While most of Rice spent last week kicking back and relaxing on spring break, the women's tennis team was hard at work on the court. The Owls had three prestigious victories over Oklahoma University, Brigham Young University and the University of South Florida. Despite having started with a loss against Texas A&M, Head Coach Elizabeth Schmidt stayed positive.
From the outset of the 2011-2012 men's basketball season, the theme for Coach Ben Braun's team has been postseason or bust. But after a pair of losses this past week by a combined three points, these postseason aspirations are in jeopardy, as the Owls will now have to sit and wait for potential invitations from multiple playoff tournaments.
Despite winning fourth and fifth place in the last two Conference USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, there were some reasons for optimism amongst the men's track team to improve at this year's edition of the meet in Birmingham, Ala. The squad garnered a fifth place finish two weeks ago at the Texas A&M Invitational against several top teams from the Big XII and Southeastern Conferences, which was filled with great performances from veterans like redshirt junior Clayton Chaney and senior Dan Sloat, as well as newcomers like freshman pole vaulter Chris Pillow. Despite Rice‘s 1-2-3 finish in the heptathlon, something that the Owls had yet to accomplish in C-USA, was not enough to overcome the deficiencies in other areas of this team.
The women's ultimate team scored a victory over Missouri State at the 25th Mardi Gras Tournament on Feb. 19 in Saint Francisville, La. Tomorrow, the team will have its sights set on the Music City Mash Up tournament in Nashville, Tenn and nationals in the near future.
Ever since the beginning of the spring season, freshman Natalie Beazant has exceeded expectations. Beazant has proven that when she plays is 1-on-1, she cannot lose. Going into last Friday's match against 21st-ranked University of Alabama, Beazant had amassed a singles record of 7-0. But in this matchup she was going to be tested, as she was playing the 15th-best singles player in America, Alabama sophomore Mary Anne MacFarlane.
While baseball national championships are won in the June heat of Omaha, they can certainly be lost in the mild weather of February and March. While past years' baseball teams have never gotten off to devastating starts in the early season, the last few years have seen the Rice sluggers compile rather average records through the first few weekends of the season. However, the 2012 team has shown little inclination to following the examples of those squads of yesteryear, taking a 5-0 record into today's three-game series against Dallas Baptist University (3-1).
Throughout Conference USA play, the men's basketball team has garnered attention for its inconsistent, up-and-down style of play, as Rice (16-12, 7-6 C-USA) has not had a winning streak of more than two games or a losing streak of more than three since conference play started in early January. This past week showed that that brand of play was still alive, for better or worse.
After a season filled with exciting finishes, impressive performances, and promising contributions from the entire team, the women's swim team headed to the University of Houston Recreation Center Natatorium in order to defend its Conference USA title. On the first day of competition, not only did the Rice swimmers set new school records in the 200-yard medley relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay, but the Owls also posted a pair of marks that qualified for next month's NCAA Championships in those events. Rice's 200-yard medley relay team of sophomore Michelle Gean, sophomore Lilly Marrow, sophomore Karina Wlostowska and senior Shelby Bottoms finished in second, tying a new school record time of 1:41.31. The foursome broke the previous school mark set three years ago by more than six-tenths of a second and reached the "B" cut for a possible trip to the NCAA meet in March.
With the college conference landscape changing more than it ever has, the Owls were wondering when the effect of realignment would finally reach them. Conference powers the University of Memphis, Southern Methodist University, University of Central Florida and archrival University of Houston accepted invitations to join the Big East starting in 2013, leaving Conference USA and Rice in a gigantic hole.
With the collegiate athletics conference landscape possessing about as much stability as the San Andreas Fault in the past year, it was only natural that Rice would eventually feel the tremors that were set off by the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska departing the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences, respectively. More recently and closer to home, Texas A&M University left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference and the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Memphis said goodbye to Conference USA in favor of the Big East conference. As a result, on Feb. 12, C-USA and the Mountain West Conference (which has lost Brigham Young University to the ranks of Division I independents, the University of Utah to the Pac-12 conference, Boise State University to the Big East, Texas Christian University to the Big 12, and San Diego State University to the Big East for football and Big West Conference for all other sports) will align in all sports starting in the 2013-2014 school year. The new affiliation has no name as of yet.
Austin Kubitza may only be a sophomore but the amount of accolades he has garnered since post-baseball season last year are enough to confuse him with any seasoned upper-classman. As a freshman, Kubitza earned his way to the coveted spot of the Rice University Owls' Friday-night starting pitcher. If there was any speculation regarding Coach Wayne Graham's choice to start the right-handed rookie, Kubitza put it to bed by posting impressive results, such as the most strikeouts by an Owl in four years. Regardless of his consistent pre-season performances on the mound, Kubitza himself was just as surprised by his starting assignment as a freshman.
From the beginning of his baseball career at Rice University, Craig Manuel has been known as having a knack for coming through in a tough spot. The senior catcher was plucked up by Rice at a baseball camp in the summer of 2008 after Manuel had already committed to play junior college ball in Florida, a fortuitous find for a team still lacking a catcher in its signing class. With junior Diego Seastrunk (Will Rice '10) not used to catching after moving from third base, Seastrunk moved to the designated hitter spot, and Manuel began catching just a few weeks into his collegiate career and helping to orchestrate Ryan Berry's (Hanszen '10) two-hit shutout of Texas A&M University in the 2009 Minute Maid Classic. Manuel picked off 12 hitters that year and made just one error, while hitting impressively with runners in scoring position, batting .404 in those situations. Still, that last sentence describes a microcosm of his career: a great defensive asset, whose left-handed batting stance made him a great situational hitter but not a middle-of-the-order type of guy.
The Texas A&M Invitational was anything but a tuneup for the Conference USA Indoor Championship for the women's track team as the ladies finished second among C-USA teams at the meet and asserted their dominance in a few events as well. Seniors Becky Wade and Allison Pye ranked first and second in the 5,000-meter run and second and fourth among C-USA runners, respectively. Saturday's one-two finish in the 3,000-meter run showed their opponents exactly what they will have to deal with next weekend. Wade was two seconds off of her personal best after crossing the finish line in 9:31.13, while Pye was less than two seconds behind her at 9:33.12. Sophomore Farrah Madanay followed closely behind to capture 10th place and to give the Owls three runners in the top 10 of a highly competitive field. In the mile run, four Rice runners competed, with junior Heather Olson and senior Halsey Fowler placing in the top 10 as Olson nearly went below the five-minute mark. Junior Sarah Mason and freshman Allie Schaich were 13th and 17th, respectively. In the 800-meter run, seniors Sophie Peeters (fourth-fastest time of any C-USA runner this season) and Keltie John (10th-fastest) ran well, with Peeters running her way to a personal best in third place, while John was 12th overall and six seconds behind Peeters.
While Conference USA has consistently ranked in the top five conferences in terms of overall strength and competitiveness, the sixth-ranked Owls have supplemented their eight conference series with a host of highly non-conference opponents starting this weekend with their three-game matchup against 28th-ranked Florida International University. The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament the past two years and feature preseason All-American senior outfielder Pablo Bermudez, who is the Sun Belt Conference's preseason player of the year. First baseman Mike Martinez and designated hitter Rudy Flores all provide power in the lineup. Southpaws R.J. Fondon and Mason McVay will provide a formidable two-thirds of the Panthers' weekend rotation. After the Panthers come to town, New Mexico State University will pay a midweek visit to Reckling Park, led by catcher Zac Fisher. The Aggies led the nation in batting average (.377) last year, were second in runs scored per game with 8.5 and ranked third in walks with 333. While not highly-ranked, they will test the depth of the Owls' pitching staff as Head Coach Wayne Graham looks to preserve pitchers for the weekend series against Dallas Baptist University. The Owls have struggled in the past against the Patriots, going 0-2 against them in the last two seasons. The Patriots are also patient at the plate, with 310 walks, and return a solid Friday night starting pitcher in Jake Johansen as well as five of their eight starting position players from 2011, including their two leading home-run hitters.
Perfection cannot last forever, and the women's tennis team knew its dream start would have to end sometime. After a thorough domination of its first six opponents, including a breezy win over Florida International University on Saturday, the Owls dropped their first match of the year to 42nd ranked Texas Tech University in a gut-wrenching 4-2 defeat.