New Austin softball, volleybal coach returns 'home'
It's been awhile — OK, 30 years — but Cindy Owen is home, back coaching and teaching around her old stomping grounds.
"I still have a lot of family around here,'' she said. "It sure feels good to be back in the area.''
Owen is the new softball coach at Austin High School and this fall will assume the same role in volleyball.
And she brings a bucketful of experience with her.
"On and off, I've been coaching for 30 years,'' she said. "Some of the terminology has changed over the years, there's no doubt about that, but the concepts really haven't.
"'I've talked to kids about certain things and they look at me and say 'Huh?' Then I can demonstrate the same thing and they 'Oh, that's right. I get it.' Sometimes it's a matter of communication, but nothing major.''
And there's other little things she pointed out, like bunting technique.
"Back in the day we always squared around to bunt,'' she said, "and now they pivot around. There have been rule changes, too, but again, nothing major.''
Owen (Sloan) graduated from Ellendale Geneva High School and received her bachelor's degree in Education and Special Education from Winona State (1982). She also has a master's degree in Educational Leadership from Southwest State University.
At Southwest Star 24 years
Fresh out of college, she taught at Preston-Fountain and then moved to Southwest Star Concept.
"I was at Southwest Star for 24 years,'' she said, "and coached volleyball at various levels all 24 years. And I coached softball for over three decades.''
Here's where — late spring and early summer — things really turned for Cindy and her husband Ted.
Cindy teaches special education and Ted is a social studies teacher, and Austin had openings for both positions. And it just so happened that the head softball job was open, too (Tina Strauss had resigned after one year).
Then the volleyball job.
"It was time to make a change and we are fortunate that Austin was willing to hire two veteran teachers like us,'' Owen said. "We still have plenty of family around here. My brother lives in Grand Meadow with his family and it'll be fun to watch them. Our two kids are both grown.''
It's been a rough — or should we say unusual — introduction so far for Owen, mainly because of the weather.
"There's just so much you can do indoors,'' she said, "and for a new team, you would like to see what you can do outdoors.''
The Packers finally made it outside late last week, and opened with a doubleheader loss at John Marshall.
In the Elks Invitational last weekend at Todd Park, Austin lost to Simley 4-1 and then beat Dover-Eyota, 9-2 on Friday and on Saturday, the Packers edged Esko 5-4 in nine innings.
Schedule gets busy
And now the games come in hot and heavy. The Packers played a doubleheader Monday against Albert Lea and host Winona today and Mankato West on Thursday.
The same thing next week, with games scheduled on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Which means if you're a pitcher . . .
"There'll be opportunities for everybody,'' she said.
Juniors Abbey Ball and Jessie Smith, sophomore McKenna Gleisner and freshman Jaidyn Bastian will get the majority of the action.
Ball picked up the win over Esko, striking out 16 while Bastian earned the victory over Dover-Eyota.
"We have a lot of games coming up,'' Owen said, "and some of our pitchers will pitch varsity and some on the JV. We'll continue to see how things work out.''
At Southwest Star Concept, which is located in Okabena, Owen really didn't have the luxury of mixing and matching her roster. It was enough to field a team; the enrollment at the school is 116, from ninth to 12th grade.
The enrollment at Austin this year is 979.
"I never really had a lot of position battles before this year,'' she said, "and now we do and I'm looking forward to that.
"That's good for everybody.''