It’s time to hand out the 2013-2014 Examiner Rice Sports Awards. These honors are meant as a fun way to look back on some of the great individual and team performance from the past 10 months.
There was no shortage of memorable performances this school year, including five Rice teams winning Conference USA titles. All five are in the running for Team of the Year.
Before we get to this year’s recipients, here’s a rundown of last year’s awards: Male Athlete Taylor McHargue (football), Female Athlete Natalie Beazant (women’s tennis), Coach of the Year Nicky Adams (women’s soccer), Freshman of the Year Holly Hargreaves (women’s soccer) Team of the Year Baseball and Game of the Year Women’s basketball beat UTSA with 0.1 seconds left.
With a plethora of qualified choices, picking winners this year wasn’t easy. Feel free to share your thoughts about which athlete, coach, team or game was most deserving.
Without further adieu, click on the photos for a list of nominees and winners of the Examiner Rice Sports Awards in these six categories:
- Male Athlete of the Year
- Female Athlete of the Year
- Coach of the Year
- Freshman of the Year
- Team of the Year
- Game of the Year
Male Athlete of the Year
- Skyler Ewing (Baseball)
- Blake Fox (Baseball)
- Phillip Gaines (Football)
- Chris Pillow (Track)
- Charles Ross (Football)
A convincing case could be made for all five. While Charles Ross deserves a lot of credit for helping Rice football win its first conference title since the Eisenhower Administration, it’s hard to mess with perfection. Since arriving at Rice, Blake Fox has won 18 games. He has lost 0 games.
During the 2014 season, Fox went 12-0 record with a 1.46 ERA in 15 starts. He had the fifth highest win total of any pitcher in the nation. The Houston native was 8-0 in Saturday Conference USA games. His ERA was second best in the conference of all starters. Maybe most impressive was the fact he pitched into the seventh inning of 14 of his 15 starts.
In a season where Rice lost ace Jordan Stephens in early March and was without closer (turned Friday starter) and Padres draft pick Zech Lemond for about six weeks, Fox stepped up. Pitching remained the Owls strength thanks to Fox, Kevin McCanna, Matt Ditman and others. Rice won 42 games and the C-USA regular season and postseason titles.
Fox is one of three finalists for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame’s Pitcher of the Year Award. He is a first team All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers.
Female Athlete of the Year
- Natalie Beazant (Tennis)
- Casey Clark (Swimming
- Lauren Hughes (Soccer)
- Jessica Kuster (Basketball)
- Claire Uke (Track)
The box score on March 11 stated 26 points and 11 rebounds. For one final time, Jessica Kuster had accumulated a double-double. It was her 26th in 30 games during the 2013-2014 season and the 67th in her illustrious collegiate career. Kuster left Rice as the school leader in points (2,081) and rebounds (1,376). In fact, Kuster set the Conference USA all-time rebounding record in that final game.
The superlatives about Kuster’s senior season could go on and on, her school bio page describes them all. Of course, even on the night she broke the Rice scoring record, she deflected praise.
“It was a great team win,” Kuster said. “I feel like we hit our stride finally. Our off court chemistry is coming together. We had three people in double figures tonight. I think that says a lot about the way we’re playing.”
Before graduating in May, Kuster singed an undrafted free agent contract with the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars. She appeared in preseason games for her hometown team but was waived prior to the start of the regular season.
“All she wanted was an opportunity to compete at the highest level and now she has achieved that goal,” Rice women’s basketball coach Greg Williams said on April 21.
Coach of the Year
- David Bailiff (football)
- Justin Emil (men’s golf),
- Wayne Graham (baseball)
- Seth Huston (women’s swimming)
- Elizabeth Schmidt (women’s tennis)
Graham, Schmidt and Huston are used to winning conference championships, and each deserves credit for their latest successful seasons. That being said, until David Bailiff’s title in 2013, no Rice football coach had guided the Owls to an outright conference crown since 1957.
Bailiff, the Conference USA coach of the Year and a finalist Marathon Oil Corporation Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, led the Owls to 10 wins and a trip to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl.
While defensive coordinator Chris Thurmond also merits praise, Bailiff’s best contribution was improving a porous defense into better than average. Even with star linebacker Cameron Nwosu out for the season, the Owls defense surrendered 353 yards per outing and 23 points a game, both significantly better than in 2012. The team only gave up 14 points a game at home, going 6-0.
Bailiff also remained a strong leader in other areas, having garnered support from players and stakeholders inside and outside of the university. The team’s community service and academic record is a source of pride. The football program won a 2013 AFCA Academic Achievement Award, which honors schools with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Freshman of the Year
- Sara Blasier (Volleyball)
- Katherine Ip (Women’s Tennis)
- Sean Obi (Basketball)
- Kevin Reilly (Golf)
- Cali Roper (Women’s Track/Cross Country)
Having so many talented freshmen bodes well for the future, except in the cast of Obi, who transferred to Duke after the season. Katherine Ip is the choice by a smidge, perhaps by virtue of clinching the Conference USA women’s tennis championship over rival Tulsa.
Ip finished off Tulsa and helped Rice earn a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 0-6, 7-6, 6-3 win over Marcelina Cichon in No. 3 singles. It was the 8th time during the season she had clinched a match for Rice. Move over Matt Ditman, Katherine Ip is the closer of Rice tennis.
Ip, who hails from Hong Kong, was named C-USA Freshman of the Year. She went 18-4 in singles, including winning 14 of her last 15 matches. She was 2-0 when asked to play No. 2 singles and went 3-2 facing nationally ranked opponents. She had the only victory for Rice in 4-1 lost to host Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Team of the Year
- Men’s Golf
- Women’s Swimming
- Women’s Tennis
The Mason Rudolph Classic in Franklin, Tenn. was a poor precursor to what lied ahead for the Rice men’s golf team. The Owls were dead last after shooting a 309 in the first round of the classic on April 4. They played a little better during day two and three, but still finished 12th.
After three weeks of practice, Rice arrived in Edmond, Okla. hoping to make a run at the Conference USA Tournament. The team shot a 293 to tie for fourth on day one. Day two was a little better. A score of 282 kept them in fourth.
Under the day three pressure, Tulsa and Charlotte fell apart, shooting 297 and 296. Suddenly, Rice and UAB were battling for the title. Every stroke mattered. With a season-best 69 from No. 5 golfer Alex Levy, Rice edged UAB by one stroke for the school’s first conference title since 1939. And you thought the football draught was long.
Coach Justin Emil was named 2014 C-USA Coach of the Year and Kevin Reilly won C-USA Freshman of the Year. The team made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2010, taking 12th at the Raleigh NCAA Regional.
Reilly went on to win the Amateur Public Links Championship qualifier at Eagle Dunes Golf Club in Florida and secure one of the event’s two bids to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July. Meanwhile Landon Michelson would have qualified for the U.S. Open if not for a mistake on his scorecard at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Quail Valley Golf Club.
Game of the Year
- Rice football wins at Tulsa with overtime TD pass
- Rice basketball beats South Alabama in Triple OT thriller
- Texas edges Rice baseball 3-2 in extra-inning Regional game
- Colorado College tops Rice soccer in high-scoring affair
- Rice football throttles Marshall in C-USA Title Game
The crowd wasn’t large but it sure was a memorable evening at Tudor Fieldhouse on Dec. 7. Rice and South Alabama both lost far more games they won during the 2013-2014 season, but they proved to be extremely evenly matched. If Max Guercy hadn’t made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third overtime, they still might be playing right now.
At the end of regulation, Rice’s Keith Washington missed a potential game-winner after the Jaguars had tied the game with four late free throws. A pair of free throws by the Jaguars Mychal Ammons tied the game in the first overtime with 34 seconds left. Rice drained the clock for the last shot, but turned it over instead.
Once again, South Alabama made two free throws late in the second overtime. Again Rice had a chance to win. Guercy missed a shot at the buzzer. He would make amends.
Guercy, a sophomore point guard from Arleta, Calif., took over the game after the Owls fell behind 93-89 in the third overtime. He made two free throws with 1:28 left to cut the lead in half. South Alabama’s Dionte Ferguson missed two free throws at the other end. A Guercy jumper tied the game at 93 with 1:09 left.
Ken Williams missed a jumper for the Jaguars, and Guercy snagged the rebound. Austin Ramljak missed a 3-pointer but Guercy grabbed the offensive rebounds. Rice worked the clock down for the fourth straight time to end regulation or overtimes. Guercy’s trifecta ensured everyone could go home.