Gaston & Catawba

Senior forward steps up to be team leader

Forward McKenzie Owen is a fairly shy, quiet, mild-mannered young lady – off the court, said Belmont Abbey women’s basketball coach Jason Williams.

On the court, Owen becomes an intense, passionate and energetic leader who will do whatever it takes to help her team be successful, he said.

Through the Crusaders’ first seven games (the team was 5-2 headed into the Dec. 13 game against North Greenville) Owen led the team and Conference Carolinas in scoring with 18.3 points per game.

She ranked second in the conference in field goal percentage (54.6 percent) and sixth in free-throw percentage (81.5 percent) and was second on the team in rebounds (6.1 per game).

Success isn’t new for Owen. As a junior, she averaged 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and was a first-team all-conference selection, helping Belmont Abbey to a 22-9 record and an advancement to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament.

“I think last season was huge for us,” said Owen, a Burlington native. “We believed we could have that kind of success, but to be able to prove to ourselves that it was possible was big for our confidence.”

Last season was one thing, but three starters graduated from the squad, leaving Owen and junior guard Morgan Midkiff as the only returning starters. Williams credits Owen for embracing the role of a team leader for the 2014-15 team.

“She’s a much better leader than people give her credit for,” Williams said. “McKenzie leads every day, she brings high energy to the court and the other players feed off that.”

Williams also said that Owen has worked particularly hard and improved on two aspects of her game. One is becoming more versatile on offense – Owen was mostly a post-up player who scored when she would get the ball with her back to the basket. Now she can face her opponent and hit mid-range jump shots.

And on defense, Williams said, Owen has made huge strides, especially in taking charges, where she averages taking about six per game, giving her team extra possessions.

There’s also a consistency to Owen’s game – she has scored in double figures in all seven of the Crusaders’ games so far and had a streak of 21 straight games in double figures last season that was broken only in the team’s final game in the NCAA Division II regional.

While Owen appreciates her statistics, she deflects talk about them quickly and says that team, not herself, is the most important thing.

“I couldn’t care less what my numbers are,” Owen said. “When I’m on the court, all that’s important to me is how I can help the team. If we’re not successful, anything I do isn’t that important.”