the center court, the new center allows fans to move from one court to another as dictated by the play. Ustundag said the fan-friendly design contributed to the Owls’ success. “I think it’s phenomenal,” Ustundag said. “Just being able to turn around and have four guys and three roommates of each [player] just standing right behind them and supporting and pushing, I feel like it makes a huge difference.” The Owls now go on to face another two games next weekend against Incarnate Word University on Friday and Old Dominion University on Sunday.


SPORTS 1/21/15 2:41pm

Women's tennis looks to defend title

Following a successful 18-7 record last year and an NCAA Championship Regional Round berth, the Rice women’s tennis team adds two new faces but continues their vision for excellence.  From last year to this year, there have been several personnel changes including a new assistant coach, Taylor Fogleman, who joined Rice after spending the past few seasons at Tulane University.Finally, the team has added two American-born players who have continued to impress their upperclassmen teammates throughout the preseason and heading into the first match. Senior Natalie Beazant said the two players, Lindsey Hodge and Savannah Durkin, fit in with the team early on. According to Beazant, Hodge and Durkin being American does not negatively impact the team’s dynamic, which consists of five international players out of eight total.“They fit into the team really well, but they are great girls to be around and work hard every day so the team respects them for that,” Beazant said.  “Besides them and one more girl, the rest of the team is international mainly because tennis is an international sport, but even with this team makeup, everybody has the same goal so it all works out.”  The women’s tennis program believes the closeness between the players themselves and with the coaching staff will be a defining characteristic. With four upperclassmen taking the helm and mentoring the younger players, combined with joint offseason workouts and team activities such as Top Golf, those teammate bonds will carry them far into the season.  Beazant said the team’s success will be derived from their chemistry off the court.“Knowing how close we are already is wonderful,” Beazant said. “Having [Fogleman] as an assistant coach and especially [Schmidt] as a head coach [whom] you can trust both on and off the court and wants the best for you in life, makes us some of the luckiest student athletes in the world.”According to Beazant, playing in the new $8 million dollar George R. Brown Tennis Facility is an exciting prospect and will motivate the team throughout the season.“I think it is simply amazing being at a school ranked as high as it is academically and also have brand new facilities that we have now,” Beazant said.  “I remember when I was told a few years ago that the school was planning on building new courts, so it has been really exciting to see that entire process take place.”The Owls shut out Lamar University 7-0 last Saturday, Jan. 17, and hope to continue that momentum into next weekend’s matchup against the University of Kentucky. The match will take place in Evanston, Illinois on Jan. 24 at 2 p.m.


SPORTS 1/14/15 10:40am

Defense leads Rice to bowl victory

Two touchdown passes from redshirt junior quarterback Driphus Jackson in the last 19 seconds of the first quarter gave Rice all the momentum it needed. After throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor with 23 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Fresno State University junior quarterback Brian Burrell threw an interception to sophomore cornerback J.T. Blasingame on Fresno’s first play back. Jackson threw his second touchdown pass in as many plays on the next down, a 69-yard strike to senior wide receiver Mario Hull with four seconds remaining in the quarter.The two touchdowns took Rice’s lead to 16-3 at the end of the first quarter, and the Owls never looked back. Rice went on to cap its 2014 season with a postseason bowl victory in the Hawai’i Bowl, defeating Fresno State 30-6 Dec. 24. The win took Rice’s record to 8-5 overall, including winning eight of their last 10. Rice earned its second bowl victory in three years and its 18th win over the last two seasons, the best two-season stretch in school history.The offense stagnated in the second quarter, but went on to score a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters, while only sacrificing two field goals in the game. It marked the first time since 2011 Rice did not allow a touchdown from the opposing team.Coming off a 71-36 loss against Louisiana Tech in which they allowed 677 yards of offense, the Owls’ defense looked to rebound against Fresno State, allowing 27 yards through three quarters. Fresno State finished with 93 yards passing on 38 attempts, and Burrell completed 10 of 20 passes for 44 yards and two interceptions. The defense also added four sacks on its way to holding Fresno State to 158 yards and 22 points under its season average.Senior safety Julius White said the team was out to prove something after the school’s worst defensive performance since allowing 77 points to Louisiana State University in 1977.“Defensively, everybody had a kind of chip on their shoulder,” White said. “[The Louisiana Tech game] wasn’t the way we wanted to go out in the regular season. We didn’t really play much like ourselves that game, so wemade this game like there was something we had to prove. We needed to make a statement on national television that that’s not the defense that Rice wants to be.”According to Head Coach David Bailiff, the team saved its best defensive performance for last.”[It was] probably one of the best defensive performances we’ve had all year,” Bailiff said. “I thought our front four was very disruptive and really thought our secondary was just outstanding. I thought we tackled really well.”Jackson won the game’s Most Valuable Player award after having his best statistical game of the season, completing 15 of 24 passes for a school bowl-record 318 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers. Jackson also added 41 yards rushing and finished the season with 2,842 yards passing and 24 touchdown passes, good for the third-best mark in Rice single season history.Senior wide receivers Mario Hull and Jordan Taylor and junior wide receiver Dennis Parks each had a touchdown catch in the game. Parks recorded his first career 100-yard receiving performance, catching five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. In Taylor’s final game, he caught five passes for 61 yards and a score. The senior finished his career with 176 receptions, 2,588 yards and 20 touchdowns. Taylor finished his career third in Rice history in receptions, second in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns.According to Jackson, his passing statistics were inflated by the play of his wide receivers.“I had to be on point when it came to reading coverages, but the receivers did a great job of adjusting to balls,” Jackson said. “I get a lot of praise for the touchdown to [Mario Hull], but Mario made a great adjustment to that ball because it was short and he ended up making a play on it. I get a lot of praise for what’s going on, but I’m just doing my one-eleventh and everybody else did their part and it came out the way it was supposed to.”Bailiff, however, had more praise for the quarterback. Bailiff said Jackson led the team to victory through his play and decision making.“I thought Driphus did an incredible job of not only managing the game, but at times taking it over,” Bailiff said. “With his big plays and some of the reads he was able to do, we’re really excited he’s coming back next season. It really seemed every time we needed a play Driphus made one for us.”The bowl victory was Bailiff’s third win in four attempts, and he is now currently tied with Jess Neely for the most bowl wins by a Rice head coach. Rice will now shift its focus to the offseason and preparing for the 2015 season. The team will lose five starters from this year’s offense and seven from the defense. The team will look to reload around rising senior quarterback Jackson, who will look to build upon his first year starting.