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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."

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.





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