WEST MAUI - She's a Maui girl with the kind, soft-spoken presence reminiscent of the warmth and comfort brought in by a gentle trade wind reaching around the head of the island into historic Lahaina. But inside that tanned, fit and diminutive 5'3" frame of Jackie Owens burns a firebrand spirit of success.
It started early for the only child of Dr. Greg and Bernadette Owens, as their daughter, Jackie, began her youth sports career with the West Maui Youth Basketball League with honest aspirations toward the NBA - even garnering an MVP award in her Tiny Mite season at eight years old. But Jackie - already facing the physical facts of her size as she looked eye-to-chest with her teammates - soon began to realize that her hoop dreams were not likely to pan out.
Her athletic parents, tennis enthusiasts, influenced their daughter to the burgeoning youth tennis programs founded by the legendary Shigeto "Shigesh" Wakida here in Lahaina. The torch was thus lit, and under the guidance of Wakida protgs Pat Okada, Mac Pascual and Bushy Makekau, as well as high school coaches Theron Tate and Neil Archer, young Jackie skyrocketed to the top of the Hawaii Pacific Section tennis rankings.
She reigned as the number one-rated player for the Girls 14s, 16s, and 18s Divisions and represented Hawaii at the national level while competing in multiple Junior National events. She maintained her number one ranking in the state throughout those years and in the top 75 nationally.
"I prided myself on the fact that I competed with heart and passion each and every time I stepped out on the tennis court. I love the game and always wanted this love of mine to show during competition," said Owens.
The success on the tennis court continued at Lahainaluna High School, as Jackie became a four-time Maui Interscholastic League girls singles champion and four-time MIL Player of the Year. She led the Lady Lunas to two MIL championships and deep runs into the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournaments where, in the individual girls competition, she won a bronze medal as a sophomore and was the runner-up in the finals her junior and senior years.
She was the Lahainaluna girls MVP for four straight years and was chosen the state winner of the prestigious Wendy's High School Heisman Award in that same year.
Moreover, Jackie excelled academically. To say that she was a scholar athlete would be an understatement. Any student athlete that performs at the championship levels she regularly competed at spends at least four hours a day in practice, leaving maybe two to three hours a night for homework and study to maintain eligibility, and very little time to eat and sleep.
Within this rigorous schedule, this goal-oriented girl earned an astounding 4.5 cumulative grade point average in her four years at Lahainaluna and was the valedictorian of her graduating Class of 2009.
Owens had dreamed of competing at a Division I PAC-12 school, and that vision became a reality as she began her collegiate career at Washington State University. She stayed at Pullman with the Cougars for her freshman and half of her sophomore years, and then transferred to Pepperdine. After a year at the Malibu campus and a championship tennis season with the Waves in which she received academic Presidential Honors, Owens completed her dream and moved over to downtown Los Angeles and the campus of a PAC-12 giant, the University of Southern California.
In her two years at USC, she competed on a NCAA top ten-rated team that won two conference championships and reached one Final Four.
Owens received the USC tennis program's Sportsmanship Award along with the Most Spirited Award this year and recently graduated with a degree in communications while maintaining a 4.0 GPA to earn Summa Cum Laude honors.
She describes her years at USC as one of the best experiences of her life. (To be continued.)