Since Danielle Beder discovered beach volleyball, it’s making her a terror in the indoor game, and that’s one reason not to count out Sage Hill School as the postseason nears, no matter that the Lightning have endured uncommon difficulties this year.
Injuries, including a concussion that sidelined Beder the first three weeks of the season, have taken a toll on the powerhouse program. Sage Hill dropped its first dozen matches, was never in the San Joaquin League hunt and finished third at 4-4 with Friday’s sweep of Capistrano Valley Christian.
Sage Hill (10-17), which has won four CIF Southern Section titles under coach Dan Thomassen, is finding its footing as the Division 3 playoffs arrive, and Beder has a lot to do with that. She led the Lightning to fifth place in the Pearl Division at the Nike Tournament of Champions on Oct. 5 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Beder, a 6-foot-1 senior opposite, contributed 64 kills, 31 digs, 14 blocks and seven service aces as the Lightning went 5-2 during the two-day tournament. Sage Hill won 10 of 11 sets in victories over Pasadena Mayfield (twice), Omaha (Neb.) Northwest, Flagstaff (Ariz.) Coconino and O’Neals Minarets. The losses were to Newport Harbor and Jersey City (N.J.) Hudson Catholic.
Beder has been a top player for Thomassen since her freshman season, but he’s watched her blossom into something special this year.
“She’s had a nine-month revolution, I always call it,” said Thomassen, a three-time CIF Coach of the Year. “She’s gone all-in on beach, and that has just transformed her game. Her anticipation, her quickness, how high she is above the net, and her ability to see the court.
“All the things that as coaches we say [to players], ‘You should play beach because of this,’ it has all shown immediately with her.”
Time on the sand has added nuances to Beder’s game while strengthening her greatest tools — her ability at the net, whether blocking or hitting, and her ability to pass from service — and has left her in a rather tantalizing quandary. Should she pursue beach volleyball or concentrate on playing indoors? Her path was clouded when she got serious about the sand game last spring.
“I really don’t know what drove me,” Beder said. “I have a friend that lives up in Manhattan Beach, and I would go see her and we would play pickup volleyball, and it was so much fun.”
She started working with coaches and “just kind of fell in love with it.” Thomassen says the “beach stuff has really, really gotten her to the next level.”
“She has a crushing block,” he said. “She presses over the net, she sees the hitter well, and she just takes a big area away and clamps down on [the opponent’s] best attackers really, really well. The other thing is her angles; because she gets up so high, she hits some pretty crazy angles. She’s hitting well out of the back row, too, has good off-speed shots, she’s always had a knack for passing, but now it’s getting more consistent, to where other teams don’t want to serve her.
“The variety of her attack and her decision-making — like when to use what — is getting better and better.”
Beder sees a difference.
“[When] attacking, I jump so much higher and feel I have so much control of where I want the ball to go,” she said. “Not just hitting hard every single time, I can really place [the ball] where I want it to go.”
That’s a product of the two-player game, in which kills are about placement rather than power. And on the beach, the need to pass from serve is far greater than indoor. A season as Sage Hill’s setter, last year, also enhanced her passing game and understanding of the attack.
Thomassen says her “trajectory is insane in both indoor and beach.” Which way will she go?
“I definitely want to play volleyball in college, the question is which type of volleyball,” she said. “I’ve narrowed my options down, and I could go the indoor direction or the beach direction. I haven’t made my decision yet. Either way I go, I could be happy.”
She’s staying mum on her college options but says the education matters most, that it “breaks my heart” to turn down some top Division I programs because “I want a school with great academics, but great volleyball, too. At a point, I had do decide do I want higher academics or higher volleyball, and academics comes first for me.”
First there’s some unsettled business with the Lightning. They’re still not at full strength but have been been playing “pretty strong, considering our circumstances,” Beder said.
Last week’s trip to Phoenix was a big step.
“Being able to play seven matches in about 30 hours, and to play at a high level through all seven matches with a variety of lineups is something we hadn’t done all year,” said Thomassen, whose team’s regular-season finale is at home against Laguna Beach on Wednesday before the playoffs begin with the wild-card round on Oct. 22. “This was the first time we’ve had great matches back to back to back to back, where we played at a high level. We raised our level of play, and even in the matches we lost, there was good volleyball.”
Born: Feb. 28, 2002
Hometown: Corona del Mar
Height: 6 feet 1
Coach: Dan Thomassen
Favorite food: Dumplings
Favorite movie: “Titanic”
Favorite athletic moment: Winning back-to-back bronze medals at the national club championships with Tstreet in 2016 and 2017.
Week in review: Beder delivered 64 kills, 31 digs, 14 blocks and seven aces to lead Sage Hill to a 5-2 record and fifth place in the Pearl Division at the Nike Tournament of Champions last weekend in Phoenix, Ariz.
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