Ex-Warrior Ashley Owens has returned to the North Coast and is killing it for the Lumberjacks

2010 Del Norte High graduate Ashley Owen seems to have finally found her college home.

Owen was a three-year letter winner at Del Norte and earned a White Star as a junior and an honorable mention White Star as a senior for the Warriors volleyball team. Del Norte won Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 league titles all three years Owen played varsity.

Since high school, the 6-foot-3 outside hitter played a year of volleyball at American River College in Sacramento. Owen earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman for the Beavers and caught the eye of Division I Indiana State.

Owen spent a season playing in the Mississippi Valley Conference, appearing in 11 matches with two starts for the Sycamores. She recorded 27 kills on 101 attack attempts to go along with 10 digs and 12 blocks.

"I went to American River because I wanted to play volleyball again," Owen said. "I got recruited to Indiana State from there and I learned a lot in Indiana, but I just really wanted to be closer to home."

Owen grew up in Gasquet, but while in college her family moved to McKinleyville. That made Humboldt State the perfect spot for Owen's college career to continue.

"I love it out here," she said. "Humboldt is an awesome place. It is small, low-key and really pretty. I like it a lot."

Owen had to redshirt the 2012 season, and Humboldt State struggled to a three-win season. As a redshirt junior, Owen and the Lumberjacks had to mesh with a new coach, Kelly Wood, and almost a completely new cast of players.

"It was a rebuilding year," Owen said. "We had 13 new girls come in, and we only had one or two returners that actually played on the team last year. It was a lot of fresh new faces."

As a junior with two years of experience, Owen became one of the leaders on the team.

"In the preseason and the first half of conference, we were really relying heavily on her and (sophomore teammate) Kaitlyn Dunaway," Wood said. "She was one of our two go-to players and she was very hard to stop. She was leading us almost every night in kills.

"In the second half of the conference season, teams started preparing for her more because they were aware of her. Other girls on the team started stepping up, but she was still successful even as teams keyed on trying to stop her."

Owen finished the season as just the sixth player in Humboldt State history to reach 400 kills in a season. She ended the year with 416 kills to put her fourth in the school record books for kills in a season.

"I have gotten a lot stronger and I have a lot more court sense now," Owen said, comparing herself to her high school days. "I have gotten a lot of experience playing against good teams and good players that has helped me grow."

That growth was evident to Wood, who remembered Owen from her freshman season at American River College. Wood had coached against her with Santa Rosa Junior College.

"She has come a long way since then, I can tell you that," Wood said. "She is a really hard-working kid. She is obviously very tall, but she doesn't just rely on being bigger than everybody, she really works hard in every aspect. She works hard on her strength training in the weight room and she works really hard in the classroom. She loves to play volleyball and she is passionate about the game."

Owen, a pre-physical therapy major, has one season of eligibility remaining. Humboldt State ended the season with a 12-17 overall record, four times as many wins as in 2012. The Lumberjacks are excited to see what they can accomplish with all but one player returning next year.

"Our hopes are very, very high for next season and Ashley is going to be a big part of that I am sure," Wood said. "We did refer to this season as a rebuilding season, but we feel like we laid a good solid foundation for the future of the program."

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.