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Sports


SPORTS 3/21/13 7:00pm

The Fifth Lap

This weekend, hundreds of alumni will return to campus for Beer Bike. Many of my friends who are coming back are a year, two years, three years or more removed from their Rice University graduation. They will come back and see the organizations they led going in new directions. They will enter their old familiar commons and see it filled with unfamiliar faces, and they will go to the bike track and watch the bikes go around while only recognizing a few of the names.The whole thing reminds me of Michael Jordan. Allow me to explain.A month ago, Wright Thompson of ESPN published an incredibly insightful and poignant profile of Michael Jordan on the verge of his 50th birthday. Thompson explored how the characteristics that drove Jordan as an athlete, particularly his ability to turn every slight, real or imagined, into fuel, have become a challenge in retirement. He documented Jordan in the midst of a transition: moving, remarrying and dealing with aging. Thompson wrote of Jordan not as a myth, but as a man, featuring his shortcomings as well as his most redeeming characteristics, showing the human element of the athlete who for a generation seemed superhuman. Clearly, it would be a bit of a stretch to compare any returning alum or any student here now to Jordan. However, our college careers are in many ways similar to athletic careers, even if most of us are more like one of Jordan's teammates whom we now struggle to remember.Like athletic careers, our collegiate careers are years of high pressure and high intensity. Instead of being judged on wins and losses, points and turnovers, we're constantly graded on papers and problem sets and exams. Like athletic careers, our collegiate careers are times in which we receive large amounts of attention. Right now, many of our accomplishments, both academic and extracurricular, are celebrated by our peers, by our mentors and by those outside of the hedges - and they should be. Yet as time passes, the significance of those accomplishments in the eyes of others begin to diminish. And like athletic careers, our collegiate careers quickly come to an end. Because of the parallels between the two, it is worth contemplating what lessons we might be able to glean from the athletic careers of others to improve our own collegiate ones. The first might be the importance of not taking the present for granted. In sports, there is  always an emphasis placed on the next game, the next season, the next summit to be strived for, just like in college there is an emphasis on the next test, the next grade, the next job or the next graduate school. This emphasis on the future is part of what makes us great, what makes us never settle. But when it completely overshadows every accomplishment along the way, I believe something is lost. Appreciating each summit and peering up toward the next one should not be mutually exclusive, and those who are able to balance the two tend to have the most success, deal with adversity the best and be the most satisfied. A second lesson might involve learning to deal with the dynamics of intra-team competition. In sports and in college (and likely in our jobs), we face a strange dynamic in which our teammates are in some sense also our competition. We might be competing to win the race, to get playing time, to get the A+, or to get the selective internship or fellowship. The most successful teams are the ones that can balance these competing interests to make everyone better. A final lesson revolves around becoming comfortable with the effects of time. One of the most interesting parts of the profile on Jordan highlighted him watching a SportsCenter debate on whether Joe Montana or Tom Brady is a better quarterback."They're gonna say Brady because they don't remember Montana. Isn't that amazing?" Jordan quipped. The question for Jordan - and for us - is: Does it matter? Does time diminish or change the importance of Montana's accomplishments if people are partial to what they know and remember? After all, four or five years after we graduate, there will be few people at Rice who remember us.One important piece of the answer likely comes from the fact that Montana was someone who inspired Brady. Moreover, Brady is likely inspiring the next great quarterback as well as thousands of others. And Montana himself was likely inspired by a quarterback who is no longer even in the conversation. Likewise, the impact each of us has while at Rice will spread in ways we cannot fully see or understand, even as the recognition of what we have done diminishes. Is that something we can embrace?When we return to see our old organizations going in new directions, or to see our old commons filled with new and energized faces, or to see new beer bikers and chuggers becoming stars in their own right, it should not be a cause for sadness. It should be cause for nostalgia, for excitement, for a chance to share a little wisdom with those following the same path that had such a big impact on us.I hope Jordan comes to that same conclusion. I hope that when I read about him turning 60, I will again aspire to be like Mike.    I hope Jordan comes to that same conclusion. I hope that when I read about him turning 60, I will again aspire to be like Mike.    



SPORTS 3/21/13 7:00pm

Women's tennis victorious

After winning their sixth straight match Tuesday, the name of the game for the Rice University women's tennis team has been consistency. But the team has not just been winning its matches - the now 27th-ranked team has swept five of its last six opponents. The formula for success for the women's tennis team, according to Head Coach Elizabeth Schmidt, has been breaking down each match one point at a time.


SPORTS 2/14/13 6:00pm

The Fifth Lap

Last week, I found myself staring at a framed newspaper from the day after Rice baseball won its first NCAA College World Series title in 2003. Even though I've seen them over and over again, whether they're on the wall at Pub, or placed in Tudor, or on a banner along the inner loop, the images from that game still cause me to pause.In some ways, it's strange the impact they have on me. I don't remember the game. At the time I didn't keep up with college baseball or Rice sports or really even know much about Rice in general.Yet for me the pictures, the murals, the old newspapers, they all stand as testaments, powerful proofs of what can be achieved from inside the hedges. The challenges at Rice, athletically and otherwise, are unique. But so are the possibilities.It's fitting that the same Stanford Cardinal ball club that Rice defeated to win its first championship will visit Reckling Park this weekend for the first pitch of the 10th anniversary season of that victory. Rice's successes and shortcomings in the decade between that championship and this weekend's series have simultaneously highlighted the strength of the program while putting into perspective how special that 2003 accomplishment really is.Since winning the championship, Rice has extended its streak of winning the conference regular season and/or tournament title to 17 years (leading to this year's Phil Jacksonesque posters of Coach Wayne Graham and all his rings). They've also now reached the NCAA tournament on 18 consecutive occasions, giving them the fourth longest active streak behind only Cal State Fullerton (21), Florida State (35), and the University of Miami (40). And since 2003 Rice has been featured in Omaha three additional times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008.The magic of that 2003 victory, however, is in some ways magnified by what hasn't been accomplished since.Rice has not made a College World Series final since 2003. In both 2006 and 2007, the team came within one victory of that platform before being eliminated by consecutive losses.Moreover, the Class of 2012 became the first class since 1996 to finish tier undergraduate careers without seeing the Owls play in Omaha, despite the team twice entering the tournament as a top08 national seed (rewarding them with home field advantage throughout the tournament) and featuring arguably the best player in Rice history in Anthony Rendon.These recent statistics are not criticisms. They should not be seen as failures or letdowns. They are simply reminders of how impressive the program's accomplishments taken together over the last two decades really are. And lest we take for granted the accomplishment of making the NCAA tournament in and of itself, it should be noted that before beginning this streak in 1995, Rice had never qualified before.Rice baseball isn't just consistently one of the best teams on campus - it is one of the best programs in the nation across all sports.Not only is it one of the best programs in the nation, it also provides a home-game experience that is not only unique and excellent, but also is a potential piece of a great Rice experience. Enjoying baseball requires slowing down, and a chance to slow down is often what this campus sorely needs.At Reckling Park, you can spend an evening out on the outfield hill enjoying the sunset, watching little kids play and young alums have bottle rolling competitions. Or you can soak in the afternoon sun from the stands listening to the rhythm of each pitch reaching the catcher's glove broken by the staccato sound of hits off an aluminum bat.And somehow in this slowed down state moments still become incredibly exciting, painfully heartbreaking, and occasionally even inspiring. There are acrobatic catches, sudden home-run shots, and phony fly-balls that get your hopes up off the bat before drifting harmlessly to an outfielder.There are those game-on-the-line moments with two men on and two men out settled by the ritual challenge between the pitcher and his ball and the batter with his bat.It's a different kind of sporting experience, but it's one that begs to be taken advantage of.So this weekend series against Stanford shouldn't be the only trip to Reckling Park. Instead, it should be a regular piece of this spring. Rice baseball can be a relaxing Saturday afternoon, a mid-week multi-inning study break, or a reason to procrastinate a little longer before starting Sunday's work.Plus, it's impossible to know when the boys with the R on their cap will give us, and the students who come after us, pictures to pause and marvel at once again.


SPORTS 2/14/13 6:00pm

2013 Conference USA Foes

According to Baseball America's Top 25 Preseason poll the Owls are only playing three ranked opponents this season, but their schedule is still daunting with key conference matchups and rivalry games. 


SPORTS 2/14/13 6:00pm

Men's Basketball has an off day against SMU

Less than two weeks removed from an outing in which the Rice men's basketball team scored 54 points in a single half, the Owls (519, 1-9) were unable to match such offensive output in a frustrating conference defeat. Hosting the Southern Methodist University Mustangs (13-12, 3-7) last Saturday, Rice had its worst shooting day of the season in a 61-39 defeat at Tudor Fieldhouse. The Owls came out with a game plan to attack offensively from the perimeter, converting on four out of 13 attempts from behind the 3-point line in the first half. But Rice simply could not produce any offense from inside the arc, scoring just two points in the paint over the first 20 minutes against SMU. Led by legendary NCAA and NBA Head Coach Larry Brown, the Mustangs took a 26-17 lead at the half. Sophomore guard Julian DeBose and senior guard Tamir Jackson each reached double digits in scoring for Rice, but the Owls struggled all day from the field and were unable to bring the deficit within single digits in the second half. The team shot just 19.6 percent (10 for 51) from the field for the game, falling at home on an offense-deprived evening.Head Coach Ben Braun's squad was much more competitive on the road Wednesday when it traveled to take on Marshall University (11-14, 4-6) for another league tilt. The Owls and Thundering Herd played to a 33-33 tie at halftime, and Jackson and junior guard Austin Ramljak combined for 22 points in the first half. Rice took the lead late in an incredibly close second half when freshman forward Ross Wilson's layup with 3:53 remaining made it a 61-60 game. But after Marshall scored four straight points from the line, Jackson was forced out of the game with an eye injury in the closing minutes. Freshman guard Keith Washington entered the game and scored layups on back-to-back possessions, but Marshall responded with a corner 3 and iced the game with free throws while Jackson made his way back into the game. The resilient Owls, shorthanded with sophomore forward Seth Gearhart out due to injury, battled all night on the road but fell by a one-point margin 71-70 for their fourth straight loss.Milestone Watch: Amid what has been a tumultuous senior season, Jackson continues to put his finishing touches on what has simply been one of the best careers in the history of the men's basketball program. Jackson became just the ninth player in program history to surpass the 1,500-point mark Saturday and currently stands eighth on the career scoring list after going for 16 at Marshall. Jackson also now ranks fourth all time in career assists and fifth in career steals after this week's games. With six regular season games left, Jackson has the opportunity to finish at least second all time in games played in a career, depending on how far the Owls can advance in the Conference USA tournament. Lastly, Jackson currently stands second all time in minutes played and is on pace to pass Dana Hardy ('89'92) for the career record, 3,397 minutes, if he stays healthy for the rest of the season.


SPORTS 2/14/13 6:00pm

Women's basketball is edged out by Houston

With only one game this weekend, the Rice Owls had a lot of time to prepare for the arrival of the University of Houston Cougars to Tudor Fieldhouse this past Sunday.  Coming off their first win in quite a while, the Owls were hoping to use their victory against the University of Alabama, Birmingham, as a stepping stone to leave the basement of the conference standings.  Unfortunately, the Cougars had other plans.


SPORTS 2/14/13 6:00pm

Starting Lineup 2013

Under the guidance of the Hall of Fame Head Coach Wayne Graham, fans of the Rice baseball team have been spoiled by success amid the program's rise to national prominence over the last two decades.


SPORTS 2/7/13 6:00pm

Men's Basketball falls to last place in C-USA

After an upset win over crosstown rival University of Houston Cougars, the Rice Owls men's basketball team took the court last Saturday looking to start a winning streak in conference play as they played host to East Carolina University.The Owls (5-17, 1-7) and Pirates (13-8, 4-4) exchanged the lead five times in the game's opening minutes, with the visitors controlling the offensive glass but Rice staying in the game by forcing turnovers early on. The hosts took the biggest lead of the half when freshman guard Keith Washington's jump shot with 10:24 remaining put Rice up by an early 18-14 ledger. The Owls held onto a slim lead into the final minutes of a low-scoring half in which the teams went a combined three for 16 from 3-point distance. A mini 6-1 run to close out the half gave ECU a slim 29-26 lead at intermission, with Head Coach Ben Braun's club utilizing onthe-ball pressure to force turnovers and keep the game close.But in spite of some scrappy play from Rice in the opening 20 minutes, the Pirates came out on a quick run in the second half that proved insurmountable for the undersized Owls. After a bucket by senior guard Tamir Jackson opened scoring after the break, ECU went on a 12-0 run in which it forced three turnovers and made six of eight shots from the field. A layup by sophomore guard Julian DeBose stopped the bleeding for the Owls, making it a 41-30 game, but the Pirates continued to get the ball inside for easy looks at the basket throughout the rest of the half. The deficit for Rice swelled to as much as 25 in the closing minutes, and the guests cruised to a 79-63 win over the Owls at Tudor Fieldhouse. Jackson led Rice with 19 points and nine rebounds in the defeat.In the second half of their win over the Owls, ECU shot 15 for 21 (71.4 percent) from the field and made 27 trips to the free-throw line, consistently getting good looks at the basket by running its offense through the low post. With the exception of Rice's thrilling win last week against Houston, Rice opponents have often outplayed the Owls in the second half of games this season by utilizing a very familiar blueprint. On average, Rice is allowing just 36.4 points per first half this season, but a disappointing 43.9 points per second half. The reason opponents have been able to improve their scoring numbers against the Owls late in games is due in part to their increased offensive efficiency after the intermission. Teams are shooting 51.3 percent from the field against Rice in the second half of games this year, compared to just 45.9 percent in the first half. As ECU did on Saturday, teams playing Rice have displayed more of a commitment to getting the ball down low later in games, leading to better looks at the hoop and more efficient offensive possessions. This is further evidenced by the number of 3-point attempts per half. Rice's opponents are taking nearly three deep balls less per second half than they are per first half this year.After splitting the brief homestand, the Owls traveled to El Paso on Wednesday to take on the University of Texas, El Paso, for the first time this season. But Rice was never able to overcome a quick start from the Miners (13-8, 6-2), who led 18-8 in the opening minutes and took a 14-point lead into the half. The Owls clawed back late in the game, as a Washington deep ball brought Rice to within eight with 7:19 remaining. But UTEP quickly responded with a 3-pointer of its own, which sparked a 12-4 run to put the game out of reach. Jackson led Rice with 12 points on the evening, but the Owls fell on the road by a final score of 65-53. Freshman guard Max Guercy added 11 points in the defeat after he was named the C-USA Freshman of the Week for the second week in a row and the third time this season.The team takes on Southern Methodist University tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse before traveling to Marshall for another conference tilt Wednesday.


SPORTS 1/9/13 6:00pm

Men's basketball perseveres

The Rice men's basketball team, after fading late against the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns in a 57-41 defeat Dec. 29, traveled northeast last Saturday to play Harvard University in Rice's final game before opening its Conference USA schedule on Wednesday. But from the outset, the Owls (3-11) had no answer for their hot-shooting hosts as the Crimson (8-5) jumped out to a 43-21 halftime lead on 63 percent shooting from the field. Harvard hit as many 3-pointers in the first half as Rice had total baskets and Rice fell behind early in spite of a career-high 19 points from freshman guard Max Guercy, who was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Week for his efforts. The Owls lost 92-62, falling to 3-10 in their most lopsided defeat of the season.





SPORTS 11/29/12 6:00pm

Four game win streak garners Rice a bowl game

For the third time in 50 years, the Rice University Owls will be traveling to a bowl game. After a big away win against the University of Texas at El Paso this past weekend, the Owls met the six-win requirement to go bowling - capping the improbable four-game winning streak needed for postseason play.



SPORTS 11/15/12 6:00pm

The Fifth Lap

The Conference USA volleyball tournament, the first of its kind since 2009, returns today in Tulsa, and with it, volleyball rejoins basketball, baseball and soccer as sports that determine the conference's automatic NCAA berth through a tournament. And though this tradition may seem strange, it had become so ubiquitous that it felt even stranger when volleyball did not follow it. 


SPORTS 11/8/12 6:00pm

Men's basketball young and hungry

When the Rice University men's basketball team's 2011-12 season came to an end last March with a loss to Oakland University in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, there was a sense of optimism surrounding the program and its core that combined veteran experience, youth and energy. But during the seven-month-long basketball offseason, disappointment grew when six players decided to leave the the program.


SPORTS 11/8/12 6:00pm

The Fifth Lap

I am still not completely sure how I feel about the events surrounding the cancellation of last weekend's New York City Marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with one key exception - there are lessons to be learned.  In the midst of the destruction and tragedy, whether or not to hold the annual marathon became a source of heated controversy. The arguments and analysis ranged from pragmatic to emotional. Supporters of holding the event saw it as a way to show the city's resilience, to attract media attention and donations, to act as an economic boom and to give weary residents a welcome distraction. Those against holding the marathon  viewed it as an affront to those still suffering from the destruction and a waste of resources at a time when millions were still out of power and areas of the city were still reeling from fatal flooding. On the Wednesday after the storm, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Road Runners President Mary Wittenberg announced the race would go on as planned on the previously planned route. But just two days later, the event was canceled, citing the divisiveness it had caused. Finally, on Sunday, thousands of runners gathered, organized by spontaneous Facebook groups or parties who had travelled together, and ran their own unofficial marathons, lapping intermittently around Central Park. These events lend themselves to a myriad of angles about the role of sports during tragedy, both at an individual level and a societal one. However, I would like to focus on one lesson in particular that can prove especially relevant for collegiate athletic programs.  It is worth exploring why the marathon became such a lightning rod while other events, including New York Giants and New York Knicks games, went on with little fanfare. Part of it probably had to do with timing. Because of the number of out-of-towners who fly in to participate or spectate, the organizers were forced to make a decision much earlier in the week while the shock of the hurricane was still in effect. The geography of the events also likely played a role. Unlike the sequestered NBA or NFL venues, the marathon winds through the entire city, entering all five boroughs and starting in heavy-hit Staten Island.But I believe the framing of the issue also had a real effect on the public reaction. With a small, nuanced change in rhetoric, the reception may have been different.  Before the decision of whether or not to race was made, Wittenberg talked not about what the marathon could do for the city, but what it would do. It is a slight difference, but a crucial one. "I've always said the marathon is much more than a race - and once again, it has never seemed more true than this year as was the case after 9/11. Our focus is to deliver an event that can aid in New York's recovery," Wittenberg said at a press conference. "To us, the marathon really epitomizes the spirit of New York City, the vitality, the tenacity, the determination of New Yorkers, and now, our every effort is to once again tell the world that New York City, as the mayor would say, is open for business, and we welcome the support of the world at this trying time."Wittenberg's statement articulates many of the ideals related to how important sport can be in a trying time. However, the sense of presumption that the race would undoubtedly go on undermined her effectiveness. In fact, the statement above would have been almost perfect had the decision to race already been made. If she would have instead framed her argument slightly differently, the impact may have also changed. Imagine if she had instead started with something to this effect:"Our first priority is to do what is best for the city of New York and its citizens. We believe the New York Marathon can be and is more than just a race ... but only so long as its running in no way compromises the rescue and recovery efforts."The intent and sentiments are identical, but the framing makes all the difference. I am writing this not to criticize Wittenberg, who has done amazing things to advance the New York Marathon and distance running more generally, but because I believe there is a lesson here for collegiate athletics.At some point, collegiate athletics programs will face their crisis. It may be at an institutional level or at an NCAA level. It may be financial, or reputational, or tied to an unforeseen event. But when that crisis occurs, the programs that will be most successful will be those that remember and successfully communicate the fact that at their core, they exist to serve their university and its students. Athletic programs do have an incredible breadth of offerings that make universities better places, but they can be jeopardized in a time of crisis if programs have moved away from the fundamental notion of serving their university. 


SPORTS 11/8/12 6:00pm

Women shooting for strong year

Despite only returning two starters from last season and losing over 40 percent of their total minutes and points from a year ago, the Owls were still projected by the Conference USA coaches to finish better than they did last season.