PORTSMOUTH — Pursuing any line of work in a dream field, if one truly puts the effort in, is never easy.
However, at the end of the day, it’s always worth it.
Thomas More graduate and Shawnee State assistant women’s basketball coach Abby Owings, who won two NCAA Division III National Championships with the former as an undergraduate, was named as a Third-Team D3Hoops.com All-Decade selection by the outlet for her play as the floor general for TMU’s championship runs.
She has since brought her expertise as a player to Morehead State and Shawnee State, helping the latter win its fifth Mid-South Conference championship in six seasons — all while continuing to share the same joy that she displayed as one of the elite NCAA Division III basketball talents in the landscape.
“It means the world to me,” Owings said. “To know that I stand among the best players in the last decade is a pretty cool feeling. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve a great accomplishment like this if it weren’t for my coaches and teammates. This award really is a team award more so than an individual. I couldn’t have done this without them.”
Small in stature, Owings more than made up for her lack of height (5-2) with a relentless work ethic and an exceptional basketball IQ.
Those qualities were evident at Simon Kenton High School in Independence, Ky.
While there, Owings led the team in scoring during her sophomore (13.8), junior (12.9) and senior (16.9) seasons, leading the Pioneers to a 94-32 record over her four high school campaigns.
She knocked down 163 three-pointers over her final three seasons of play — leading the team in three-pointers made in her junior and senior seasons.
With Simon Kenton, Owings had the opportunity to play under former Northern Kentucky great Jeff Stowers, who remains the Pioneers’ head coach to this day.
Stowers, a 1999 NKU Hall of Famer who scored 1,410 career points for the Norse, saw Owings’ potential as a player who lived and breathed the game — and therefore pushed Owings to become the best version of herself.
“My Simon Kenton days were tough, but fun,” Owings said. “I started to develop my true identity in basketball through playing at SK. (Jeff) Stowers was really tough on me to be the best player that I could be, and I’m so thankful for that because when I walked in the doors at Thomas More as a freshman, I realized that he had mentally prepared me to be one of the best point guards at the Division III level. It didn’t make sense to me, as a 14 to 18-year old, why he was so hard on me, but I realized that he was preparing me for something bigger than I could’ve ever imagined.”
That was certainly the case at Thomas More, where Owings — along with Florida transfer Sydney Moss, Madison Temple and others — led the Saints to unprecedented success, going 33-0 in back-to-back seasons in Owings’ freshman and sophomore years while claiming two consecutive national championships.
When Moss graduated following the 2015-16 campaign, Owings kept the success flowing — leading TMU to a 58-3 record while guiding the program to a third Final Four appearance.
“That was a journey that I’ll never forget,” Owings said. “People ask me all the time what my favorite part about playing at Thomas More was, and honestly, it was the relationship piece. It’s crazy how many people you meet through this game. There are people who have an immediate impact on your life forever. Us millennials have a tendency to get wrapped up in our own selves, and immediately, when I got to college, I learned about sacrificing for others and being held accountable. My teammates and I spent a lot of extra time in the gym working on our craft.”
That’s because on the court, Owings was playing for much more than the game itself.
In addition to her teammates and the coaching staff, the guard had to deal with two severe losses of life that would be tough on anybody — much less a college student-athlete trying to pursue national championship excellence and the game of basketball beyond college in some form.
Owings’ mother, Lynette, died at the age of 46 just prior to the beginning of Owings’ sophomore season after battling cancer.
Her grandfather on her mother’s side of the family, Clarence, passed away two years later during the middle of Owings’ senior year.
In her mother’s case especially, Owings knew that continuing to play basketball was the right thing to do — for her own personal self and for her mother.
After all, as her mother’s obituary said, “her greatest joy was watching her daughter, Abby, play basketball.”
“My mom (Lynette) was battling cancer at the time,” Owings said. “No one really understood why I spent so much time in the gym away from her beside the people in our own locker room. Championships are won through sacrifice and accountability, and my teammates and I get to be crowned winners for the rest of our lives because of our commitment to one another. I know my mom is proud.”
Despite the trying moments during her college career, Owings pushed on.
She finished her college career with a third NCAA Division III Final Four appearance and led Thomas More to 124 wins over the course of her four-year career.
To this date, Owings still sits first all-time in program history in three-pointers made (264), second all-time in scoring (1,789 points), and third all-time in field goals made (639) and assists (434).
Following that stellar career, Owings moved on to Morehead State as a graduate assistant before making the move to Shawnee State for the 2019-20 season.
She has learned under another strong basketball mind in Jeff Nickel — himself a success with 195 wins against 51 losses during his own coaching career.
Owings’ tireless work ethic meshed well with the current staff in place, and her energy and relentlessness in studying and breaking down game film — along with her knowledge as a point guard from her playing days — allowed Shawnee State to return to the mountaintop of all Mid-South Conference basketball programs.
SSU went 12-4 against ranked or receiving votes competition en route to a 29-4 record — and the program’s fifth MSC Tournament Championship in six seasons.
“My favorite memory this season was spending the week in Bowling Green at the MSC Tourney,” Owings said. “We battled for three straight games and were crowned the champs. With COVID-19, the season got cut short, but our message to the team was that they got to end their season on a high note. That’s not something that many people get to do.”
As with her time at Thomas More, it’s the memories and relationships that Owings formed with the members of the program that will be what she soon won’t forget.
“Those players are incredible people,” Owings said. “The respect that they showed me early on made my job pretty easy. They’re winners and they’re go-getters. That’s why they have all of the success that they do, because they believe in themselves and each other. It’s funny because as a coach, your job is to teach them. I believe that I did that, but they don’t realize how much that they taught me. Winning the MSC Championship was a by-product of what kind of people they are on and off the floor.”
With her journey in the game of basketball continuing, Owings is looking forward to growing on those memories as she begins to develop upcoming minds and talents in the sport.
“It’s given me the opportunity to pursue my dreams as a player and as a coach,” Owings said. “From the national titles to the relationships that I’ve made with the players I’ve coached and everything in between, words can’t describe what this game has done for me.”
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