BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Olivia Owens first generated interest from colleges when she was in middle school.
The earliest scholarship offers arrived when she was in ninth grade.
The next year, things picked up even more for Owens when legendary UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma made a trip to see her play at Niskayuna High School.
The attention that came with all that was overwhelming, at times, but never a burden.
“If I could really go to every single college, I would,” Owens said. “But I have to pick one.”
So, Wednesday, the Niskayuna girls’ basketball star announced her decision to accept a scholarship to play women’s basketball at the University of Maryland. In a ceremony in the high school’s auditorium, Owens dropped a stage curtain to reveal Maryland-themed posters, signs and balloons to celebrate a choice she took her time in making.
“I love the fact that I could share this with a lot of friends and family,” Owens said, “especially for those who have been there throughout the entire process with me.”
That process started in fourth grade when she first started playing. She wasn’t a star right away.
“I realized nothing great comes easy,” said Owens, who averaged 20.6 points and 12.3 rebounds as a junior.
Owens credited her brothers for helping to shape her on-court game, as well as her AAU coach Keith Danzy and high school coach Sarah Neely. Away from the court, Owens thanked dad Javan and mom Vanessa for making sure she took care of her schoolwork.
“She’s worked hard for so many years,” Neely said of Owens. “She set her goals extremely high and today we get to celebrate all the efforts.”
“She’s put forth a great deal of hard work and dedication to her craft,” said Danzy, a City Rocks coach.
Niskayuna High School Principal John Rickert described Owens as a “special athlete, a special person” in starting Wednesday’s ceremony. Owens, an honors student, is the president of her class at Niskayuna.
Owens joins a growing list of area athletes to head to Maryland in recent years, such as Shenendehowa graduate Kevin Huerter for men’s basketball, Niskayuna graduate Carrie Hanks for field hockey and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate Dan Maynard for baseball.
Owens said she’s excited to play in the Big Ten for veteran head coach Brenda Frese. With Frese as the program’s coach for the past 15 seasons, Maryland has made three appearances in the Final Four and won the national championship in 2006.
“I’m really competitive, so I’m all for it,” Owens said. “I’m ready to win championships, I’m ready to cut down nets and be a part of a program that’s already successful.”
Owens said she’s unsure what she will major in at Maryland, but she’s interested in pursuing a career in education or law after her playing career. She said she’s excited to have her college choice made so she can focus on her senior year at Niskayuna before becoming a Terrapin.
“This is the one for me,” Owens said of Maryland.