By JOHN WYATT – SPORTS SECTION EDITOR
Even before the season opener for Men’s Track and Field, the Centre College’s Track and Field/Cross Country teams already had a good year. The Men’s and Women’s Track and Field coach, Lisa Owens, attended the 2014 Kentucky Track and Cross Country Coaches Association (KTCCCA) awards. At the ceremony, Owens was awarded College Coach of the Year for both Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, as well as Women’s Track and Field, winning three out of the four possible awards for Centre’s category.
While it is the first time in her career that Owens won three separate KTCCCA Coach of the Year awards, it was not the first time KTCCCA honored her. Owens received Coach of the Year awards for Women’s Track and Field in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, as well as Men’s Track and Field in 2010, and Women’s Cross Country in 2011.
The awards come after several successful seasons for the Colonels. Men’s and Women’s Cross Country were the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) champions in 2014, marking the Men’s team’s third consecutive championship and the Women’s team’s fourth. Women’s Track and Field also finished second in the SAA.
Owens’ success comes from a long history of working with Centre College Track and Cross Country teams for the past 18 years.
“Right after college, I got an assistant job here which snowballed to head coaching jobs on both sides eventually,” Owens said. “I have spent my whole working career here at Centre.”
While her success as of late is apparent, things did not always go so smoothly.
“The early years were pretty rough,” Owens said. “However, within the first six years of working here, we had teams knocking on the doors of nationals and have gone to nationals just about every year since.”
Owens believes her competitive nature helped her excel during her early struggles as a coach.
“I have always been exceptionally competitive with myself, and as a coach, I am still competitively minded,” Owens said. “The competitiveness has never left me, so when I bring athletes in here I want them to grow and become better than they were and I want them to compete with the best of our division. I have been very blessed to bring in athletes who have been talented and hardworking and self-motivated.”
Owens attributes her success to both her competitive nature as an individual and her recruiting style as a coach.
“It is the type of student that I recruit that makes me look good. Our teams have gotten to a certain competitive level, and we do not want to go back the opposite way. A lot of Division III schools can give a student a good academic experience, but a majority of those schools cannot give an athlete a good athletic experience, but at Centre you can do both. I bring in the right student athlete that has talent and also has the right academic mindset to excel at Centre as well,” Owens said.
“The coach gets the credit, sure, but it is the athletes I have and the relationship I have with them.”
Owens selective recruiting leads to a positive team atmosphere, another aspect of her coaching that built up to her awards.
“At Centre, we are a pretty big family. We support each other a lot and we have a very close-knit group. This makes everyone want to do better and push their teammates harder,” Owens said.
This sense of family is vibrantly present among the athletes.
“Thinking of the team as a family is something that Coach Owens loves to talk about and always seems to accomplish,” junior runner Cammie Jo Bolin said.
“She encourages us to stick up for each other in all sorts of situations which has contributed to this dedicated and fun atmosphere,” Bolin said.
As a head coach for two sports programs, one of the most notable obstacles that Owens faces is recruiting.
“If you had to break coaching up in percentages, actual coaching is not the biggest percentage. Recruiting and getting the talent into the program to get it to thrive is the most important thing,” Owens said.
“Finances have to work out in order to be at Centre. That is the biggest battle as a coach, the recruiting. Some years it works out, and sometimes it does not. It is important for me that our students are able to do everything from study abroad to be in the drama department if they want to.”
This dedication to a holistic college experience is not just fancy PR talk every DI coach spouts off in interviews. It is something Owens directly emphasizes to her athletes.
“Coach Owens is fiercely competitive … [but] as much as she wants to win, however, she always emphasizes academics comes first. She cares about not only how we perform on the track or in the field, but also how we are doing in the classroom and just in our everyday lives,” Bolin said.
While Owens certainly has the success and credentials to move on to bigger and better jobs, she has no desire to move anywhere else in the near future.
“A lot of recruits’ parents ask me this question. Typically, a successful coach will not stay in the same place for 18 years,” Owens said.
“I’m always honest in saying I do not see myself anywhere but at Centre. I am a working mother of two young children. This placed has nursed me through being able to be a mother and a coach. Coaching is very male dominated, and a lot of young woman coaches once they start having families will get out of the field.”
“But this place from day one let me know that they did not want me to do that. They wanted to help me be successful at both. Why would I leave a place that has been very invested in me?”
As the two teams’ seasons begin to unfold over the spring, Owens and her athletes will look to make another strong case for why Owens deserves the title “Coach of the Year.”