SHORELINE — Natalia Owens came to America so she could spend the holidays with family. Almost four years later, she’s still here.
That initial visit turned into a permanent stay due to the Peruvian’s prowess on the volleyball court.
When a sudden scholarship offer from the University of Washington fell through because Owens couldn’t quite meet the English equivalency requirements, the Los Proceres native surfaced at Shoreline Community College.
Known then by her maiden name, Monteverde, the soft-spoken freshman with the thunderous kills guided the Dolphins to their first division title in 2001 and a top-six finish at the NWAACC tournament.
Three weeks after the season ended, Monteverde got married and put her promising volleyball career on hold. Ideas of a potential return were pushed back even further when Owens became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in August 2003.
This fall, the mother, wife and former Northern Region MVP launched her long-awaited comeback. Owens rejoined the Dolphins and showed her skills didn’t dissipate during the two-year absence.
It was just the opposite.
“She’s even better than before,” Shoreline co-coach Mark West said at the start of the season.
Owens smiled at the compliment and passed the credit for her bolstered spikes to her 15-month-old daughter, Andrea.
“They say when a woman has a baby her whole body changes. You can become stronger,” Owens said.
That’s certainly been the case for Owens, who finished league play with a team-high 224 kills and a 35 percent hitting efficiency. She averaged 4.5 kills, 3.5 digs and one block per game.
The 6-foot-1 middle hitter’s imposing presence at the net paced Shoreline to a share of second place in the North behind unbeaten Whatcom and a spot in this week’s NWAACC championships at Mount Hood.
Before the start of the season, Owens accepted an invitation to play for Washington State University next fall. Shoreline has a track record of sending players on to Division I volleyball programs, but Owens is the first to latch on with a school that is a member of a major conference.
“We believe that we are getting so much more than a skilled volleyball player in Natalia,” first-year WSU coach Brian Heffernan said in a release. “She is extremely mature and takes great pride in helping her teammates succeed. Natalia’s offensive skills are very advanced but more importantly, she is passionate about serving, blocking and defending.”
West echoed Heffernan’s sentiments.
“She plays all around,” he said. “She can serve, she can pass, she can play defense. You get the triple doubles. You can get over 10 kills, 10 blocks, 10 digs, 10 aces.
“It’s good to have all those attributes. Most girls will only play frontcourt or backcourt. It’s rare to get a kid who can go all the way around and play all six spots.”
Even rarer are individuals like Owens who manage to juggle so much so smoothly. Taking on a full slate of courses, volleyball, motherhood and marriage sounds burdensome, but Owens makes the balancing act look easy.
Especially in her husband’s eyes.
“I marvel at what she’s capable of doing. I think about it and it makes me tired,” Michael Owens said. “I never (took) 20 credits just being a lazy, full-time student having nothing to do but go to class. She’s doing it all and doing it well.”
The couple wed just six months after meeting on the UW campus. Due to pending immigration issues, their engagement was cut in half.
Several colleges showed interest in Owens, who had a distinguished run with the Peruvian junior national team. But Washington State was the most persistent and supportive of the couple’s living situation.
Natalia plans to earn a master’s in education at WSU and teach at the elementary school level and Michael will also complete his graduate studies in Pullman.
“I said, ‘Wherever you go to school, I’ll follow you,’” Michael recalled.
“Thank God that my husband is pretty understanding,” Owens said. “He helps me a lot. My daughter seems to understand, too. In the mornings I’m in school and the afternoons I’m with her. Then I come to practice.”
It’s a polished routine, but not entirely immune to glitches.
“I wish I had more time to spend with my daughter,” Owens said. “But this is going to help me and help her. Everybody says it will give her a good example.”