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Kelly Hill | | March 22, 2015

Freshman grit

Thomas More wins the 2015 DIII Women's Basketball Championship

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Growing up in Independence, Kentucky, Abby Owings' dream was to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.

But then, in high school, reality set in.

As a high-school point guard at Simon Kenton, Owings realized she was not likely to grow any taller than her current 5-foot-2, so instead of Kentucky, she opted for Thomas More, a Division III school just 15 minutes from her home that also featured a nationally renowned women's basketball program. Playing at Thomas More would also help Owings fulfill another dream she had had: playing with Division III Player of the Year Sydney Moss, against whom Owings had played in high school.

Owings, 19, who as a freshman is Thomas More's point guard, joined with Moss and the rest of her Saints teammates to claim the Division III national championship Saturday night with an 83-63 victory against George Fox at Calvin's Van Noord Arena.

Owings, who was the smallest player not only in the championship game but in the semifinals, finished Saturday's title game with 17 points, three assists, a steal and a rebound. She also earned a spot on the championship all-tournament team.

“As a little girl I dreamed of playing for Kentucky,” Owings said, gripping her championship trophy. “In high school though, I realized that I'm not big enough. I am grateful that coach [Jeff] Hans was able to overlook my size and see my heart and realize that I can run with anybody.”

With 8:56 remaining in Saturday's championship game and the Saints leading by a dozen, Owings came out of the game for the first time.

But not because she wanted to.

“I was going up for a rebound and I got an elbow in the nose,” Owings said. “I couldn't see anything for a couple of minutes, it hurt that bad, but I didn't want to come out. I didn't want to come out at all. They were concerned that I had a concussion," she reiterated, gritting her teeth.

Owings returned to the game less than two and a half minutes later and two minutes after returning she dove onto the floor for a loose ball in front of the Thomas More bench.

It is that heart, spirit, drive and fierce competitiveness that prompted Hans to recruit Owings to fill the Saints point guard position vacated when Devin Beasley graduated last year. “I recruited her for that position,” Hans said Saturday night. “We had a senior in that position last year and we needed someone to step into that position.”

According to Owings, Hans never told her that if she came to Thomas More he would make her the Saints' point guard, but she said he attended enough of her high school games that she knew he really wanted her. “I knew the school and the program would be a good fit for me,” she said. “Location was a big part of it too though, because it's only 15 minutes away from where I live and I can live at home. Coach Hans told me he wanted me to come to Thomas More because he wanted to win a national championship. I knew the program there was very good and of course I knew Sydney Moss, because I had played against her in high school and it had been my dream to play with her.”

Owings said she was shocked when she realized she would be the Saints' starting point guard. “We had a scrimmage early in the season and coach put five people out there and the same five have started ever since,” she said. “I was so surprised. Being a freshman I figured I could give some quality minutes off the bench.

“Being a point guard on any team is a big responsibility,” she added. “It was a great feeling to know I could lead this team to a national championship. Being a point guard you have to be a leader, but our seniors are such great leaders that I let them take that role.

George Fox's full-court press worried Hans so much that he said he prayed Friday night that the Saints would not commit 30 turnovers in the championship game. They committed 24, but Owings prevented countless others. “Breaking the press is one of my strengths,” Owings said. “With the speed I have, it's something I'm good at. I play with my heart. It's something I've always done.”