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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."

 

 

 

 

 

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                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. 

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