May 22—Around the middle of last month, Ada girls basketball All-Stater Landyn Owens got a text that made her head spin for about two weeks straight.
Leah Butterbaugh — a fellow Hartford University women’s basketball signee — sent Owens a message and asked her if she had heard about the possibility of their college of choice moving from NCAA Division I to NCAA Division III?
Owens was like, “Say what?”
“I didn’t even know until our other Class of 21 signee (Butterbaugh) texted me,” she said.
Last month, a University of Hartford athletics feasibility study, commissioned by school president Gregory Woodward and conducted by the consulting firm CarrSports, was made public. The study indicated the school would save $9.2 million per year by going from Division I to Division III.
Of course, Owens and Butterbaugh reached out to head coach Morgan Valley about the situation, that was little more than speculation at that point. After all, the Hartford men’s basketball team had just made an appearance in the NCAA Division I basketball tournament.
“We texted our head coach and she was like, it’s just rumors right now. I know just as much as you know,” Owens recalled. “We were like, should we start looking for new colleges or should we not?”
The very next day, Butterbaugh opted out of her National Letter of Intent. Owens stood pat for a bit longer.
Still, she was in shock. Owens had been planning on becoming a Hawk and playing basketball in Connecticut for around 14 months. All of a sudden, those plans came crashing down.
Owens was pretty much a bundle of stress.
“I was so upset for the longest time. I really liked the coach and really liked the school,” she said. I had been planning for this for a whole entire year. It was pretty upsetting. It was not fun. I was very overwhelmed.”
Butterbaugh, with the help of a recruiter, quickly latched on to Presbyterian University in Clinton, South Carolina.
Valley was next to abandon ship. She notified Hartford officials on April 20 that she was leaving to become an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut, her alma mater. It was then Owens realized she wasn’t going to play for the Hawks’ women’s basketball team.
“I tried to take it as a sign when I heard (Hartford) was moving down to Division III but I didn’t want to believe that,” Owens said. “With coach Valley leaving, that was God telling me ‘Hey, this is really a sign.’ We had a really, really strong bond already.”
Owens let interim Hartford coach Melissa Hutchkins know she had decided to opt-out of her NLI.
“I told them I was sorry this all happened and thanked her for everything. She was very understanding,” she said.
What followed was a lot of crying and frustration for Owens. However, Ada head coach Christie Jennings was instrumental in snapping Owens out of her funk.
“At first I didn’t want to reach out to anyone. I just wanted to cry about having to start my whole recruiting process over,” she said. “(Coach Jennings) told me I had to make a choice. She told me I couldn’t just sit there and cry about my coach leaving. She knew I had to do something about it.”
Owens announced via her personal Twitter account that she was leaving Hartford and was a free agent.
She quickly had numerous coaches reach out to her, but none fit the bill of what she was looking for.
“I had some Division IIs, some NAIA and some D-3s talk to me. They were all close to home. That’s not really what I want to do. I want to get out of Oklahoma,” she said.
Meanwhile, Butterbaugh had sent Owens a list of some mid-Major Division I women’s basketball programs she had talked to that were looking for signees. So Owens went to work.
“I did all my research to see who I wanted to reach out to,” she said.
Owens’ final three choices were Furman, Stetson and George Mason.
Stetson — located in sunny DeLand, Florida — finally won the Landyn Owens sweepstakes. After a quickly arranged Zoom call just days into the recruiting process, Owens committed to becoming part of the Hatters’ women’s basketball program.
Owens said that Zoom call involved so much more than Stetson head coach Lynn Bria and her three assistants giving a recruiting pitch.
“They had me go through the whole campus during the call. It was like a virtual visit. All the coaches were there. They made me feel very wanted and welcome,” she said.
The palm trees and giant water fountain on campus were bonuses. And then there’s the obvious weather upgrade from Connecticut to Florida.
Owens can also work on her dream degree of sports broadcasting/journalism at Stetson.
“They are actually partnered with ESPN and they actually have students internship with ESPN and all of our games are on ESPN 2,” Owens said.
It should be noted that Hartford’s board of regents officially voted May 6 to transition the athletic programs from Division I to Division III.
Owens signed a letter of intent with Stetson last week to make it official.
“I’m glad this is the school I found. I think Stetson is just a perfect fit,” she said.
It was the getting there turned out to be the hard part.