Surf's Up For Payson Teen

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For 17-year-old Britney Owens, a trip to the beaches of Hawaii was a dream come true.

"We hung out on Waikiki, visited Pearl Harbor, snorkeled, went to the Blow Hole, surfed, climbed Diamond Head, ate at luaus, toured the Polynesian Cultural Center and I rode a sea turtle in Shark's Cove," she said.

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Although she's a Rim country mountain girl, Payson's Britney Owens tried her hand at surfing on the north shores of Hawaii.

While all that was a great deal of fun and a rewarding experience for the teen, it was not the reason she was on the island of Oahu for a week.

Owens was there as a part of the Tourney Sport USA program that each year hosts a volleyball tournament to showcase the skills of some of America's best high school players. She learned at the conclusion of the school year that she had been selected to participate in the prestigious tournament. Months earlier, former Lady Longhorn coach Chris Schwind had nominated Owens for the honor.

"I received in my mail a nomination form for the tournament so I chose Britney," she said. "I had to give her statistics, varsity playing history and things like that."

Schwind says she chose Owens, who will be a senior next year, because she was a superb player who is unique at her position of middle hitter."Most middle hitters are tall and bulky, but she is good because of her quickness and she's a good leaper," Schwind said. "Her quick swing makes her very hard to block."

Upon arriving in Honolulu, Owens and the other players invited to participate traveled to the campus of BYU-Hawaii near Turtle Bay where the tournament was held.

Tourney Sport USA officials assigned each of the roughly 125 players to one of 14 tournament teams. Owens was tapped to team known as Hukilau, which is a Hawaiian word for a special type of fishing net.

Along with Owens on Hukilau were athletes representing Montana, South Dakota, Oklahoma and California.

Craig Songester, a coach at a Nebraska high school, coached the team.

"He was a really good coach. He knew a lot about the game," Owens said.

She also suspects she might have been the only Arizona player in the tournament field.

"I heard there was one from Tuba City, but I never saw her," she said.

Living on a college campus for a week with teens she had never met afforded Owens a unique opportunity.

"One of the really great things was I met a lot of new people and made some friends that I might never have known if I didn't go there," Owens said. "Some of them I'll stay in contact with."

During four days of the tournament, the teams battled in two pools of seven teams each.

Hukilau eventually finished third in pool one and went on to post a fifth-place showing in the championship bracket.

The biggest tournament challenge Owens faced was adjusting to her new teammates.

"I could have played better but getting used to other players took some time," she said. "

When you are a middle hitter, it is especially tough with a new setter."

Since Owens has been a Lady Longhorn varsity player, she has relied on the precise setting of teammate Haylee Huff.

Compounding the adjustment problem was the fact the players only had one day of practice before the tournament began.

Owens predicts the experience of playing in the spirited Tourney USA competition could pay dividends for Owens when the 2004 season opens in August.

"I definitely think I improved there and will be a better player next season," Owens said.

In addition to the challenge of playing alongside and against elite athletes, Owens tried her hand at several new athletic endeavors.

"I surfed, or let's say I tried to surf -- it's tough to learn," she said.

She said the mile-plus climb up Diamond Head to where World War II artillery bunkers once protected Oahu as an especially grueling trek.

Most pleasurable for her were the leisurely hours the players spent on the majestic beaches of Waikiki.

"I had a ton of fun there," she said.

Owens is now focusing on the upcoming season which will begin Aug. 9.

"Hawaii was fun, but the important thing now is to have a good senior season," she said.

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