Rice's student-athletes are already known for their academic and sports achievements, but fans had an opportunity to see a new side of the Owls at the inaugural Rice student-athlete talent show.
The student-athlete talent show, titled "Owls on Stage," featured 11 performances from members of Rice's various varsity athletic teams such as baseball, volleyball, football, soccer and more, all showcasing their versatile `non-sports' talents. A project of the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), "Owls on Stage" will included a variety of musical, vocal and dance acts.
Below are two videos, one of soccer player Annie Kadota and the other featuring golfer Tommy Economou:
Rice University women's basketball player Jessica Kuster finished the 2012 season ranked in the top 10 in the nation for rebounding.
Kuster, a sophomore forward from San Antonio, Texas, and Reagan High School, concluded the campaign ranked ninth in the NCAA and led Conference USA with an 11.1 rebounding average. She was among the nation's top 10 leaders throughout this past season.
"Jessica ranking ninth in the nation is a tremendous individual achievement," says her coach Greg Williams. "It shows a strong work ethic, determination and consistency game-in and game-out. She was also the second best rebounder in her class for the second consecutive season. Jessica's rebounding on the defensive end was a big reason we were one of the best defensive teams in Conference USA, while giving us numerous second-chance opportunities off her offensive rebounds."
She was one of only two C-USA players that averaged a double-double for 2012, and only one of 21 nation-wide to average a double-double in scoring and rebounding. Kuster averaged 17.3 points a game (second in C-USA) to pair with her 11.1 rebounding average. The team co-captain was selected to the All-C-USA First Team and All-C-USA Defensive Team for the second straight season.
2012 Top 10 Rebounders in the Nation
Rank, Player, School, Ht., Pos., Games, Avg.
1 Courtney Hurt, VCU, Sr., 6-0, F, 34, 447, 13.1
2 Sequeena Thomas, Sam Houston State, Jr., 6-0, F, 30, 377, 12.6
3 Ashar Harris, Morehead State, Jr., 5-9, F, 29, 361, 12.4
4 Cheyenne Parker, High Point, So., 6-4, C, 33, 403, 12.2
5 Rachael Hackbarth, Drake, Sr., 6-3, F, 34,401, 11.8
6 Kylie Kuhns, Sacramento State, Jr., 6-0, F, 31, 360, 11.6
7 Avery Warley, Liberty, Sr., 6-3, C, 33, 381, 11.5
8 Megan Herbert, Central Arkanas, Jr.5-11, F, 31, 350, 11.3
9 Jessica Kuster, Rice, So., 6-2, F, 30, 334, 11.1
10 Markel Walker, UCLA, Jr., 6-1, G, 23, 252, 11.0
Rice University volleyball student-athlete Laurie McNamara is the recipient of not one, but two honors from the Side-Out Foundation.
McNamara, from Coppell, Texas, was a member of the Side-Out Ambassador Program (SOAP) and she has been awarded one of seven SOAP Scholarship Awards as well as one of eight SOAP Community Service Awards.
McNamara represented the Owls volleyball squad during its Dig Pink campaign for the 2011 season. She showed exceptional commitment toRice, the community, and in raising funds for breast cancer awareness.
Says McNamara's head coach Genny Volpe, "Laurie is one of those special individuals that's driven to be a well-rounded person. She impacts the team in many ways by organizing several community service events and she spends a lot of her down time in the community.
"I am really proud of Laurie because she embodies what a scholar-athlete is at Rice, someone that is driven to be their best on the court, in the classroom, and in the community and she represents Rice in each of those aspects."
With a 3.9 grade point average, McNamara was named to the 2011 Conference USA All-Academic squad and she received the team's 2011 Commitment Award. McNamara, one of the squad's co-captains, was second on the team in kills per set with a 2.51 average and second in kills with 294 during the 2011 campaign.
"This really means a lot to me, because working with the Side-Out Foundation is something that I have wanted to do for some time. I worked on a Dig For the Cure event while in high school and it is something that I am really passionate about. I am passionate about helping people," stated McNamara. "My grandmother was diagnosed this year with breast cancer, she's in the clear now, but it just means a lot to be acknowledged for all of the hard work that I have put into this."
Besides working with the Side-Out Foundation, McNamara also spends at least three hours per week at Texas Children's Hospital as a volunteer and she worked as a volunteer at the Texas Med 5K that was sponsored by Ben Taub General Hospital.
The Side-Out Foundation (Side-Out) was established in 2004 to unite volleyball players and coaches and to have them work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education and patient services.Side-Out supports teams nationwide in their volleyball tournaments, clinics, and other fundraising efforts.
In the midst of the greatest stretch of tennis of his Rice career, a rejuvenated Christian Saravia will return on Wednesday to the site of one of his most memorable moments to make good on a prediction his late father once made.
Saravia, who had lost his fire for the game in the fall and appeared to have called it a career, and his resurgent Rice teammates will put a seven-match winning streak on the line when the 39th ranked Owls take on 25th ranked Texas A&M at 6 p.m. at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station.
The match is crucial for the Owls, who continue to rebound from a loss to UTSA in early March, in their drive to earn Rice's 10th consecutive NCAA bid in head coach Ron Smarr's final season. But for Saravia, it will fulfill a prediction and give him a chance to honor his late father.
As a 16-year old junior player from Guatemala, Saravia and his parents, Carlos and Jean, walked the grounds of Mitchell Tennis Center after competing in an ITF event. When they arrived at Courts 1 and 2, which are divided by the facilities club area and serve as the featured courts in the complex, Carlos Saravia predicted that one day his youngest son would be playing on these center courts.
Tennis was a part of the Saravia family. Christian's first experienced the game as a toddler and as the youngest of their four children, Christian's parents had taken the steps to allow him to reach a level of success that gave him the chance to play collegiately at Rice where he could hone his game while earning his degree from a respected institution.
Three years later, while he was with his new Rice teammates in Oxford, Mississippi competing in the opening round of the National Indoor Championships, Saravia was suddenly summoned home to Guatemala City because his parents had been involved in a serious accident that had taken his father's life and left his mother and a brother in critical condition.
Saravia immediately returned home to be by his mother's side, but even as she began a long and arduous recovery, Jean Saravia made it quickly clear that Christian had other responsibilities he could not forget.
"She reminded me how important school was. There was never a question that I would not be going back to Rice, but she didn't want me to fall behind. My mother wanted me to go back, so how could I not do as she said?"
Tennis and the challenge of catching up on school gave him brief moments of distraction from concerns about his mother's recovery.
"It helped me get busy and focus on something," he recalled. "That was a tough time, but I think those things give you clarity as to seeing things in the bigger picture and not stressing out about small things."
In early April of 2009, Saravia found himself taking the Mitchell Center courts to face the 12th ranked Aggies in a dual. He would not be playing on those main courts as his father had predicted, but the emotions were the same and Saravia delivered his greatest performance to that time. He combined with fellow freshman Sam Garforth-Bles to clinch the doubles point with a 9-8 tiebreak win. Saravia then gutted out a three-set win at No. 6 to clinch the match for Rice, a win that propelled that year's team to a seventh-straight NCAA bid.
Saravia earned C-USA Men's Tennis Athlete of the Week honors for his effort. One year later, he and his teammates ground out an electrifying win over Tulsa to capture the C-USA title on their home court. Last year, the Owls once again reached the conference finals and made their head coach college tennis' career wins leader.
Yet when faced with the start of his final season of tennis this past fall, Saravia found himself strangely indifferent.
"I had always loved playing tennis, but it had come to a point last fall when I wasn't having any fun anymore. The coaches were very supportive and told me to just take a break."
His time away allowed him to reassess his goals and he began to feel that perhaps he had not played his last match. When offered the chance to return, he did so with no expectations other than to savor every groundstroke as special, no matter if it was a winner or wide.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to come back after last semester, but once I did, I saw this was my last chance to give it my all. I knew it was my last few months of tennis and it really has helped me to approach the game better," he added.
"The first few years, I practiced really hard and played really hard, but wasn't really playing my best," Saravia recalled. "After taking a break in the fall, I wasn't really expecting to be playing this well. But I think I've been seeing the game differently. I enjoy it more and have a better view of how to approach the game. I've just been happier overall. I'm playing pretty well and been really happy with how the team has been playing, especially in the last six or seven matches," he added.
Saravia gradually broke back into the lineup, playing No. 2 doubles with Nuesslein. At the end of January, he returned to the singles lineup at No. 6. On the fateful day vs. UTSA, he won his match at No. 5, but then had to watch as his teammates could not overcome listless play in a 4-3 loss.
In the aftermath of that match, the Owls' lineup was retooled and Saravia found himself playing at No. 2 singles, while Garfoth-Bles took over at No. 1. Both had long sought a chance to play at the top of the lineup, and now they had their chance.
The move yielded quick results as the Owls have won 10 of the last 11. But wins are only numbers on paper, the true change at Jake Hess has been the energy and spirit that has generated those wins.
"I feel like everyone who is playing now is trying really, really hard. It feels like a team. We've been talking to each other about how it feels like a team and that everyone wants to win. We might not be the most talented team right now, but we are the ones who fight the hardest," Saravia said.
The atmosphere at match time is very similar to the feel in 2010, when the Owls ground their way to the conference crown.
"We were talking that in the last seven or eight matches. It feels like it did in 2010," Saravia said. "This team is fighting. Even if a guy is losing 6-1, 6-0 but is battling on the court next to you, that gets to you and rubs off on the whole team. It feels pretty good to be ending the year this way. "
He finds himself with a greater perspective on the game that has been a part of his life since he could walk.
"I practice more relaxed, I play more relaxed and it's amazing how four years of tennis can teach you about pressure situations. I used to lose a lot of matches 7-6 6-4 at number six. I would lose a lot of matches that I thought I should have won, but I let them get away. Now when I get into those tiebreakers, I feel very comfortable. Now I do it because I like it. That (perspective) is not just something you can get at a young age," he said.
When Saravia strikes his first return of service on Mitchell's number two court on Wednesday, it will be impossible to not think of his father, Carlos, and the fulfillment of his prediction.
But of equal importance will be the challenge at hand. Significant wins need to be compiled to build the Owls' resume in the eyes of the NCAA. Saravia and his fellow seniors in the lineup know what is on the line.
"None of us want this to end badly. We don't want that for Coach Smarr. When we lost to UTSA, I sat and thought about how bad it would be for this to be the last of our tennis, and the last of coach's tennis career. We don't want to be the ones to break the NCAA streak for all of us," he stated.
His mother, now fully recovered, will be in the stands on Wednesday, as will his brothers and his sister. It's an opportunity that could only have happened after Saravia decided to give tennis one more try.
"I was talking to my mom at lunch today about how cool it would be if both of them (his parents) could be there (on Wednesday) to see me play on that court. But everything happens for a reason, and I'm excited about the chance to play there in front of all my family and in a match that is so important," he said.
"I see things so much differently now. I don't feel the pressure I used to feel or stress about the small things. I just see the big picture... give your best and enjoy. The rest of it will take care of itself.
"I really feel that I am playing tennis for the best reason of all, because I enjoy it."
Rice assistant track coach Andrea Blackett delivered the following comments during Tuesday night's "Pearls of Wisdom" lecture which focused on the history of women's athletics at Rice. The "Pearls of Wisdom" lecture series is presented by the Rice Women's Athletics Advisory Board.
My Journey As a Professional Athlete
At the age of twelve I started running track for my secondary school. At that time it was just for fun and a social activity. I grew to love the sport and once I made my first national team at the age of 15 I was hooked. This was when my eyes were opened to the world of track and field and the possible rewards if I worked really hard. I was exposed to regional competition for the first time and I knew that in order to move on and take my track career to the next level I would have to not only run fast, but I would have to manage my academics as well so that I could be considered scholarship athlete material. Two years later, in April of 1993 I got the call that a coach named Victor Lopez from Rice University was coming to Barbados to recruit myself and 4 of my teammates. My social activity had grown from just fun to an awesome opportunity. On August 15th of that same year I stepped foot on this great campus- this was my first trip ever to the US. As intimidating and scary as this was-one thing remained constant- my love for track and my desire to be the best that I could be- whatever that meant at the time.
The value of a good mentor: The Rice Days
My coach here at Rice Victor Lopez would change my life forever. He was not only a coach but a mentor and friend who taught me many of life's most important lessons. I will never forget at a meet at Stanford my sophomore year , he yelled and screamed and got in my face as soon as I crossed the finish line, because he thought that I had run a poor race. Now bear in mind, I had just run my personal best! The point he was trying to make to me then was that good is just not good enough when you know that you can be great. There were times when I was laying on my back exhausted and the urge to throw up was moments away and he would bend over me and tell me to get up because it was time for me to start my next interval.
As crazy as I thought he was I am thankful that I had a good and decent person to guide my career and that he had an undying faith and belief in me. There were times when I was beginning to have doubts but he refused to. Reality is that no one's athletic career is going to be smooth sailing. There will always be some big waves that knock you down. At the highest levels it becomes 80% mental and 20% physical because every one is talented in the collegiate and professional ranks.
I firmly believe that the important life lessons and tests of character are not learned when everything is falling into place, but they are learned when you have to roll up your sleeves, get dirty and persevere through the tough times. As the bible says in Ecc 9:11 "The race is not given to the swift or the strong but to the one who endures to the end."
I don't believe that I ever woke up one day and decided that I wanted to be a world class athlete. I just kept working hard and expecting the best of myself.
My time here at Rice University was amazing. I learned a lot, I matured as an athlete and a person. I met some great life long friends and my current mentor and boss Jim Bevan. I had to learn how to balance school with Division I athletics and I definitely became a master at time management. Even though I was committed to my athletic career I knew that I would need that Rice degree and I went on to complete my masters while I was competing because I knew that there would be a life after track that I had to prepare for.
The End of Rice Years
Four months after graduation from Rice I was on the professional circuit and ranked in the top 10 in the world. I had three and a half successful years in a row and I competed in my first Olympic Games in 2000 and 2 WC Finals. Finally becoming an Olympian was a great accomplishment and a moment of pride for me because I had given it everything I had my junior year at Rice only to be 0.2 of a second outside of the qualifying mark for the 1996 games.
However, the injuries and illnesses started to come fast and furiously. I had a hamstring injury that lingered and in Sydney at the Olympic Games I caught chicken pox which turned into shingles two years later. This is simply part of the game. I had two consecutive seasons where I couldn't even come to within 2 and a half seconds of my personal best. This was when the self doubt, frustration, annoyance and at times depression crept in. I kept plugging away, I just knew I had to keep fighting and persevering through this season in my life.
The stakes become a lot higher when you are a professional athlete. If you don't perform well you will have a hard time paying your bills, you will likely lose any sponsorships or any funding you have- I have had to deal with all these things at one time or another.
How To Overcome
I do believe Rice adequately prepared me the real world and for that I am truly grateful. I believe I was prepared for the stress of a professional career. I was prepared to handle disappointments even when I knew I had put in the work. I was able to hang in there with my faith in God, the support of my coach, family and my very close dependable friends who believed in me and understood my love and passion for track.
I was able to regain form and go on to compete at another Olympic games and to make the WC final twice again. I finally decided to end my career before the Olympics in 2008 after sustaining another injury. I am at peace with this decision because I know that I have given it everything I had and I can look back on my career and have no regrets.
So, for those who are interested in being world class in their field of choice I will leave with you these 3 things:
Stay focused!! Never take your eye off the prize. There will be times when you have to be relentless and keep fighting for what you want when life has kicked you down. The lessons you learn when you are at the bottom of the ladder are the tools that you will need on the climb to the top.
Stay true to yourself, your values and your beliefs. It doesn't cost you anything in life to do the right thing and be a good and honest person. There will always be people and things along the way to tempt and entice you to take short cuts. Make sure you surround yourself with people who understand who you are and what you stand for and will support and hold you accountable for your actions. There is never an easy way out- short cuts will always catch up to you.
And finally I would say, never take yourself or your sport too seriously. At the end of the day it is called sport for a reason. Sometimes even though you have worked as hard as you can and you firmly believe you deserved to win, it may simply just not be your day or it may just not be your destiny. However, make sure that when it is just you alone with the mirror you are able to look at yourself with your head held high and know you left it all out there and did the best job you could do!!!
For Rice fans, each spring brings a myriad of opportunities to see our various teams in competition. However, the spring calendar does not always offer a bountiful section of dates on which to schedule these events without inevitable overlaps.
This coming weekend represents a Perfect Storm of sorts, with a number of events butting up against each other, forcing our fans to choose between events they would like to see in person.
Many have asked both publicly and privately how could this came to be. Hopefully, this blog will provide some background to tie together some loose ends to better illustrate how we arrived at the weekend before us.
So, "How did it come to this?"
The answer crosses over into a variety of areas and disciplines, none of which are purposely attempting to conflict with each other. Bottom Line? There are more events than available open dates and no two of the various entities constructs its schedule in the same manner or time frame.
The start of classes almost immediately after the first of the year translates into an early conclusion to the semester, which tightens up the available spring weekends before the first event is ever scheduled.
Some sports have traditional weekends slotted for their events, such as the Victor Lopez Classic, which always falls the weekend prior to the Texas Relays. Moving to another weekend is never an option, because the spring track calendar is set in stone. Others such as baseball, have their schedules assigned by the conference, with some considerations granted to special requests from schools regarding particular dates. But even then control and flexibility are limited.
Football's spring practice schedule must be wedged into the grid to allow for a productive cycle of winter strength training that commences as soon as possible after the start of the semester and ends as close to the start of Spring Practice (while allowing for Spring Break). You must then find enough available days for a consistent schedule of practices to allow for maximum productivity from the regulated amount of time they have on the field. This schedule is further impacted by any coaching staff changes, in order to allow new staff members time to prepare for their first spring with their position groups.
The Spring Game, which for many years represented the conclusion of drills, has been retained as a weekend event and the game time has been set in order to allow fans as well as friends and families of the players the best the opportunity to see their Owls. The Owls will actually hold two additional practices next week to allow them to utilize the full allotment of practices per the NCAA. This year, it's on Friday in order to avoid a Saturday conflict with Beer Bike and also allow for the Letterman's Golf Tournament at Wildcat, which was only available on Saturday.
In three of the last four springs, the additional element of the NCAA Men's Basketball events (which were co-hosted by Rice Athletics), made it essential to avoid as many overlaps as possible on the weekend of that event, since many department employees were also tasked with oversight in specific areas connected to the production and management of that prestigious event.
When you add in spring break, traditional campus events such as this weekend's Beer Bike, spring recess (which eliminated last weekend as a possible date for football) and the lateness of the Easter holiday, it made the confluence of events that dominate this weekend unavoidable.
We understand the frustrations for fans who have to make choices between events. It's a logistical challenge for many of our own personnel, but it's a part of the job.
To help you plan your weekend, here's a quick review of the schedule this weekend, with start times for each event, as well as the time that the parking gates will open.
Friday, March 30:
West Lot 4 opens at 5:30 PM
Baseball vs. Southern Miss: 6:30 (Reckling Park)
Football Spring Game: 7:00 (Rice Stadium)
Saturday, March 31
West Lot opens at 1:00
Women's Tennis vs. Missouri 2 p.m. (Jake Hess)
Baseball vs. Southern Miss 3:30 pm (Reckling Park)
Sunday, April 1
West Lot opens at 10 a.m.
Football Banquet 11 a.m. (Tudor Fieldhouse)
Women's Tennis vs. Tulsa 11 a.m. (Jake Hess)
Baseball vs. Southern Miss 1:00 pm (Reckling Park)
Rice University hosts the 30th Victor Lopez Classic this weekend (March 22-24) at Holloway Field/Ley Track on the Rice campus. Saturday's running event finals start at 6 p.m.
Rice women's head track and field coach Jim Bevan reflects on Victor Lopez's influence on the Owls' women's track and field program.
Two of Rice's incoming freshman basketball players for next season have played in their respective state championship title games.
Breion Allen's Hoover H.S. squad won the Alabama girls 6A championship when it defeated Bob Jones H.S., 44-26. It was the third team title for Hoover. It was the fourth championship game meeting between the two schools in as many years and the second time the top-ranked Bucs (31-3) shut down No. 2 Bob Jones (36-3), holding the Patriots to 8 of 29 shooting for the game while picking up 18 points off turnovers. Allen, a 5'9" athletic guard, played in 26 minutes and scored five points with a steal, while playing exceptional defense in the victory.
Hoover was ranked No. 20 by USA Today Top 25.
Alyssa Lang's Rockwall team fell to Mansfield Summit H.S. in the Texas state 4A championship game in Austin, by a 45-42 count. Lang, a 6'1" forward, posted a double-double by pouring in a game-high 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 31 minutes of action. She made 9-16 from the field and was credited with three blocked shots. Rockwall's season ended with a sterling 34-8 record.
Said Owl head coach Greg Williams on his prized recruits, "We are proud of both Breion and Alyssa in helping their high school teams to the championship game in their respective states of Alabama and Texas. We believe that winning attitude and leadership will carry over to their careers at Rice. Additionally, our other two recruits had strong senior years with Elena Gumbs leading her team (Steele H.S.)to the third round and Megan Palmer (Cinco Ranch H.S.) the send round in Texas 5A competition."
Rockwall's Alyssa Lang
The 2012 Conference USA Championship for women's basketball tips off on Wednesday, March 7 in Memphis, Tenn. The Owls, under head coach Greg Williams, play Houston on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. inside the Elma Roane Fieldhouse on the University of Memphis campus.
Below, Coach Williams previews this year's championship.