Jan. 16, 2013
Mary Owen is among the finest players ever to don the Maroon and Gold, and that claim was solidified with her selection into the inaugural class of the University of Minnesota Women's Softball Hall of Fame in 1986. She was later named to the Minnesota State Softball Hall of Fame, as well. Owen played for the Gophers during the first decade of the program's existence as a varsity sport, and she helped Minnesota enjoy great success, with a pair of appearances at the AIAW-ASA National Softball Championships -- the predecessor to the current NCAA Women's College World Series.
After graduating, she played professional softball with the Mount Vernon (NY) Explorers and was named 1979 Rookie of the Year. In amateur softball, Owen garnered All-America honors in 1981 and earned a spot on the United States team that competed in the Tri-Nation Championship against Japan and China.
An honor student as an undergraduate, Owen continued her education at the University's School of Dentistry, earning a DDS degree and a master's degree in Oral Health Services for Older Adults.
Tell us about your career following graduation...
"I graduated from the School of Dentistry in 1986, then I did a residency in 1987, took about five years of private practice, and then went back to get a master's in dentistry. That was a two-year full-time commitment, but it took me a bit longer, and then I started working part-time as a faculty member during that, and then joined the faculty full-time."
The 1978 season must have been an amazing experience. Talk about that team...
"For sure, our highlight was 1978, with a third-place finish at the (AIAW) College World Series. That season started with a spring trip to Texas. We took a bus, instead of driving ourselves like most college students were doing for Spring Break, and we faced some really tough competition that week. Among the teams we faced was Texas Woman's University, which had Kathy Arendsen, who was probably the top pitcher in the country. We didn't beat them, but we were competitive with them, and I think that just kind of set the tone for the whole season."
"To get to the World Series, we had to qualify through regionals, which we were fortunate to do. At the World Series, I remember that our first game was against Cal Poly Pomona, which had another top pitcher in Barb Reinalda. She and Arendsen both went on to pitch for the Raybestos Brakettes, which was always the favorite at the ASA Nationals in the summer. So, we faced Pomona in the first round and were able to win (2-1) in extra innings, which put us in the winner's bracket. (The Gophers followed with wins against Southern Illinois and Northern Colorado). We then had a big game with UCLA (in the Winner's Bracket Third Round). We were the two remaining undefeated teams, and there were some storms that day, so we were playing late at night and we wound up losing in extra innings. That was a game that we definitely could have won, but didn't, and then we ended up losing in our final game and finished third. We had set goals at the beginning of the season, and one of them was to finish among the top five in the nation, so that was a big accomplishment for sure."
Was there a turning point where you and your teammates realized you had what it takes to compete at the national level?
"As a sophomore (in 1977), we lost to Southwest Missouri at the regional tournament. But instead of coming right home, coach (Linda) Wells had us stay around and watch some of the other teams play, and I think that was the first time that we kind of realized that we could compete even though we were from Minnesota. We didn't feel that we would have been overmatched by any team, and that helped lay the groundwork for the following year (1978)."
What do you consider to be your favorite memory from your playing days?
"My favorite memory from my playing career took place at the World Series. We were playing Southern Illinois, and I hit a ball in the gap, and coach Wells waved me home and was yelling, `You gotta hurry! You gotta hurry!' and the catcher had the ball when I was closing in on home plate, but I was kind of able to give her a head fake and jump over her to touch the plate and the umpire called me safe. So, that's my favorite memory, hitting a home run at the College World Series. That whole season was just magical."
Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?
"I still try to get together with teammates as often as I can. Sometimes it's for great things like Hall of Fame inductions, and unfortunately, sometimes it's for funerals, too. We lost (former Gopher) Deb Juberian this past year, and there were quite a few of us who showed up at her memorial service, including coach Wells. It was quite a tribute, and the fact that so many were there shows what we had together. I didn't play when she did, but you still felt like she was part of our team. Once you go through it, everybody is part of the team."
What does it mean to you to have been part of the Golden Gopher softball program?
"I think the most striking thing was such a dream come true to be able to wear the Gopher uniform, to be able to compete for the school, and to have a team that was willing to put so much effort into it. To wrap up your eligibility was such a sad day, to think that you couldn't play again. Even though we didn't get the travel and all the experiences they enjoy now, I don't regret having played when I did. We were so hungry for success, and to finish third at the World Series with pretty much homegrown talent from the Upper Midwest, I wouldn't trade that for anything."