North Allegheny graduate Ayden Owens lands in Arkansas with record splash

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Saturday February 19, 2022 | 11:01 a.m.


Ayden Owens felt the Southern California sun and Ann Arbor, Michigan cold during her first three years of college. These days, you’ll find the former North Allegheny star breaking track and field records in the south in Fayetteville, Ark.

He knows this may surprise some.

“I’ve been on a crazy journey,” Owens said, “but I’m finally in a place where I feel good and excel.”

Now a graduate student from Arkansas with sophomore eligibility, Owens broke the school heptathlon record with a personal best in his first attempt with his new team, scoring 6,272 points last month at the Razorback Invitational. indoors. His score also earned him the Puerto Rican national record and ranks as the second highest in NCAA history.

“I felt like it was a long time coming,” Owens said. “I felt like I was able to put in big grades like this for a good couple of years, but I was just waiting for that maturity – physical and mental maturity – to really put it out there. It really opens up the leads to bigger point totals in the future.

The seven events of the heptathlon are the 60 and 1,000 meter races, the long jump, the high jump, the shot put, the pole vault and the 60 meter hurdles. His previous record was 5,995, but Owens’ expectations are much higher.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “on my goal sheet on my wall I had: ‘Scored 6,300 points in my first game of the season.’ ”

After graduating from North Allegheny with a collection of WPIAL and PIAA gold, Owens spent the 2019 track season in Southern Cal, where he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He was later transferred to Michigan but saw the 2020 season canceled during the pandemic.

At Michigan last spring, Owens was named the Big 10 Field Athlete of the Year. He finished third in the heptathlon at the NCAA indoor championship and second in the decathlon in the outdoor season.

However, the Michigan coach left last summer for LSU, so Owens started looking elsewhere. He completed his undergraduate degree in three years with the help of summer school, so Owens enrolled in Arkansas in August to pursue a master’s degree in entrepreneurship.

Owens considered following coach Jerry Clayton to LSU but was lured to Arkansas instead.

“I was torn. It was about 50-50,” said Owens, who visited both SEC schools. ” I did not know what to do. Was I rolling the dice and going with a new coach or staying with the old one? In the end, coach (Travis) Geopfert came back to Arkansas and he kind of won me over.

Geopfert, previously an assistant at Tennessee, had tried to recruit Owens there two years earlier. Geopfert’s coaching resume includes multiple Olympians, a feat Owens intends to add to his own one day.

“He was one of the coaches I knew I wanted to check out,” Owens said. “His resume speaks for itself with the athletes he has coached in the past. He was a big reason, but so was all the staff. Our physical trainer is a former decathlete. Our sports administrator, Terry Prentice, is a former decathlete. It’s as if everyone here is not only interested in the track, but also in the decathlon, the event that I do.

“The commitment to athletics was unparalleled compared to Michigan, USC, or any other school I had seen or visited. I guess that’s why it’s the best program in history of the NCAA.

Arkansas has won 11 NCAA men’s tag team championships over the past 30 years, including eight in a row from 1992 to 1999. The Razorbacks were NCAA runners-up in 2015 and 2016.

After crossing the country and back, Owens sees Arkansas as a place to put down roots for a few years while finishing college and pursuing an NCAA title.

He will attempt a heptathlon title at the indoor championships before moving on to the outdoor decathlon.

“I couldn’t feel more comfortable here,” Owens said. “It’s the culture of the program. There’s 10 or 15 pros training here, so I’m surrounded by people I haven’t been exposed to at my previous schools – around Olympians, around world record holder Ryan Crouser ( shot put), around guys doing it at a level that I’m trying to get to.

Chris Harlan is an editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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