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The Long Road to Recovery: Jade Owens’ Final Year as a Bluejay

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

The Long Road to Recovery: Jade Owens’ Final Year as a Bluejay

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in the January-February 2019 issue of Omaha Magazine ( http://omahamagazine.com/)

Injuries are a part of sports, but Creighton University point guard Jade Owens has weathered more than her fair share. After two years spent recapturing the health and athleticism she once took for granted, she’s returned to play for her senior season.

Owens earned a supporting role as a freshman before working her way into the starting rotation her sophomore year (2015-16). She averaged 7 points, 3.5 assists, and 1 steal per game and won admiration for her scrap and hustle. Things were panning out just as expected for the former all-state basketball player from the Chicago suburb of Fenwick.

Then, the summer before her junior campaign, just as she was coming into her own as a Division I player, she suffered the first in a series of major injuries requiring surgery. She was forced to sit out the 2016-17 season. Setbacks caused her to miss 2017-18 as well.

The promise of what might have been lingers. Her father, Ron Owens (who first taught her the game), says the persistent injuries have been “heartbreaking.”

After three separate six-month-long rehab sessions, she put the heartbreak and physical aches behind her to play in the Bluejays’ preseason exhibition (a closed scrimmage). She returned to the court for Creighton’s regular season home opener versus South Dakota on Nov. 7. The game was her first since March 2016.

“It’s been a road,” Owens says of her journey to recovery.

“Everyone always tells you, ‘You’re going to lose basketball one day,’ but you never think that’s going to happen. I lost it, and I’ve had to re-identify how I was on the team, how I fit in with everyone,” she says. “You don’t know how much basketball shapes your life until you lose it. All aspects of my life—different relationships, friendships, school—were affected by it. Just learning to adapt and to come back from things has been a huge life lesson for me.”

Coach Jim Flanery witnessed Owens fighting for 24 months to reclaim the sport that once defined her. “That’s a long time,” he says. Twice she got close to returning before being sidelined again.

“It’s like you get to a point where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then it gets darker again,” Flanery says.

He describes Owens’ ability to stay hungry and strong enough to withstand “the frustration and disappointment” as a case study in perseverance.

“I just hope I can stay healthy—that’s No. 1—and contribute any way I can,” Owens says. “I know it’s not going to be the same as when I played before. I have to keep that realistic vision and take one day at a time.”

 

She’s learned to lean on her teammates over the years. “They’ve definitely been my rocks,” she says. “They’ve been there for me through it all—through the tears and the laughter. I don’t know if I could have come back without them.”

Her parents have been there, too. “They’ve been behind me the entire time,” she says. Her folks supported her when she considered quitting and when she decided to try coming back even after one failed attempt.

Her father isn’t surprised by Owens’ grit and determination in enduring the grueling physical therapy necessary to recover her mobility and strength.

“I take my hat off to her for sticking it out this long, but I’m not surprised she did the work,” he says. “She just puts her mind to something, and she makes it happen. She’s always been like that. She does whatever it takes to get whatever her goal is.”

He saw her overcome an ankle injury her senior year in high school that resulted in surgery and rehab. That was hard enough, but nothing compared to the last two years. Owens herself still can’t believe she’s on the court again dishing, dancing, and driving after not being able to do much of anything.

“It’s really amazing to me after everything I’ve been through,” she says. “It’s just crazy for me to even think about.”

Then there’s the way she has defied medical opinion.

“Some doctors told me, ‘We don’t know if you can [play basketball] anymore.’ I’ve been hearing that for a long time,” she says.

Her road to recovery began when she noticed pain in her upper thigh during a pickup game on the eve of her junior year. It was treated as a groin problem. Surgery in Omaha didn’t relieve the issue. Then she went home to be examined by a Chicago orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Domb, who found the real problem—a right labrum tear. He repaired it. Following six months of recovery, she was no sooner cleared to suit up again when the labrum popped out and she suffered a fracture during her first practice back. Then, this past summer, she suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee that meant another procedure—her third surgery in less than two years—and another arduous recovery regimen.

Fellow CU senior Audrey Faber and junior Olivia Elger marvel at what their teammate has endured.

“I can’t even imagine the long months, days, hours she’s gone through,” Faber says. “Everyone’s excited to have her back. She knows the game, and we have a lot of trust in her.”

Elger says the resilience and mindset Owens has shown “should be a lesson to anyone” dealing with adversity.

That fortitude has not only impressed teammates and coaches, but also Owens’ twin sister, brother, and parents.

“She’s been an inspiration to the family,” her father says.

She is just glad to be back on the court; however, her experiences have done more than nurture athletic recovery. They have inspired a possible career interest. She is applying to medical school (at Creighton and other universities), and she hopes to study orthopedics. She’s even aiming for an internship with her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Domb.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, and I know the lingo,” Owens says. “I think I have some insight into sports medicine and what it’s like dealing with injuries.”

Visit gocreighton.com for more information.

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What if Creighton’s hoops destiny team is not the men, but the women?

February 8, 2017 1 comment

What if Creighton’s hoops destiny team is not the men, but the women?

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Wouldn’t it be weird if the local college hoops team of destiny this year wasn’t the men’s squad as we all assumed through mid-January, but in fact their female counterparts on campus? Maybe, just maybe, we got this narrative wrong. No worry, there’s still time to jump on the bandwagon and rewrite history. Sound crazy? Not so fast. The Bluejay men are not the same since losing Maurice Watson and even though the Jays are still a quaity team and even still control their own fate, each loss from here on out during the remainder of the regular season and on through the Big East tournament will only further hurt their standing in the eyes of the national pollsters and NCAA selection committee. Unless CU can play very strong the rest of the way, its once realistic if not probable shot at a No. 2 seeding will be long gone and the Jays could very well end up in their customary No. 8 or 9 spot. The once 17-0 Jays have come back down to earth and are not 3-4 in their last seven games. More importantly. they are now exceedingly fragile bunch mentally speaking. Meanwhile, the women’s team, which traditionally gets off to slow starts, once again struggled mightly early in the year, opening at 1-3. They entered the 2016-2017 campaign with a deep, talented and experienced roster, but injuries hurt them early on. Since getting healthier and adjusting to the loss of one of their own top players, they have gelled to go 16-3. The team gets steady contributions from nine, even ten players. At 17-6 and 11-2 the Lady Jays sit just outside the Top 25 and are poised to enter the Big East Tournament in great shape and further enhance their chances for a decent NCAA seed that could help them advance to the second weekend of March Madness. Steady at the helm is veteran head coach Jim Flanery, who has established himself as one of the state’s better college hoops coaches, men’s or women’s side, in the last quarter century. He seems to get the most ouf of his players year in and year out.

 

Bluejays Bytes Podcast: Episode 15, Sponsored by Lawlor’s Custom Sportswear

 

 

The great thing about the CU women’s program is that it’s heavily built on Midwest student-athletes. Almost all the players come from within an 8-hour driving radius. There are three Nebraska kids on the roster and the rest come from Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. The lone outlier is from Oklahoma. The Jays doesn’t do any one thing particularly well but they do most everything pretty well and their balance and depth is hard for other teams to match even though CU is often overmatched athletically at certain spots. Being fundamentally sound and hard-nosed can make up for a lot of deficiencies, especially against teams that are about even in terms of overall talent. I’m not saying the Hilltop women’s team will go farther than the men’s team, but they do have the advantage of being on a roll that is weeks long in process and showing no signs of slowing down whereas the guys are still in herky jerk mode trying to adapt to the loss of their indisputable leader on and off the court. Even though his career was prematurely cut short and he only played one and a half seasons in a CU uniform, Watson will go down as one of the school’s all-time top talents in the same category as Silas, Portman, Harmon, Apke, Johnson, McKenna, Benjamin, Gallagher, Harstad, Buford, Sears, Walker, Korver, Tolliver, Funk, McDermott. The same is true of Justin Patton, who may be off to the NBA as soon as next year, and Khryi Thomas, who before all is said and done may be the best of the lot. Marcus Foster has the potential to be in this conversation, too, but he needs to be better than he has been since Watson went out or else he will be remembered as no more than a pretty good scorer and super athlete but certainly not a great or even a difference-maker of a player. I mention all this because by contrast the Creighton women don’t have any one player who can be considered a certifiable star compared to all-time program greats like Halligan, Gradoville, Yori, Nenman, Janis. They are all about team and the whole being greater than the parts. Audrey Faber, Marissa Janning, Brianna Rollerson, Sydney Lamberty. Jaylyn Agnew. Laura Works and Baily Norby are the interchangable heart and soul cogs of the team and have had to be since M.C. McGrory was lost for the season after only nine games. Because the Lady Jays lost one of their best players so early compared to the men losing their best player mid-season the women have had the advantage of more time adjusting to her absence and they’ve compensated well enough that they’re in contention for the Big East title and a nice NCAA tourney seeding.

 

Creighton locks down Villanova in the second half to remain unbeaten at D.J. Sokol Arena

 

 

To be fair, the women losing McGrory was not nearly the blow the men endured when Watson went down, but what the Lady Jays have done since is not only comendable but darn impressive. And coach Jim Flanery deserves much credit for the job he’s done in taking over for school legend Connie Yori and turning out competitive teams year after year with less than eye-popping talent. What he’s done compares favorably with what CU volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth – reigning National Coach of the Year – has done. Bernthal Booth led CU to the Elite Eight this past season and I would love to see Flanery get his hoops program there one of these years. It would be a long shot, for sure, but, hey, it was a longshot for the volleyball team to get there, too. But they did it. Maybe this is the year he makes it happen. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the women’s basketball team does it the same season the volleyball team did? Why stop there? How about both the men’s and women’s teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen? Neither program has ever done it. Why not this year? Why not do it when both team

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