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.
The men's basketball team defeated Southern Methodist University (11-15, 2-9 C-USA) on Saturday evening, moving to 15-11 overall and 6-5 in the conference, clinching the highest overall and conference win totals for the program since the 2006-07 season.
Like so many track meets in the last few years, the Texas A&M Invitational saw redshirt junior Clayton Chaney pull off another great performance, taking first place in the 60-meter hurdles. Chaney, who has been a jack-of-all-trades athlete for Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88), has made forays into the heptathlon, hurdles and long jump over the years and finished seven-hundredths of a second off of his best time in the 60-meter hurdles on Saturday. Senior Lee Johnson took sixth place in the same event to give the Owls 11 points from that event alone. Sophomore Ben Pressley also ran in the event but did not make the finals, placing 11th in the preliminaries.
As the thunderstorms rolled in Saturday morning, the 38th-ranked Owls were not happy at first to hear that they would have to go indoors and play at the Galleria Tennis Athletic Center, but it happened to be a blessing in disguise as it boosted them past 37th-ranked University of Miami and Tyler Junior College last weekend.
The seven top-10 finishes out of all athletes competing at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb. this past weekend demonstrated that the men's track team is more than ready to play against in the big boys. This victory is possibly a sign of things to come in College Station at the Texas A&M Challenge this weekend.
Senior Becky Wade is apparently incapable of running in a track or cross-country meet without setting a personal or school record.
The women's tennis team's season could not have gotten off to a better start after three straight 7-0 victories, and its momentum continued with wins this week against McNeese State University and its first ranked win of the season with an upset over Louisiana State University.
After three straight conference wins, things looked good for the Owls. They had some momentum, won some road games and were in the top few spots in the conference. Then they traveled to West Virginia, where it felt like everything came apart.
If you are going to be a good team, you have to beat the bad teams. That's exactly what the women's basketball team did when it took the floor this past week against two of the worst teams in C-USA, hoping to propel itself above .500 for the season.
When Head Coach Jon Warren thought he might have his group of stalwart contributors lined up for the indoor track season, a few new athletes jumped in after the gun went off on the 2012 indoor season. Freshman Will Firth and junior Sam McGuffie, also a running back on the football team, both placed first among Owls in the mile run and 60-meter hurdles, respectively.
After hours of practice and competition, the women's swim team has only the Conference USA Championship meet to look forward to as the Owls finished their regular season this past weekend in a quad meet against University of Houston, Louisiana State University and Tulane University. The meet lasted from Jan. 27-28, and featured strong efforts from all members of the team. As the meet was over two days at the University of Houston Recreation Center Natatorium, each of four teams competed in three dual meets simultaneously. On the first day, the Rice foursome of sophomore Michelle Gean, sophomore Lilly Marrow, freshman Casey Clark and sophomore Chelsea Fong took second in the 200-yard medley relay to pace the Owl swimmers. While Rice has finished faster this year in the 200-yard medley than its 1:46.42 on Friday, the three-sophomore/one freshman crew held off the challenge from six other entries. In the 1,000 meter race, freshman Erin Flanigan finished in second place with a time of 10:20.32. Rice junior Danielle Spence came in fourth in the event with a 10:31.34 time, while senior Nicole Delaloye posted a season-best 10:32.42 for fifth. Flanigan came back later and notched Rice's best finish in the 200-free with a 1:56.43 for ninth place. Also notable was Fong, who, although she was not entered in Friday's 200-freestyle, had a steady third-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly (56.67). In addition, senior sprinter Shelby Bottoms had not raced in the 200-breaststroke previously in her Rice career, but her 2:20.95 for fourth place was the Owls' second-fastest time of the season.
Basketball in its simplest form is a game of runs, and the men's basketball team found itself mired in a brutal one as it returned home from Memphis last Wednesday night after a drubbing at the hands of the University of Memphis (15-7, 6-2 C-USA).
The three doubles matches may only account for one of the seven total points in a collegiate tennis match, but that does not mean that these matches are insignificant. Since the doubles point is first, it is always important to get out to a 1-0 lead, as it gives a team a major advantage and confidence heading into singles play.