After starting 38 games as a freshman in 2015, Autumn Owens received no playing time guarantees heading into her sophomore campaign. She would need to hold off talented incoming freshmen and earn the starting job at third base. “Bring it on,” she said.
It’s exactly what head coach Todd LaVelle wanted to hear.
“Probably the best thing I could say about her is that she enjoys competing for a position,” LaVelle said. “She knew firsthand that we had freshmen coming in that also played some third base. She told me about this time last year, ‘bring it on. I’m ready to step up.’ That’s the kind of attitude she’s played with this year. She knew she had to practice hard day in and day out because other people want that spot. That was cool to see.”
The native of Henderson, Nev., just south of Las Vegas, has come on like gangbusters in 2016. Everything in her game is about power. She immediately draws attention for her rocket launcher of a right arm. Says Owens, “I don’t ever remember playing without hearing comments about that.” But it’s her bat that has really taken flight this season. She’s put together a season that’s historically impressive for a Bulldog hitter.
She tops the team with eight home runs, 43 RBIs, 93 total bases and a .699 slugging percentage. She carries an 11-game hitting streak into the opening of Wednesday’s GPAC tournament action. Those numbers are major upticks from her solid freshman campaign.
“Honestly, yes, a hundred percent I am,” Owens said when asked if she’s surprised by her own success. “I hoped that working endlessly on my hitting over the summer would do some good, but I didn’t realize how good it would be. When I’m up there, I just swing.”
Owens is all about softball. Ball is life for The Silver State native, who was influenced in her love of the game by her mother Debe and her aunt. Owens didn’t waste time with other sports. She earned all-state honors three times during her high school career and played on a number of travel teams. She still works with one of her coaches during the summer.
She had the background, but yet it’s not black and white in regards to explaining Owens’ rise to middle-of-the-order slugger. One thing is clear: she’s more relaxed and confident in her approach.
“I think I’m more in tune with everything. Last year I was more in that what-if-I-mess-up kind of stage,” Owens said. “I worked hard over the summer with my coaches back home with my hitting. I think that’s contributed a lot, too. I’m just more comfortable in the box. Coach has told me many times he knows that I can get the job done. When I’m up there I’m just thinking that it’s for the team.”
Comfortable at the plate and comfortable in her surroundings, Owens is glad she made the decision to come to Concordia. She looked at some schools in California, the state she was born in, but she wanted to see what Concordia had to offer. She heard many positives from good friend and fellow Henderson native Palmer Bosanko, a member of the 2014 and 2015 Bulldog softball teams.
Once Autumn became interested in Concordia, her summer coach got the ball rolling with a series of calls to LaVelle, who had just recently been announced as Bulldog head coach. Owens also sent emails to LaVelle. She had recruited Concordia instead of the other way around.
“I actually forgot about (the call from the summer coach) and he called back and told me what a special player she was,” LaVelle said. “It was by the grace of God that we got connected. He was exactly right. I tell that story a lot to certain recruits and our team now. They were persistent. I give her summer coach a lot of credit because he kept calling me, saying this is a girl you want.”
In her very first season with the Bulldogs, Owens helped the team win the GPAC tournament and reach the national tournament for the second-straight year. There have been some frustrating moments and some rollercoaster swings of emotion, but Concordia has put it all together at the right time under LaVelle. Owens and company hope to recapture that magic this week.
“I think we definitely like to keep Coach on his toes,” Owens said. “As far as why, we’re not sure why. I think it’s just a mind over body kind of thing. We all know that we’re tired, but we realize that this is the end for certain people. We want to give it all we have for them. It’s about working hard for each other. That’s one of Concordia’s greatest aspects. We all work together.”
Owens’ hot bat will again be on display on Wednesday when the Bulldogs open up GPAC tournament play at either top-seeded Morningside or second-seeded Doane. Complete pairings will be released when all regular-season conference games have been completed.