Coach Sara Sue Olney has implemented a new defensive look for Magdalena for the upcoming season.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain photos

The Magdalena girls basketball team passed out a message at their basketball camp on June 12-13. The Steers are growing up, can play defense, and you better bring your A-game because things will be fierce.

After a 5-1 assault on Monday, Magdalena was a little sluggish the following morning in their  8 a.m. game and trailed 11-8 after the first half of play.

Things turned on a dime following the halftime break, and coach Sara Sue Olney pointed out some of the defensive miscues wthe Steers were committing. A few mistakes here, and they are understandable as the Steers fit into a new look.

“We are trying to find a new defense this year. We pretty much have done it all summer. I knew today, coming on our first game, would be rough. We played six games yesterday and lost one,” Olney said. “I knew we were going to be stagnant, and they have to understand one thing we are going to be good.”

On Monday, the Steers knocked off a district opponent, Cliff, and after a one-and-done trip into the postseason last year, the expectations in Magdalena run much higher now after beating the Cowgirls, who were a deep-run state tournament team.

Kambree Montoya looks for an open player during Magdalena’s basketballl camp.

Like many teams during the summer, the Steers are looking to find their identity, and two days filled with numerous tough games help Olney see the roles for this year’s squad. For the players, it’s a chance to prove themselves under game-pressure situations without worrying about the win-loss record.

“We have to understand that we’re in the mix. We’re one of those teams that’s just as good as anybody else. So, I think sometimes our mentality doesn’t come out like that. When that happens, I was just telling them, I can’t be the one to always pull them out of it,” Olney said.

The slow start on Tuesday resulted in Olney pulling that day’s starters from the court and subbing en masse.

“The girls must figure out who they are and what they can do. Subbing those girls out makes them sit here and think, oh crap, we’re not doing our stuff,” Olney said. “Then they responded, and that’s all I can ask for, especially in the summer. We’re just getting better. Our defense is getting better at learning how to play together. We’ve played some tough games and hung in there, and I think we surprised ourselves.”

Left to stew on the bench, it was a different second half as the Steers shook off their funk and scored more than 30 second-half points.

Yes, the biggest highlight was holding Maxwell’s Bears without a point over the 18-minute half, but the real hidden gem was Magdalena’s willingness to shoot the basketball. That was a problem last year as some players took a wait-and-see approach or passed the ball off when they should have taken a shot.

Is it part of the process of maturity?

“I made it very clear that if we don’t start shooting, we will not win or score,” Olney said. “This summer, I am really trying to accept shots that they put up, even the not-so-great ones, so that they have the confidence to shoot, and yes, I do believe some of it is maturity,” Olney said.

With the problem of getting off more shots figured out, there’s more time to look toward the starting rotation.

“We’re still looking for our eight-to-nine-man rotation. I think we’re slowly getting there. We might have some younger girls step up. We might not – we don’t know yet. I think it’s the first time in a long time that we’ve had so many kids buy-in for all summer. We’ve gone to camps. We still have one more after this. You can see the progress out there,” Olney said.

The Steers have shown improvement in many areas, but still, there’s a standout for their head coach.

“Our biggest improvement is just playing together and buying into our defensive strategy. We’re changing up a little bit, and you can see the girls buying in and getting excited about it,” Olney said.

There’s also a big change for Olney as she lets go of the girls volleyball program.

“I feel like it’ll be easier for me this year due to the fact that I’m not going to be coaching volleyball, and I can put more focus and time into basketball and my strategies and philosophies,” Olney said.

As the camp host, Olney also hopes to give the teams attending a positive experience.

“I hope they enjoyed themselves and that they got better both days! We had to do some shuffling because teams didn’t show up, and everyone was easy-going and willing to do whatever was needed. There was lots of basketball played in the two days being played, and in all – I think it went great,” Olney said.


Much like the boys basketball camp the week prior, the court was filled with former Steers players who are now certified officials. Incoming senior Krae Stephens is also certified to officiate and was calling games during the girls camp.

It offers a unique experience for a player to face some of the adversity seen by referees today.

“The thing I like about it is, it’s a lot easier to understand the ref’s side, and sometimes they won’t always be able to get everything. As a player, I like it because it helps me learn more about basketball,” Stephens said.