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An American's Dream

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Shaking off the loss of a legend, Sam McGuffie and his USA Bobsled teammates prepare for the 2018 Olympics 

As he stood on the podium in Pyeongchang, South Korea in March clutching a crystal globe signifying a third place finish in the four-man bobsled 2017 World Cup standings, Sam McGuffie had every reason to imagine himself in a similar position less than a year later when the Winter Olympics return to this same venue.

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In less than two years, the former Rice standout had worked himself into the brakeman's job on America's top sled, piloted by the legendary Steve Holcomb, a two-time Olympic medalist whose success had vaulted a sport into a greater national recognition.

McGuffie, the one-time viral sensation for his high school exploits who dazzled on both the football field and track at Rice, was now one third of a new team of explosive athletes whose main function was to blast the new BMW sled from a standing start and then settle in behind the two-time Olympic medalist who then used his vast experience to guide them through the twists, turns and bumps towards the finish line in a sport where dreams of medals can be crushed by thousands of a second.

Over the course of his second season with the team, McGuffie found himself becoming more accustomed to the experiences of blasting down the course, to the point where he could instantly recognize the quality of the run without looking to the clock for their time.

"In the beginning it was all a lot getting shaken around the whole way down and always felt like I was riding in a crash as we went down the hill," McGuffie recalled. "But now I've learned what a clean run feels like.  It's very subtle because on some of the courses, a clean run does not mean you make it down without a tap here and a tap there.  You need those taps to set you up for the next turn."

He was also charged to deliver more than just a blast of explosive energy before jumping on board.  As the brakeman, he was also tasked with bringing in the push bars used for the start as well as applying the brakes at the end of the run.  

He picked up a pair of medals during the year, winning a silver medal at the Lake Placid World Cup stop in December and a bronze in Igls, Austria in February.  Both medals represented Holcomb's first in the four-man event since 2014, a year that saw him win the USA's first Olympic medal in the two-man event in 62 years.

"We were on such a high at the Worlds with our performances," McGuffie said. "It was a great way to end the year and I couldn't wait to get back and start training for next year."

"These guys on the team have heard stories about our winning seasons and it's almost like a myth to them, so to have them see the crystal globe and see it come to fruition in front of them and know that we can win is huge," Holcomb said at the time. "I hope it carries over into next season as we ramp up for the Olympic season."

Nothing in the future was assured, as the selection process for the 2018 national team--from which the eventual lineup for the Olympics would be chosen--would include the return of several past Olympians in addition to the latest hopefuls from the same summer combines that McGuffie used to eventually earn a spot on the podium.

What was assured was the US team had closed strongly to end the 2017 season. Holcomb had driven the US sleds to third place finishes in the four-man and combined events and second in the two-man event, ending a year that began with him struggling and contemplating retirement with a surge of momentum that seemed to point to potential medals in South Korea in 2018.

But that surge of expectation took a sudden and tragic swerve off the track less than two months later when Holcomb passed away at age 37.  Suddenly the man who was the face of the sport and the core of a team's hopes and aspirations for the coming Olympics was gone.

Less than two months later, McGuffie and his teammates found themselves back at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York for a week of team building exercises and media training. The focus was on preparing for the 2018 season, but also on continuing to come together after the loss of their undisputed leader.

"It's been hard on the whole team and we've all been on an emotional roller coaster," he said. "Steve was so experienced and knew every quirk on every track.  We all knew if we pushed strong, Steve would always take care of the rest.   We felt that way going into the Worlds last year."

Now the team must spend the run-up to the Olympics trying to identify its top driver in addition to finding the best combination of athletes to join him in pursuit of the podium.

"Justin Olsen was a gold medalist pushing for Steve and has so much talent as a driver," McGuffie noted. "It's just a sport where you can't substitute for the experience.  It took Steve five years of driving to start getting results and Justin is in his second year.   We all believe in Justin, Codie Bascue, who has been driving sleds since he was 12 and Nick Cunningham, who is two-time Olympian."

From the outside, the combination of driver and his teammates might appear to be something that can be as simple as computing start times and putting the fastest three behind the driver.  But McGuffie knows from his own experiences that the reality is far less defined.

"It's all about finding the best combinations and a lot of what seems to make sense on paper does not translate to the track. There is a lot of synchronization that needs to come together and it's kind of kooky how the teams line up.  It's hard to explain how it comes together, but there is a feeling you get when you know you are in synch with a group of guys."

The hype for the Olympics will continue to build over the coming months as the US team completes offseason training and the 2018 team is named.  It then moves on to the proving grounds of the World Cup circuit and the eventual announcement of the US team for South Korea.

McGuffie's success and experience are countered by the knowledge of the level of competition ahead of him in order to hear his name called as a member of the team.   Each is driven by their own desire for success, but also by the determination to not let Holcomb's passing derail their pursuit.

"We all take it on ourselves that what he'd want from all of us is to go hard. Steve was all about America and the opportunity to wear that USA on his back while he was driving a sled.   I always felt pride to wear the name of my school or team when I competed, but to put that USA on is one of the coolest things I have done in my life."



Senior Reflection: Kevin Reilly

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This summer on the R Blog we will be featuring several graduating seniors with reflections on their careers at Rice University. The second installment features Kevin Reilly of the golf team.

By: Kevin Reilly

I vividly remember asking Coach Emil how we stood overall while getting ready to hit my 3rd shot from the 18th fairway. I expected him to say we're in like 3rd or 4th but instead tells me that we were leading by one. My whole body froze for a second kind of in shock.

Everyone was depending on me, as a freshman, to secure the championship at my last hole.

I ended up with a score of 1-over par and I was just distraught because I thought I blew it. My anxiety was mounting as I thought there was no way the No. 15 team would falter.10-10-2016bayoucitygolf_rice_0046-2.jpg

James Lee, Landon Michelson and I were hitting balls in case there was a playoff. As I'm hitting balls, I turn around to see Tommy and Alex sprinting over to the range in celebration, threw my club in the air and we all did a dog pile. We won.

Being a team ranked around 100, and beating UAB with a kid that played in the final group of the British Open the following year, it was an experience that I'll never forget and one that automatically brings a smile to my face.

It gives me chills every time I think about it.

The warm response the community gave us made it really cool to know that I had so many people behind me.

I can't thank the Rice community enough for all the support that they've given throughout my four years. I've had such amazing people around me and I've made so many friends that I hope to keep up with for the rest of my life.

I have grown in many ways from the quiet kid from Orlando, Florida who arrived as just a leader on the course but into a leader on the course and off the course as well. The team and coach pushed me to do well from the moment I started playing.

It was a little unusual having so much pressure on me as a freshman where my team counted on my score being one of the top 4 each tournament, but I embraced it and my teammates pushed me to have probably the best, most consistent year of golf that I've ever played.

Being Conference USA Freshman of the Year and winning the first conference championship in 75 years, my first year at Rice. The kids coming in looked up to our class as the example of what Rice's future should be.

Hopefully I live long enough so I can be that old man at an alumni event telling everybody the story of us winning the first C-USA golf championship in Rice history and the first conference championship in 75 years.

Senior Reflection: Adaeze Obinnah

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This summer on the R Blog we will be featuring several graduating seniors with reflections on their careers at Rice University, beginning first with Adaeze Obinnah of women's basketball. 


By: Adaeze Obinnah


I felt on top of the world. I knew heading into my senior season that I had an internship set for the summer (Auditing at PwC) and that I would be back in the fall (studying Accounting at Jones School of Business). I had nothing holding me back and was ready to finish my career strong. But then I got injured. It felt like the world toppled down on me. I needed two surgeries and was told I could possibly play after the first. I had the first surgery on the day of our home opener. I rehabbed. I practiced. I trained. I traveled, but I was never cleared to play.

Before the season started our team did a grit test. Then during our first conditioning practice of preseason, the beep test was a follow-up test as evidence of where we fell on the grit scale. After dropping out early, I felt bad that I showed little grit. But in hindsight, I realize the test wasn't really an accurate assessment of grit. When I look back at this past season, I just didn't see an option to give in. God wanted me to be here. There was purpose in this unfortunate event.

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I got to see a different part of the game and the team. What amazed me was how much love this team had to give. I felt like I lost a part of my identity and yet, they still valued and supported me. They were lifting me up even when I had nothing to give in return. It wasn't just my teammates, it was other student-athletes and other students at Rice. It confirmed the reason why I chose Rice in the first place - these are people with good heads on their shoulders. They're wise, caring, special people. When you think of a typical jock, we're not that. We're smart, deep, more than just school and sports. We're the highest of both levels you can get in those fields. I love that Rice truly appreciates the full person.

Twenty years from now, when I think back to my time at Rice, I will first think of women's basketball but not in terms of playing but of my teammates and coaches, the experiences we shared, our pregame dance sessions, our team bonfires, finally getting [sophomore Gabby] Ozoude to dunk, traveling on the road and finishing with a win WBI championship. The court wasn't where I got my fulfillment. I think God put me on the sidelines so I could fully appreciate that.

Maybe I couldn't finish the beep test but my support system - my friends, teammates, coaches and God - helped me get grit, joy, strength. It was a blessing in disguise. It was not how I planned it but looking back now, I would have it no other way.

Streak Extended One At-Bat at a Time

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Amid all the shots of excitement and celebration that surrounded the announcement of the 64 teams who will embark on the Road to Omaha with the hopes of reaching the 2017 College World Series, one of the lasting reactions will be that of the players from Miami, who were forced to confront the end of a remarkable 44-year run of tournament appearances.

                Although their own streak of 23 consecutive appearances is shorter by years than the age of some of their teammates, Rice seniors Dayne Wunderlich and Charlie Warren could sympathize with the emotions of the Hurricanes after a remarkable late-season surge rescued the Rice's streak, which now stands as the third longest active streak in NCAA history.

                "Dayne comes from a big time tradition at Brenham and I played at The Woodlands and we also have a big baseball tradition," Warren said.  "We have been part of extending  the tradition at Rice and we both have always known that you don't want to be the group that doesn't pass the streak on to the next team. "

                Those experiences, along with the gnawing stigma that the upperclassmen at Rice carried as part of a group who saw Rice's 20-year streak of conference titles end in a walk-off win by Southern Miss the previous season, drove them to close the ranks in a team meeting that came, ironically, after the aforementioned Golden Eagles had just taken two of three at Reckling Park, leaving the Owls at just 4-11 in Conference  USA and 13-28 overall.

           'We knew Southern Miss was going to be the contender that we would have to take down so when they came here and kind of embarrassed us by blowing us out twice at home, it left a bad taste in our mouths," Wunderlich said. "It became a recurring theme, that we were good enough to be the champions of Conference USA.  We didn't do it last year and we started out this year so bad.  We knew that once we were midway through conference that we had to step it up to even make the tournament and get a chance to take them down to win the tournament."

During a midweek lull in the schedules and with finals on the near horizon, the seniors called their teammates together to stake a claim for the remainder of the season.

"We knew what the record was, but the message was that this was all on us to turn it around.  The series at Western Kentucky was a great chance and we did that big time," Warren said.

"We could say that we were better than this as much as we wanted, but at the end of the day, we had to play like it," Wunderlich said. "We needed to just go out on the field and play as hard as we could every game and try to play up to our own abilities. Not try to do too much.  We evaluated ourselves and looked deep into ourselves and each guy said this is what you need to do: Do your own part for the team and we will be successful. "

Nationally there was buzz that three of the four longest active NCAA streaks were in immediate peril as Florida State, owners of the second-longest streak at 39 games,  was also hovering near the .500 mark   But locally, the Owls shut out any considerations other than the next game.

                They swept a series from Western Kentucky, took two of three from UTSA and then showed a resilience to respond to late challenges and produce a walk-off win over Lamar and then overcome a five-run deficit with six outs left to complete a series sweep at Charlotte.

                The turnaround was startling, but both Warren and Wunderlich said it came from the most basic of tenets.

                "You have to know your capabilities, know your own body and know your own level of play," Wunderlich said. "We are very team-oriented. Everybody is doing what they need to do. Whenever we need a big hit, they've been coming from a lot of different people.   We've paid a big price this season and we've come through the fire and now we are finally seeing a little success."

                The Owls  hit .317 as a team while winning 18 of 22 and both seniors joined in the effort. Warren raised his average from .259 to .265 while Wunderlich hit .297 to raise his average 45 points. The team also blasting 29 homers, three more than their season total from 2016.

                Suddenly, a season that once was in peril became one of great promise.  But even as they made the potential of extending the NCAA streak more plausible, Wunderlich said the focus remained as it had been since their run began.

                "It's (the NCAA streak) always in the back of your mind, but last Sunday in Biloxi, the only thing on our minds was playing hard," he said. "We had some breaks in the game. The rain delay certainly helped us because they were just starting to build a little momentum.  We came back from that and jumped on them right away. 

"We were really playing for our lives. If we don't win that game, we're not in the tournament.  So for us at that moment, it wasn't so much extending the streak as extending our season," he stated.

And now with all matters such as streaks safely secured and a third C-USA trophy added to the collection, the Owls return to a familiar setting to take on a familiar foe in a tournament that has become an annual expectation.   The differences between coming to Baton Rouge last year after a walk-off loss and this year with the emotions of returning the outcome are obvious to Wunderlich.

We're definitely coming  in hot and we have a lot of momentum behind us but we have to keep that up," he said. "We played Southeastern (Louisiana) last year in the regional and three times earlier this year. We know they are a very good baseball team and we can't look past Friday night.   Hopefully we can get a win there and then get a chance to play LSU in front of a big crown on Saturday night."







                Rice entered the 2017 Conference USA Baseball Championship facing off against its history, both recent and the very legacy that drew the current players to South Main.             

                One year after they saw their streak of 20 consecutive conference championships come to a close with a walk-off win by Southern Miss in 2016, these Owls faced the once unimaginable prospect of seeing the nation's fourth longest streak of NCAA appearances come to an end.

                In a season that had opened with an uncharacteristic string of struggles and mistakes,  the current group of Owls arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi with a game plan that was both remarkably straight forward but also with little room for variance. In order to maximize their available pitching, they needed to follow the shortest path, the winner's bracket by winning three straight games and then let it all ride in the championship game.

                Enter Matt Canterino.

                The freshman from Southlake stepped on to the mound at MGM Park, with winds blowing towards the gulf shores beyond the outfield fences and stared down a potent FAU lineup averaging nearly seven runs per game, holding the C-USA's eastern Owls to just four hits, while fanning a career-high 11 in a career-best 7.2 innings of work, a crucial component to the Owls weekend masterplan.

"We knew that we were going to be facing tough teams the entire tournament," Canterino said. "Allowing Glenn (Otto) to only have to throw 1 1/3 innings that first game allowed him to go 3 1/3 the next day.  You also have to give it up to the other starters as well. They kept us in the games, got us deep enough and then you put Glenn out there."

               The freshman from Southlake had already demonstrated his pitching acumen in the first stage of the season, stepping into the Friday night starter's role and matching some legendary former Rice hurlers by fanning 10 or more in three consecutive starts.  In his third career start he fanned 10 Pepperdine hitters, then matched that total the following week while limiting Stanford to a pair of hits in seven shutout innings to register his first career win.  He continued the streak in his next start, exiting with a lead at Old Dominion in the C-USA opener, only to see the Owls drop a 6-5 decision.

                As the Owls struggles continued, falling to a 4-11 mark after a home series to Southern Miss, a series that proved to be the turning point to the season, Canterino was winless in his next four starts, all against conference foes.  

                "I had a lot of success striking guys out earlier in the season, but that calmed down a little bit (as the season went on)," he said. "Scouting reports get out and hitters start to know what to expect. It became about making better pitches as you go on. I feel like it's been better the past couple of weeks because I've been making fewer mistakes with my slider. I'm getting more swings and misses with it that before when I was leaving it hanging and guys were able to hit it with authority. In that regards, I feel like I'm getting back to where I was at the beginning of the season. But I feel like I've matured along the way as well."

                Canterino's growth was also buoyed by the emergence of the Owls offensive attack that saw Rice hit a combined .317 during an 18-4 run to that 23rd consecutive NCAA berth as well as improved defense as Rice allowed only 11 unearned runs in the last 22 after surrendering 42 in the first 38 frames.

                "The past couple of weeks, I've been coming to terms that every once in a while, I'm going to make a good pitch and the (opponents) are going to hit it," Canterino stated. "It is what it is. If they get a couple of runs, then they get a couple of runs. But, you have to have confidence that their pitchers are going to make a couple of mistakes and that your hitters are good enough to do that also.

        "With the power that we've been showing, that pretty much a recipe for success with the mindset that our pitching staff has. We're just going out there thinking, 'just get us back in the dugout as quickly as we can.' If they get a couple of runs, it's not going to be enough to win the ballgame for them because we have a high-octane offense to get us back in the lead," he stated. 

History of Rice Football Up Next for Bayou City Blitz

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Rice Athletics was happy to assist The Heritage Society in a special project to coincide with the return of the Super Bowl to Houston entitled "Bayou City Blitz: The History of Houston Football".

The exhibit features memorabilia and photos documenting the growth of the sport in Houston at all levels and features a pair of trophies for the city's first two bowl championships which were won by Rice (1938 Cotton Bowl and 1947 Orange Bowl).

Another aspect of the exhibit is a round table series of panel discussions on various Houston football topics and the third of this series will be devoted to the history of Rice Football. Ray Alborn, Bucky Allshouse, Trevor Cobb and Jarett Dillard will make up the panel discussion, which will be moderated by Nate Griffin from Fox 26, on Wednesday, March 8 from 7-8:30 p.m.

The event will be held in The Heritage Society Tea Room and is free to pubic.

A Class Effort

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As Rice Basketball heads into the stretch run of Conference USA play at 17-8 (7-5), Coach Mike Rhoades' first full recruiting class reflects on the bond as a family, the experiences gained over the past two years & what they believe the future of Rice basketball holds.

Behind the Scenes: On the road with the Owls

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As the Rice men's basketball team opens a two-game road swing to Florida, here's a brief look at life on the road during a college basketball season, captured earlier this year as the Owls opened C-USA play:

Hawkins Leaving Her Mark

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Senior point guard Maya Hawkins shared her thoughts on her Rice career and went into detail on bouncing back from past injuries.  

Q: How has your game grown over the last couple of seasons from when you first arrived at Rice?

A: "The growth I've endured since my freshman year is crazy. A lot of it has to do with my coaches and teammates. My teammates have been real with me and have told me I need to look for my shot more, and create more. That's the kind of feedback that really pushed me and challenged me as a point guard, to look for my shot and shoot the three-pointer when I'm open. Of course the coaches have also pushed me to be more of a scorer. It's been an adjustment because that's not something that was really in my game coming into college, but it's been fun."

Q: What is your relationship like with the coaching staff?

A: "This staff is amazing. They came in so fired up about the program and what this team could accomplish. Their energy gave all of us energy. You can see that in the way we play and the way we practice, we reflect them. Being the point guard, Coach Langley and I have watched a lot of film together and I've been able to see what she sees out on the court. I've learned so much from her and I continue to learn. She has a very good method of teaching and she's very easy to learn from. It's been fun breaking down film with her and having her push me in practice, and even helping me with my leadership skills. She's helped me grow in so many areas."

Q: What has your recovery process been like from suffering injuries earlier in your career?

A: "Up until this point my injuries have unfortunately kind of defined my career at Rice. My freshman year, a week before the season started, I was practicing with the team and I landed wrong following a layup and I ended up fracturing my tibia. It was the worst pain, it was burning and I knew immediately something was wrong. I ended up missing the majority of the preseason. I came back right before conference started. As a freshman I was really nervous because preseason is where you hope you can find your groove. I had teammates who really encouraged me and helped me get past any self-doubts I had. I was able to come back and haven't had an issue with it (right leg) since.

Compared to my ACL tear, it was much easier to come back from. The ACL injury happened in March of '15 right after the season had ended. Again, it happened in a practice, and again it was on a layup where I was by myself and it was a non-contact injury. I had the surgery and was out for 7-8 months, so again I missed the preseason. That injury was a lot harder for me to get over mentally because I was out so much longer and had lost so much muscle. I didn't have a lot of confidence in that leg. Thankfully, when our strength coach Justin Roach came on board he really helped me not only get my leg stronger, but also helped me get over the mental block I had. Later on, he convinced me to get rid of the brace and that helped me play more carefree and at the same time helped me forget about the injury. That brace was awful!"

Q: How gratifying has it been to play injury-free since?

A: "It's made me realize how much I missed the game of basketball. Our coaches prepare us to play an entire season so I was definitely conditioned and focused enough. It's just really been fun to play an entire season. I've been blessed."

Q: What has it been like spending these last three years with your senior teammate Jasmine Goodwine and Adaeze Obinnah?

A: "It's been amazing spending these last three and a half years with those girls. I never would have thought when I met them on my visit that they'd turn into lifelong relationships. It's true when they say your teammates become your sisters. We've shared so many experiences with each other. We've formed a bond that will never be broken. We all know where each other has come from since we were freshmen and we've been able to watch each other grow. I'm so appreciative of them."

Q: What type of mark do you want to leave at Rice?

A: "I want people to remember me as a player that left it all out on the floor, that I played my hardest 100 percent of the time. That's something that I've always wanted people to know about my game. Whether it was good, bad, or ugly - I'm always going to play hard. That's something that I know inspires my teammates. They've come up to me and said how much they want to match my energy in practice. I couldn't want anything else from teammates than that. If I can be an example of the energy and the effort we give on the court, then that's something I can look back on and say, "Wow look how hard they're playing, I inspired them to do that". That would be amazing."

Q: What has Rice meant to you over these last four years?

A: "Being at Rice has been the biggest blessing ever. I didn't know much about Rice before coming here other than it was a small school. It's given me so many opportunities. They provided me a scholarship to go to Ghana. I'm majoring in sociology and it's helped me open my eyes to so many social issues. It's really challenged me not only academically, but as a person. I've grown exponentially both on and off the court."


Seniors Ride Off in Style

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Stehling 2016 Carry Off BLOG.jpg


The day could not have been more perfect.

A chilly morning quickly gave way to brilliant sunshine and temperatures that mocked the date on the calendar.  While large parts of country were bundled up while prepping for their Thanksgiving Day festivities, the Rice Football team's final practice zipped along in near perfect conditions.

But before the team could disburse to friends and families for feasts of their own in advance of an early departure on Friday to travel west for the season finale against the Stanford Cardinal, the Owls had one final piece of business.


2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015  / 2016

With the practice script completed, head coach David Bailiff gathered the Owls together for a few final words and then the seniors on the team broke away to take one last walk around the turf at Rice Stadium.   Up the sideline they had called home for so many Saturdays (and a few Thursdays and Fridays as well), around the south end zone and past the entrance generations of other Owls had used to enter the field, and then down the east sideline toward their new home in the Brian Patterson Center, and then to their teammates were waiting for them in a reception line in the north end zone.   

The team then joined again together to begin the final act in a closing ritual that Bailiff had brought with him from his days at Texas State.  

As has each class of seniors over the past 10 years, each player selected four team members or staff to carry them from the field to the north end zone, symbolically ending their time as a player on their historic venue's playing surface.

The strategy is as varied as the individuals who make up the team.  Some select members of their position group, others select 


roommates and other friends, others can be more eclectic.

The slam dunk winner for best explanation for his selections over the past decade was offensive guard Davon Allen, a four-year letterman from 2008-11 (left).  When he first arrived on campus, he had great difficulty in completing the summer conditioning workouts, so he called out two trainers in addition to two teammates for his transportation, explaining "they had to carry me off the field my first day here, so they might as well carry me off on the last day."

The 2016 Owls did not have anything as colorful among their selected lineups.

But in the midst of the laughs and camaraderie that was evident as the tradition was fulfilled, that merriment masked an underlying realization that a cherished and dominant part of their lives had drawn to a close.

"Every year you see players who you would never guess would show emotion getting choked up because the reality really sets in," Bailiff said.  "You know it's going to happen, but it's always a powerful moment when a player comes to the end of the line to shake your hand and you see tears in their eyes."

After 10 years, it has become a shared experience for a generation of Owls and one that younger players can expect to take part in down the road.  





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