Dual-threat athlete leads Yotes volleyball, basketball

Dual-threat athlete leads Yotes volleyball, basketball
CALDWELL - The family atmosphere within the College of Idaho Athletic department is part of the Yotes' winning tradition. One trait of family is sharing - and out at C of I, that includes facilities and players between volleyball and basketball.

Whitney Owen graduated Vallivue High in 2005, fresh off a 4A state girls basketball title. She came to the College of Idaho (where father Mark is the men's basketball coach) but didn't plan sports into her collegiate life.

"I wasn't even going to play basketball, just focus on school, but you are only in college once," she said.

Owen joined the basketball team, and has been part of the group that broke the Yotes out of the middle of the Cascade Conference and up to the top - making a trip to the NAIA national championship tournament last season.

Along the way, Owen was called back to another love - volleyball. Once recruited by C of I coach Liz Mendiola, Owen walked on to the team two years ago just hoping to have fun.

"I thought being out of volleyball, she would need some time to catch up," Mendiola said.

Owen jumped right into arguably the toughest position on the volleyball court: libero. That's the player in the back row (often wearing an opposite jersey color than the rest of the team) responsible for calling out plays and saving kill attempts from the opposition.

"The girls were so welcoming, they gave me a hard time at first - oh, here comes the basketball star," said Owen. "They joked with me, made me feel confortable, not like a newcomer."

Owen doesn't practice with the basketball team while volleyball is in season, and her place and impact on the team the last several years notwithstanding, hopes she won't be thought of as a newcomer once she laces up the basketball shoes again.

"I see them, say hi, you know. But it's really tough, I mean halfway through their season it's gonna be like, 'hey who's this new girl coming in?'" Owen said, laughing.

In the mean time, Owen will likely continue to collect libero of the week awards from the Cascade Conference. She's already won five this season, with a career total of ten.

The Yotes got everyone back from last year's team that made and early exit at the national tournament. They are hungry, and seem to have the right mix of friendship, competitivness and desire to compete for the NAIA national championship this fall.