Greg Byrd | El Defensor Chieftain photos


After a rough start to the season, the Magdalena Lady Steers were able to rally back in the second half of the year as they made it all the way to the contenders’ bracket round of the 2021 Rudy’s Real Texas Barbecue 1A State Championships. The ladies went down in an early game on November 13 to Fort Sumner in straight sets 3-0.

“I told our players to just have fun in these games,” head coach Sarah Sue Olney said. “We’re not even supposed to be here, so every game we’re playing with no expectations. So the girls are gonna go out there and just let it fly.”

In order to get to state, Magdalena had to make a trip down to Albuquerque on November 9 for a playoff battle with the higher-ranked Legacy Academy Lady Silverbacks. Magdalena’s student section came out in force, traveling up and taking over a huge section of the stands.

The first set started with both teams trading scores with big strikes and miscues alike. It was clear the coaches had their squads ready to leave it all out on the court with several long volleys. Every player spent time sacrificing their body, diving for the ball. Legacy head coach Brooklyne Sandoval was pushing her players hard, showing similar passion to what Steers coach Olney is known for on the sidelines.

“We have a young team out there fighting right now,” Sandoval said. “We’re just concentrated right now on taking every game point by point. We’ve talked all season to practice excellence on and off the court and as you see how they’re battling early just how special these players are.”

With Magdalena’s student section drowning out the cheers from the home crowd the Lady Steers took the first set 25-20, helped by three straight ace serves by freshman Jorianne Mirabal.

The Lady Silverbacks came out hot in the second set with an early 7-3 lead, forcing Olney to call timeout. The Legacy student section got in the action at this point. It had the two schools’ fans intensely going at each other on every serve. It had Magdalena chanting their standard “M-H-S!” with Legacy countering at the same time “LETS-GO-SILVERBACKS!” The Lady Silverbacks took the set easily 24-11.

In the third set it was Magdalena that came out firing with a quick 15-4 lead and a 25-10 win. The Lady Steers finished things off in four 25-18 with a sweet tip at the net by Mirabal to end the game. A big factor in the game was the hard play from the smallest girl on the floor, 8th grader Elia Cleveland.

“We started off so good tonight,” she said. “Then we shattered all the good play for a bit and our coach told us we had to rebuild our confidence. And that is what we did. Now we’re going back to practice and support one another. We definitely have a shot to win state.”

The Magdalena Steers were escorted by the Sheriff’s department along California street on its way to Albuquerque for their initial playoffs game.

The first round of state began on November 12. The larger schools started at the Rio Rancho Sports Complex, while the Lady Steers were competing at the gym at Rio Rancho Rams high school. The Ramah Lady Mustangs were Magdalena’s first opponent up, a team that lost just one game during the regular season.

The Lady Steers came out and surprised Ramah with a 25-23 first set win thanks to its wall blocking at the net. Deana Larson had to regroup her team as this looked to be a close game.

“There were a lot of nerves, a lot of nerves,” Larson said. “I could see it on their face which is why we lost the first set. We have to learn to relax and play the game that we know we can play. A lot of these girls have never been to state so we just need to make some adjustments.”

Things started off in Magdalena’s favor in the second with a deafening strike by senior Kenzie Silva. It was then that the Lady Mustangs kicked things in gear, scoring a quick five in a row. The set ended 25-16 with Ramah junior Drew Harlow serving up an ace.

Set three had the Lady Steers going up 6-1 in the blink of an eye before Ramah came back with a snap of the fingers to tie it up 6-6. The Lady Steers never gave up. The Lady Mustangs finished the set 25-16 off a set strike by junior McKenzie Jimenez.

The final two sets had Ramah taking over in the packed Rio Rancho gym, winning sets three and four 25-16 and 25-14 respectively. Coach Olney was supportive toward her team in the locker room after the game.

“We came out hot at the start today,” she said. “Then we lost that down the stretch. I just told the group this one is over. Move on. You played hard even if we lost, so just keep fighting.”

Magdalena did defeat the Springer Lady Red Devils during a six o’clock game the same day. A short turnaround to the early game the next morning certainly played a part in the clean sweep against Fort Sumner that ended Magdalena’s 2021 season. The Melrose Lady Buffaloes are the 2021 1A State Champions, defeating the Logan Lady Longhorns in straight sets.

The Lady Steers have a district championship with the season over. The team had a +713 plus/minus rating nationally over the year.

Rebuilding for the team will be the next step as four of its eleven starters are graduating seniors.