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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."

2012 College Football Hall of Fame Class

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Tuesday's announcement by the National Football Foundation of the 2012 College Football Hall of Fame FBS Class which includes former Rice quarterback Tommy Kramer.

NCAA Women's Tennis Notes:

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NCAA Memories:  Rice junior Kate Gater began her college career at the University of Virginia and as a freshman played both singles and doubles in the first two rounds of the 2010 NCAA Championship.  She was 0-1 in singles with a second match unfinished and was 0-2 in her two doubles matches as the Cavilers defeated Princeton and then fell to Duke.  She was a ready resource for her Owl teammates looking for a little perspective on the NCAA experience.


"You can definitely tell that everything is on the line. It's the pinnacle of everything you work for all year. It's very intense.  The team we have (at Rice) is full of people who enjoy playing and I feel like we do very well when we are under pressure. 


"No one has asked specifically about what it was like, but I think that's because I honestly think that this team treats every match the same.  Since we played Illinois earlier in the year and the matches were really close, we going in with the mindset that we have a very good shot at winning and just concentrate on playing one point at a time."


The Last Time:  In 2006, Blair DeSesa played #1 singles for a Rice team that shocked the C-USA tournament by winning the title as the 7th seed, earning her teammates a berth in the NCAA Championship, as well a berth in the NCAA Singles Championship.  Now married to former Owls baseball player Tyler Henley, Blair Henley has worked as a volunteer coach for the 0wls and witnessed the development of the 2012 team into an NCAA qualifier.  She reflected on her own experiences

"We had been low seed, I am fairly sure no one expected us to be playing in the NCAAs.  We were all thinking this was our last shot and it worked out for us.   It was such a privilege to be there. You realize this is what you had worked for.


"I won't lie.... As great as it is to be at a school where you are challenged academically, it was fantastic to be able to practice and play with no distractions.  You could see that in practice this week (with the current Owls). A few of the girls came up and told me how fantastic it was to not have a class or a lab to worry about. It absolutely takes some of the pressure off and it clears your mind to be able to focus ball-by-ball and trying to win your matches.


"No one has come up to ask any specific questions about the NCAAs, but they have mentioned that the last time we went in my senior year. I have been blessed to be a part of the team this year and to see their growth from the fall to this point.  They absolutely deserve to be where they are.  What many people don't realize is that the tennis season is all year, there is no break or offseason.  To be able to stay injury-free, stay persistent and stay hungry throughout the entire year of school with school work on top of that.... I have a lot of respect for them."


Change of Plans:  Rice's lone senior Ana Guzman was set to walk in Rice's commencement on Saturday and had family members coming in from various points, including her home in Guatemala. However, her family gladly made the change in plans and after arriving in Houston earlier in the week, they made the drive to Oxford with the team to watch her compete in the NCAA Championship.


"I could not think of a better reason to not be able to walk in graduation," Guzman said. "My whole family is coming in and they are going to drive over with us to see the Regional.  It's still a good trip and everyone will be together, and it's for a very good reason. "


Change of Plans II:  Dominique Harmath was set to spend the summer studying in Pamplona, Spain as part of Rice's International Study program. Qualifying for the NCAA Doubles Championship with Natalie Beazant at the end of May caused her to have to make some slight alterations to her travel schedule, but her busy summer is still on track.


"My international study schedule had to be adjusted a bit when we made the doubles, but it wasn't too hard to make a few minor changes.  I will be studying in Pamplona, Spain, but I am also going to Dubai and also to Hungary to visit some relatives.   My cousin just started working in Dubai, so it's a chance I might not have again.  I haven't been back to see my family who lives in Hungary for about three years, so I am excited to see them again."





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