No Slumber in the Summer

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It happens each year. 


Somewhere between the final out of the College World Series and the last fireworks on the 4th of July, the countdown clock on the wall suddenly hits fast forward. The first football game that once seemed off in the distance is now close enough to make deadlines pressing and summer seem far shorter than it once appeared to be.


Did I say close?  When I pushed the submit button to publish this blog, the realization that the opening kickoff of the 2012 season against UCLA is now less than 70 days away took firm hold.


The evidence is easy to spot.


July is less about vacations and recharging of batteries these days, and more about the advance work for the start of the season.  On campus, the players are in summer classes and participating in voluntary summer workouts designed to have them report for the start of training camp on August 3 in optimum shape. Coaches will maximize the opportunity for family time, while also working furiously on lining up the bulk of the 2013 recruiting class.


Head coach David Bailiff and members of the athletic department staff will hit the road in the middle of the month to meet with Rice fans in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. One week later, Bailiff and Luke Willson will participate in Conference USA's annual Media Day in Dallas.  The whirlwind of public events then concludes with a gathering at St. Arnold Brewery on August 1 that will feature all of the Rice head coaches.


Work on the grass practice field has been completed and new sod has been laid in time to allow for it to settle in before the Owls unleash their new adidas cleats upon it in August.


At the same time, Rice's marketing team continues to develop a series of new features that are designed to vastly upgrade the pregame atmosphere at home games, from the season opener with UCLA and throughout the 2012 season.


An overall theme for athletics marketing efforts is in the final development stage and will be announced in the near future. This branding of the upcoming season will be supported by all our various media avenues and printed materials.


As previously announced, The Roost is moving from its cramped quarters on the roost 180x116 copy.jpg north end zone concourse to the east upper deck at Rice Stadium.  This location allows fans who want to enjoy a beer with their football to do so in much more comfortable surroundings and with the ability to watch the game taking advantage of Rice Stadium's legendary sightlines, since all seating is General Admission.


But the changes and expanded options will be obvious to fans long before they enter the stadium on August 30.


Rice and Bud Light are teaming up to revamp the pregame Tailgate Owley offerings at Rice Stadium to create a gathering point for all fans well before kickoff, similar to the pregame activities that have become such a popular feature of the Texas Bowl.


Local bands will perform on a performance stage while the Beirgarten will offer budstage.JPG Budweiser products as well as food from Holmes Smokehouse.  Rice sponsors will also be on hand with a variety of activities and special offerings for specific games.  


At the same time, the Owls will debut a new "College Row" feature in which each of Rice's residential colleges will be assigned a tent of their own to decorate and conduct their own tailgate for both current members as well as college alumni. 


Judging to determine the top college tailgate will be conducted during the season with special prizes announced during the SMU game at the end of the season.


Fans can purchase a Party Pass for a specific game, which provides a General Admission ticket to the football game along with unlimited food and drink in the 2011-09-11 08.53.15.jpg VIP area of Tailgate Owley for just $25.  Season ticket holders can purchase Party Passes for just $15 per game.


Party Passes for all Rice home football games will go on sale on July 15 as part of the beginning of single-game sales to all Rice football games.


While additional details and refinements are underway on both Tailgate Owley and The Roost, the Owls have also launched a new sales initiative with an eye on increasing the successful group sales efforts in the past.  


One part of this expanded initiative includes the use of an outside professional sales force to reach out to a greater number of prospective clients, growing the total number of groups who attend Rice events and building a new generation of Rice fans. 


The other is to continue to expand the inventory and the impact of the Rice 100 program.  This effort in which local companies and individuals purchase season tickets that are donated back to the school to be used to host youth groups and other organizations has become a popular feature for the donors, who can take advantage of the tax incentives of the donation, as well as for the beneficiaries who have the opportunity to visit the Rice campus and Rice Stadium for the first time.  


Spearheaded by longtime supporters Leonard Tallerine and John Huff, the Rice 100 program will be expanded to include interaction between local youth and Rice student-athletes, t-shirts and concession vouchers so area youngster can experience Rice as opposed to merely attending a game.


This season, the Owls will introduce a revamped and expanded "School Days" initiative that will reward area students for scholastic achievement and perfect attendance when the Owls host Southern Miss on October 27.  The Rice marketing department is currently developing a special kit for each school to help promote the program to maximize the impact.  Owls fans who would like to see their local school included in the program should submit the information to marketing@rice.edu


Rice Athletics will team with Cheer America to help make the season finale with SMU on November 17 a special day for young cheerleaders and school band members. Cheer America will promote and choreograph a special routine for participating squads and bands during a special halftime performance.  On that same date, the Owls will once again host the students from Houston KIPP Academy.  These outstanding performers in the classroom have been an enthusiastic addition to home games the last several years, and the season finale with SMU will be no exception.


With a 2012 home schedule that includes a special Thursday night kickoff that helps usher in the college football season around the country, as well as the celebration of the Rice Centennial on October 13 and all of the special initiative outlined above, Rice fans will have an exciting lineup of options to enjoy this fall, as well as to invite friends and neighbors to join them at Rice Stadium.


If you are considering the purchase of season tickets this year, please remember that in addition to the discounted seats for the Bayou Bucket at Reliant Stadium which we discussed in a previous blog, our season ticket holders will also receive  a DVD of the finished version of the 100 Years of Rice Football documentary.  


Rough cuts of the five chapters were shown after home games last fall, and the 90-minute finished piece represents an overview of a memorable century of history for a sport that made its debut only months after the first classes were held at Rice Institute. The one-year project involved many people on campus and a number of former Owls whose shared memories and recollections essential to the project.  We hope you find it as yet another additional value to your purchase of season tickets.


Enjoy your summer, have a Happy 4th of July, and we will see you in Tailgate Owley on August 30.

Rice Track & Field Olympic Hopefuls

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Olympic_rings copy.jpg

UPDATE - June 18, 2012
Becky Wade set a school record in the 3000m steeplechase Saturday night (June 16) at the USATF Southwest meet held at Rice's Holloway Field/Ley Track.

Wade ran a winning time of 9:48.08 to surpass Lennie Waite's 2009 school-record time of 10:00.30. She will be one of 24 athletes running the steeplechase prelim on June 24 at the US Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The steeplechase final June 29 will feature 14 runners vying for three spots on the U.S. Olympic Team.

The 2012 London Olympics are fast approaching and there are several former Rice Owls that aspire to compete in the Games.

Becky Wade, a recent Rice graduate, has already qualified in the 10,000m for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The Dallas native will run the 3000m steeplechase Saturday (June 16) at the USATF Southwest Region Open Championship on the Rice campus at Holloway Field/Ley Track.

Wade needs to make the A Standard time of 9:55.00 to qualify or post one of the top-24 times in the U.S. She runs Saturday night at 9 p.m.

"Becky hopes to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeple," stated Rice head coach Jim Bevan. "If she does qualify in the steeplechase, she will not run the 10,000."

Also competing on Saturday at the South Main campus is ex-Owl and 2008 U.S. Olympian Funmi Jimoh. Jimoh will be long jumping at 4 p.m. and will be using this competition in preparation for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Her best mark thus far for 2012 is 6.82m/22-4.5 accomplished at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and that ranks 14th in the world according to the IAAF.org. Jimoh advanced to the finals placed 12th in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Lennie Waite, who, along with Jimoh, serves as a volunteer assistant coach at Rice, runs the 3000m steeplechase in Birmingham, England, on June 24 in hopes of making the UK Olympic squad. Waite's fast-time for 2012 is 9:48.35 and that currently ranks third among Great Britains on the IAAF world list.

Another former Owl long jumper, Alice Falaiye, will compete at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary, Alberta (June 27). She captured long jump gold at the 2003 Pan American Games and the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Ex-Rice sprinter Shakera Reece will represent her native country of Barbados in the 100m sprint. Reece won bronze in the 100m at the 2011 Pan American Games.

On the men's side, pole vaulter Jason Colwick and decathlete Ryan Harlan will compete in their respective sports at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Colwick won the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor titles while at Rice. Last summer, Harlan represented the U.S. at the IAAF World Championship in Daegu, South Korea. He won the 2004 NCAA decathlon with a school-record 8,171 points.

One notable athlete competing at Rice on Saturday is high jumper Amy Acuff, who has participated in the last four Olympics. Acuff attended Calallen High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, before winning five NCAA high jump titles at UCLA.

Whitehead Reflects on Start of Pro Career

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  2012-Michael Whitehead 3b.jpgThere could be no bigger stage to begin a professional playing career than at one of golf's major championships.


For former Rice golfer Michael Whitehead that was the setting when he made his professional debut at last year's U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club.


With the 2012 U.S. Open beginning this week in San Francisco, Whitehead sat down with the R Blog to reflect on the past year.


Not only did he begin his professional career a year ago this week but since last year's Open Whitehead would also marry former Rice soccer player Jordan Holloway, serve as a volunteer assistant coach for the Owls and find early success at professional events.


Looking back on the start of his career, Whitehead says that first shot as a professional golfer on No. 10 at Congressional is a lasting memory.


"The first tee shot is still vivid," he said. "I had just finished school and the NCAAs. It was quite a stage to start on. The Par 3, No. 10 has a wall of water short and bunkers long. It was terrifying."


Whitehead would stick his first shot on the green, proving he could handle the pressure.


Last year he went on to play some National Golf Association Tour events (formerly the Hooters Tour), would finish third at the Texas Open and went through the PGA's Q School.


"It has been a complete life change," Whitehead said. "No longer am I in school. Golf is my job. It's totally different."


This year Whitehead has played a few events on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, winning twice - one during the tour's winter season and this spring he shot three rounds in the 60s to win the Rayburn Country Open by two strokes.


"I am playing well and starting to contend for titles," he said. "Now it is not 'play well and finish tenth, it's okay I can win.' It is good to see improvement and I'm just working really hard to get better."


In addition to the Adams Golf Pro Tour, Whitehead has done some Monday qualifiers for PGA and Nationwide events. Ahead on the schedule are some possible NGA events as well as a return to the Texas Open before setting sights on Q School.


"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," Whitehead said as he looks ahead to his second stab at the PGA's qualifying school. "Last year everything was new. I have played tournaments in high school and college but this is totally different.  It is just a different atmosphere - money on the line, the pressure is a lot more intense and the depth of the field is a lot deeper. It's really good to have a year of tournaments under my belt."

McWilliams-Franklin Leads Lynx to 8-0 Start

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New Owls' assistant women's basketball coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin is busy with her summer job as a power forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.

The Lynx have started the 2012 season with an impressive 8-0 start after trouncing the Seattle Storm 79-55 on Wednesday. In the contest, McWilliams-Franklin scored a game-high 17 points by making all eight field goal attempts and a free throw in just under 20 minutes of action.

McWilliams-Franklin was happy with the win, but not totally satisfied in how she played.

"You know, hey, I scored, I didn't miss. It's great. But I'm more upset about the turnovers and so I have to work on that. Passes to certain players, I've got to work on that and know who I'm passing to and work on my own game and deficiencies that [I've] had this year."

The Lynx moved within one victory of tying the WNBA record set by Los Angeles in 2001 of victories to start the season. The Sparks also won their first nine games in 2003.

Minnesota's next game is on Saturday, June 9 when it plays at Tulsa (0-6). Three of Minnesota's eight victories have been on the road and it leads Los Angeles (5-1) in the Western Conference standings.

McWilliams-Franklin WNBA Bio

Minnesota Lynx 2012 Schedule

Summer time is camp time

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summer camps photo blog.jpg The campus at Rice is officially in camp season, with hundreds of youths on site to participate in the various sports camps.   For  more information on upcoming camps, please check the full list on RiceOwls.com

Traveling in the majors

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Once upon a time, the Houston Colt .45's wore matching suits with cowboy hats when they traveled in their first season.  Lance Berkman and the St. Louis Cardinals went for a more individual form of expression on their recent trip to the west coast.


Berkman tuxedo fun.jpg(Photo courtesy of David Freese)

Rice's Rally Squirrel?

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rally squirell.JPGAs the team arrived at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex Thursday morning, this critter made an appearance.  Good omen??

Fox Sports Net Broadcast Times of C-USA Outdoor T&F Championship Get Acrobat Reader

Fox Sports Net will broadcast last Sunday's (May 13) action of the 2012 Conference USA Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Click on the above link for the full listing of channels and broadcast times.

Knowing What it Takes

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Paul Blankenship did not have to see the Rice women's tennis team's historic win over Ole Miss in person to appreciate both its significance as well as the enormity of the challenge the Owls had overcome to earn the school's first berth in the Sweet 16.

"They did something very, very difficult. They went on to an SEC school's home court with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line and controlled the momentum of the match.  It takes a very special group of players and a very good coach to make that happen."

Blankenship speaks from personal experience, having led the Rice women's tennis team from 1981-2001, taking teams to their first three trips to the NCAA Championships as well as to as high as 19th in the weekly national rankings.  

For more than a decade of his tenure as the Owls coach, national rankings only named the weekly top 20 teams and the NCAA tournaments began at the Sweet 16 level, making comparisons of the accomplishments of some of his most talented teams with those of the 2012 Owls impossible to quantify.

"In my second year, we had a team that finished 20-3, but they only took one team from the Southwest Conference.  That was a great team, but we had to stay home," he noted.

By 1996, the NCAA field expanded and he led teams to three straight NCAA Championships, but with the end of final exams and the start of the NCAA's literally days apart, the Owls were hardly in prime mental condition to excel on the court.   In 1999, the Owls had to decline a bid because the tournament would begin the day after finals ended.

"I think it is great the way the season is set up now.  They have the conference tournament, then they can get finals out of the way and then have time to prepare for the NCAA's.  They have a chance to get back to thinking about tennis and they obviously did a great job with that period of time this year," he stated.

He had taken teams into the teeth of intimidation that SEC teams could conjure up, especially when advancement in the national tournament was at stake.  While the casual sports fan might have looked at a 4-2 win by Rice over Ole Miss and focused solely upon the advancement to Athens, Blankenship could draw on his memories and savor something far more unique.

"SEC schools have a well-deserved reputation for having a massive home court advantage.   You can run into all kinds of things when you play a match on the road. I've seen fans lean over the rail and spit tobacco juice on the back of one of my players as she was about to receive serve.  They shout when you are trying to serve. They are always trying to impact the match," he recalled.

For a young team to be able to stare down that environment and withstand the second-set surge that the Rebels leveled at the Owls on Saturday night, Blankenship said it must be comprised of talented players who have been prepared to deal with high degrees of difficulty by their coaches and the Owls obviously have that combination in place.

"They showed a great deal of character to succeed in that situation," Blankenship said.

College tennis coaches have a unique challenge in that they recruit players who have been developed in a sport that is individual in its nature to come in and adapt to a team environment.   While the concept may be foreign to many, he noted it was revealing to see a young team close ranks and prosper as the Owls did last weekend.

"It takes a special coach to get individual players to buy into the team concept and produce a team win as they did at Ole Miss.  Elizabeth (Schmidt) has done a great job with bringing this team along and having them show so much improvement over the course of this season," he noted.



Football Practice Field Undergoing Renovation

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Photo Gallery

The Rice Owls football grass practice field, north of Rice Stadium, is currently undergoing renovation that started on Monday. Work crews began by removing sod and topsoil. The goal is to level the practice field, which would provide better and safer footing for the team. The field will be ready in time for practice in August.

"We are leveling the practice field and putting in new sod," commented Jack Garrett, Rice senior associate athletic director. "The field had some undulations in it and it was problematic from a drainage standpoint. This new field will have a nicer appearance with a little bit of a crown. It will be easier to conduct practices and safety issues will be better than they were before."