Maggie Danner had to sacrifice some of her statistics two weeks ago when she moved from outside hitter to middle blocker.
Middle blockers don’t always rack up the kills. With freshman middle blocker Kekai Whitford out with an abdominal injury, that was the position where the Sage Hill School girls’ volleyball team needed Danner.
Danner, a junior who also plays outside hitter in club volleyball, said at first it was a bit hard to make such a change mid-season. But the newly-minted middle blocker blocked out any negative thoughts prior to the Lightning’s huge Academy League match at rival St. Margaret’s on Oct. 18.
Danner still was her normal steady self. She had three kills, three blocks and three service aces as the Lightning moved into a tie for first in league, defeating the Tartans in four sets, 25-16, 19-25, 25-20, 25-17. It was Sage’s first win over defending CIF champion St. Margaret’s in three years.
“It was really exciting,” Danner said. “It’s just really easy for all of us to play together. We all love playing with each other, and that makes us have really good communication. I think that helped us in the St. Margaret’s match and all this season.”
Now the Lightning (18-6, 8-1 in league), ranked No. 3 in CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA, just need to defeat Crean Lutheran at home on Tuesday to clinch at least a share of their first league title since 2008.
Danner, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, has been a big part of the program’s rise.
“She’s just powerful,” Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said. “She has a good balance of power and location on her hits. She really made the difference in us winning some really close matches.”
The three seniors are captains for the Lightning. Army-bound middle blocker Zoe Kreitenberg, outside hitter Natasha Sakraney and setter Alayna Lewis are valuable, but so is Danner in her third year on varsity.
“You don’t have to be a captain to be a leader on our team,” Thomassen said. “I think [Danner’s] really an anchor … Her standout skills are serving, blocking and attacking. She really can dominate in all three of those areas. I think Sage has come a long way in the three years she’s been here, and she’s a big part of that.”
Check the Lightning’s season statistics, and Danner is third on the team in kills (143), digs (118) and aces (40). She does what’s needed, just like she does on the basketball court for Sage Hill as a forward.
Last year, Danner was fifth on Sage’s girls’ basketball team in points (4.9 per game). Yet look closer, and she led the team with 2.3 steals per game and was third in rebounding (7.6 per game).
“We don’t have a lot of players, so I go around and do different positions when needed,” Danner said.
Still, her first passion is volleyball. The same could not be said of her older sister Tierney, though Tierney was a freshman on the 2005-06 Sage girls’ volleyball team that captured the CIF title.
Hoops was the first passion for Tierney, who now attends Santa Clara University. It’s the sport where she earned Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Player of the Year honors in 2008-09.
The middle Danner, T.J., excelled in football and basketball before graduating in spring. He was the Academy League Lineman of the Year last year in football for the Lightning, and now attends Boston College.
Maggie is the youngest of the three children, but she shares her older siblings’ drive.
“We all knew that we had to work hard,” said Maggie Danner, who also is involved in the student ambassadors program at Sage Hill and carries a 3.6 grade-point average. “I think we’ve shared that. We all have wanted to succeed in our sports.”
Danner has worked hard in volleyball, playing club the last three years for Team Complete Athlete (TCA). She came into her own at Sage Hill last year as a sophomore, and hasn’t stopped. She was named to the all-tournament team at the Dave Mohs Tournament after helping the Lightning to a third-place finish in Division II.
The Lightning have an interesting team dynamic this year. They are strong from the senior class down to the freshman class, which features standout players in Whitford, outside hitter Halland McKenna and setter Maddy Abbott. But Danner said they have one important thing in common.
“Everybody has such a passion for playing volleyball,” she said. “We all care so much. It’s not like one of us is playing super-super-hard and someone else isn’t keeping up their end. We all play really well together, we all want to win and we all know that we can go far.”
That’s the main purpose, no matter where Danner is playing on the court.
“After winning the St. Margaret’s match, it was easier to accept,” she said, smiling. “More important than me playing outside and getting kills there, I want to be able to go as far as we can and win league. Then, hopefully we go as far as we can in CIF.”
Born: June 9, 1995
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Dan Thomassen
Favorite food: Peanut butter ice cream
Favorite movie: “The A-Team”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping the girls’ volleyball team win at St. Margaret’s last week.
Week in review: Filling in at middle blocker, Danner had three kills, three blocks and three service aces as the Lightning won at rival St. Margaret’s in four sets on Oct. 18, pulling into a first-place tie in the Academy League.