• January 24, 2022

Former Stanford player Heather Owen’s path back to the Farm after a legal career

Heather Owen. Photo: Stanford Athletics.
Heather Owen. Photo: Stanford Athletics.

STANFORD, Calif. — As No. 4 seed Stanford continues its quest to go deep into the 2016 NCAA tournament as it hosts early rounds at Maples Pavilion, a former power forward that helped take the team to three Final Fours during her time as a student-athlete will be courtside watching the action.

Heather Owen (1994-98), the associate athletic director for development for Stanford Athletics, watched the Cardinal rout San Francisco 85-58 Saturday night during the first round.

She was cheering for Stanford and its head coach Tara VanDerveer but in awe of the coach for the Dons, Jennifer Azzi, a player that helped lead the Cardinal to its first national championship in 1990.

Owen, a native of Moscow, Idaho, found her way back to Stanford in 2008 after leaving a career as a lawyer with stints at DLA Piper, one of the biggest law firms in the country.

Before she went to Santa Clara Law School, she was drafted into the American Basketball League but the organization folded before she could suit up. She did play for two seasons with WNBA’s Washington Mystics before coming back west to Santa Clara.

“I always knew I wanted to go to law school, didn’t know if I wanted to practice law,” said Owen about her short career as an attorney. Logging extended hours for something she did not have a deep passion for led to her decision to change her career path.

“One day I hit a point where I was putting a lot of time in at the law firm and just thought, ‘gosh if you’re going to put that much time into something you’ve got to love it more than I did.’”

“I didn’t hate it,” she continued, “it’s not some horror story, it was just me re-evaluating my life and what mattered.”

She cited Stanford assistant coach Kate Paye, another former Cardinal player and good friend of hers, as someone else who decided to leave the corporate world and enter athletics. Paye completed a joint JD/MBA at Stanford.

As she was figuring out her new direction, Owen met with VanDerveer and former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby.

“How am I going to translate this legal experience back into college sports because I know this is what I want to do,” was the question she was seeking answers for at the time.

The outcome of those meetings was a chance to enter the athletic department as an unpaid marketing intern.

She earned the nickname “the squatter” from Stanford athletics employees and Paye had some advice for her.

“You’ve got to do this as if you’re trying to walk on the team,” said Owen about the counsel she received from her former teammate. “You don’t get a scholarship; you’re not getting any money.”

As she sat across from Paye, Azzi and VanDerveer Saturday night Own said she was inspired. She mentioned a few of the other former players in VanDerveer’s coaching tree as additional inspiration: Charmin Smith (California), Nicole Powell (Oregon) and Milena Flores (Princeton).

“To see the mutual admiration and respect that still exists for Tara and her former players is inspiring and fun,” said Owen. “As those women continue to progress their careers and do great things in coaching they will continue to further that tree.”

Even though she has great pride in that tree, make no mistake about it, she is on Stanford’s side when it comes to game time.

“I mean I love Jennifer, I looked up to Jennifer as a younger player growing up high school watching her lead Stanford’s teams but it was very clear that we needed to win that game.”

She is proud of the way the Cardinal have recovered from an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament earlier this month and their preparation for the NCAAs.

“I think that Stanford is finding its way towards the end of the season. They’re starting to gel. We’ve seen it sporadically throughout the season. I thought the weekend against the Oregons was joyful and the team played with such cohesiveness and unselfishness and really joy is the word that comes to mind. You saw them enjoying the process and enjoying working with one another and being successful. Obviously a bit of a stumble at the Pac-12 tournament. I think they’ve responded really well.”

Stanford faces a team that many think is underseeded in the tournament, No. 12 South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits knocked off No. 5 seed Miami to advance to the second round. Stanford had to prepare for tournament with the burden of studying for and taking final exams but Owen said they handled the extra load well.

“Tara said this, they had a phenomenal week of practices during finals week, that’s a hard thing to manage and I thought they did it beautifully. I think yesterday’s game built upon that and you saw them playing as a unit. You saw different people coming in, adding different things. But for them I think they need to stay aggressive, stay on an edge and continue to play together. And that’s how that team is going to win. They’ve got to execute and stay together.”

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