Owen makes Gardner-Webb softball decision official with signing

Polk County senior catcher Autumn Owen signed a national letter-of-intent Wednesday to continue her softball career at Gardner-Webb University. Pictured are, front row, from left: Joe Owen (father), Autumn Owen, Emily Owen (mother), Bryson Owen (brother). Back row, from left: Polk County head softball coach Jamie Thompson, PCHS assistant principal Michelle Travieso, head basketball coach Brandy Alm, assistant basketball coach Billy Alm, assistant softball coach Jamie Hrobak and athletic director Rex Wells.

Autumn Owen decided nearly two years ago that she wanted to play college softball at Gardner-Webb.

Though she couldn’t make that decision official until her senior season, Owen knew the college and program felt like the best fit – and never wavered once.

Wednesday, the Wolverine standout finally had the chance to confirm that choice, signing her national letter-of-intent with the Bulldogs during a ceremony in Polk County High School’s media center.

It marked the end of a very long wait.

“It feels relaxing,” Owen said. “It feels good knowing the decision is made and official. I’ve been pretty determined to go there.”

A three-time all-Western Highlands Conference selection, Owen hit .446 last season with seven homers and 19 RBI. She is Polk County’s first Division I softball signee since Tiffany Hensley signed with Appalachian State in 2004.

“She’ll be phenomenal,” said Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson. “She belongs on a big stage. There’s not a stage too big for her. She’s going to have an impact on their program in the right way.

“She brings a lot to the table. She’s the kind of player they can build a program around. I think she’s a huge piece of the puzzle for that program, especially as a catcher.”

Thompson said Owen’s skillset will translate well to the Division I level.

“Hitting, managing the game behind the plate, base running, all the intangibles,” he said. “She understands all the little nuances of the game within the game.”

The Runnin’ Bulldogs, members of the Big South Conference, finished 16-34 last season. The program is led by veteran head coach Tom Cole, who will begin his 18th season at the school this spring.

Owen is ready to help the program turn around its fortunes and enjoy a school and campus that had a Polk County feel to it.

“I like the atmosphere of the place. The area feels like home,” Owen said. “It’s a great program. I’m ready to go kick some butt and take some names.

“I wanted to go to a Division I school, but it had to be the right school for me, and this was it.”