Olney signs with New Mexico Highlands

Magdalena's Owen Olney has signed to play basketball with New Mexico Highlands University for the upcoming season. 

After a 30-1 season that saw the Magdalena boys basketball team make it to another state championship, the long-running and prolific Steers program is sending another student-athlete to the collegiate ranks.

Owen Olney, who averaged more than 16 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists per game in 2019-2020, will play for New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 2020-2021.

Olney, who previously played for Rio Rancho High School and transferred back to Magdalena this past season, came home to help the Steers complete a near perfect season. The Steers went 30-0 in the regular season before falling to four-time Class 2A champions Pecos in the state final.

“It was just so special this year, being back where I was born and raised,” Olney said.

The soon-to-be freshman at NMHU was literally born in the Village of Magdalena, and not a hospital. He and his family have strong ties to Steers coach Jory Mirabal, as well as the community.

“That’s what I want people to understand. This is essentially my home, and the people from here, they’re my family,” Olney said. “The team that I came back to was everyone I remembered. It was so comfortable playing with them again. Having that special of a season, going undefeated all the way until the championship, and even not winning the championship it was still just so special to make it there with that team. It was such a special season this year.”

Olney comes from a strong pedigree of basketball players. His mother Sara played at Weber State and coached at Western New Mexico University as well as Magdalena, while his uncle Royce was a star player at the University of New Mexico in the 1990’s.

Owen said he always knew he was going to be a baller.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved basketball. Just holding the ball, it’s just a special feeling I don’t get in many other sports,” he said. “I always knew that basketball was going to be a part of my future. I didn’t know how or in what way, but I always knew it was going to be a part of my future.”

Despite the family’s long and successful background in the sport Olney, who is also a track and field athlete, said he felt no pressure to carry on the family tradition of success on the hard wood. He said he just wanted to do his best, and his family wanted that for him.

“They didn’t try to push me. They didn’t care if I played basketball or not,” he said. “They just wanted me to do the best I could every day. I took it upon myself to try to be the best I can, no matter what the turnout is.”

Being born and raised in Magdalena, Olney has a long history with the village, Mirabal, his family and the players he played with this past season.

“The thing for me from the start is that when they first left here, it was like our family moving,” Mirabal said. “These kids played together in little league from the time they were in preschool.”

Jory Mirabal has been in Magdalena for 16 years, and said the Olneys were one of the first families he met when he was coaching junior varsity basketball. Owen is close friends with Jaxson Mirabal, who like Olney completed his senior season in March and himself averaged more than 17 points per game.

Fortunately for the Steers, Owen came back to town and fit into the program like a glove.

“It’s different in a way because I’ve had kids come up here from Socorro or Alamo before … I usually make those connections with the kids from the time they’re in kindergarten,” Jory Mirabal said. “Some of those kids I get, you usually start from scratch and you feel like you’re behind, but with (Owen) moving back it was a natural fit because he’s one of ours, is the way I’ve always looked at it. He’s not your typical transfer kid.”

And Olney seems to feel the same way. He said he had a feeling he would be a good fit with the Steers.

“Our chemistry was amazing this year. That really help me fit into the game style they played. I had a feeling it was going to be a good fit for me,” he said. “It was like coming back home from a trip, honestly. Everyone on this team, we’ve been friends and family. I can consider this whole team my family. This is just my home town. It’s always been a part of me. It was a good experience and it did make me happy.”

And family and familiarity aren’t the only reasons Olney fit in so well with the Steers. Under Jory Mirabal’s tutelage, Magdalena has historically been a team that puts an emphasis on running the ball up and down the court, and playing staunch defense. The Steers outscored their opponents by an average of 41 points this season.

Mirabal also said Olney was a natural fit given the way he and his team want to play.

“We have an up and down style of play. We usually run a four-guard offense. I don’t really look to one person to make plays,” Mirabal said. “I’m usually looking at three or four guys to make plays. From a basketball standpoint, it’s almost uncanny how he fit in.”

Anyone who does their research on Olney will quickly find out that he’s a high-flying, hard-dunking and superior athlete. But that’s not necessarily why he did fit in so well with his childhood friends. Mirabal described him as an affable and humble kid.

“He could probably run for mayor and win in any town he moved to for a week or so,” Mirabal said. “For as good as a kid as he is, he’s such a humble kid that it naturally attracts people to him. His play kind of speaks for itself and he doesn’t have to do a bunch of talking. Just personality wise, it’s a good fit for us too because that’s the kind of kids we want on our team.”

Depending on the future outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, Olney will have a spot on a Highlands team that has made strides in the past few seasons. The Cowboys claimed a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament title in 2019, and made the NCAA Division II Tournament that same year.

Olney said NMHU plays a similar style to Magdalena.

“They like to get up and down the court. They like to press. They don’t really take any breaks,” Olney said. “Their defense is really aggressive. You can tell that paid off from the seasons they’ve been having. Coach Michael Dominguez is just a great coach, and that’s what led me to them, is how good of a guy he is. I can tell that he wants the best for all of his players.”

Olney will study Kinesiology at his time in Las Vegas.

“They have great curriculum on that degree,” he said.