Kreitenberg now leads

In terms of height, Zoe Kreitenberg has not grown much during her four years at Sage Hill School.

Coach Dan Thomassen said Kreitenberg's height already stood out the first day she showed up to volleyball practice as a freshman.

"She didn't come into any of our summer camps or anything," Thomassen said. "She just walked into our tryouts the first day, and I hadn't seen her. All I knew was that she was tall."

Kreitenberg has always played middle blocker for the Lightning. Most of her physical growth already occurred before she stepped foot on campus.

In terms of mental and emotional growth, though, Thomassen has seen a drastic change from the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week.

"When she came in as a freshman she was pretty unwilling to learn from adults and other girls on the team," Thomassen said. "She kind of wanted to do things her own way."

Does that sound like a girl who will play at the United States Military Academy at West Point next year? It is obvious how much Kreitenberg has matured.

For the Lightning the middle blocker is a clear leader, one of three senior captains on arguably the best team in program history. They've already won a CIF State playoff match on Tuesday, which no Lightning team had ever accomplished. And Kreitenberg also came up big last Saturday night in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA title match. She tied for the team lead with 15 kills and added seven block assists and one solo block as the Lightning outlasted the defending champions, rival St. Margaret's, 27-29, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9, at Cypress College.

The CIF title was the second in program history for Sage, which plays at defending state champion La Jolla Country Day on Saturday night in a CIF State Southern California Regional Division IV quarterfinal. Kreitenberg was a huge reason why the team was able to do it.

Yet, on this team, everyone contributes.

"I'm just honored to be a part of such a good team," Kreitenberg said. "There's no one person who stands out more than the rest; it's everyone doing their job together. It's a great thing. It's beautiful. I've never been on a Sage team that's that way before … we have such depth on our roster."

It hasn't always been that way for the Lightning (26-5). Kreitenberg has seen the program move forward from when she was a freshman on varsity, learning a lot about the middle blocker spot from her then-senior teammate Tierney Danner.

Kreitenberg called herself "awkward" that year. Yet she kept working hard and improving. During the club season, she went from Long Beach Mizuno to Laguna Beach Volleyball Club. She said last year Laguna Beach didn't have a 17s team, so she moved to TStreet.

"Last year was a really big development year for me at TStreet," she said. "We went to Junior Olympics in the open division, which was amazing, playing against the best teams in the country."

Kreitenberg has also adjusted to attending Sage Hill for high school. A Los Alamitos resident, she said she originally wanted to attend school at Los Al and play for the Griffins. But now she is excelling in all aspects for the Lightning.

She has a 3.8 grade-point average. She picked up varsity basketball last year and plans to play again this year. It was a decision made easier because one of Kreitenberg's best friends, Ava Soleimany, is the point guard on the basketball team.

"I felt like volleyball was the only thing I had going on in my life," Kreitenberg said. " I didn't want to have it become something that I didn't love. I love volleyball, and I wanted to make sure I kept it that way by having something else going on."

In volleyball, Kreitenberg is now a three-year starter and two-year captain. And she continues to get better.

More importantly, Thomassen said, she wants to get better.

"She has shown the willingness to work on her weaknesses," Thomassen said. "In the past maybe she would have said, 'I'm not a good setter, I'm not a good passer.' Now, she has that extra determination to work on those skills so that she's a well-rounded volleyball player … I think she thrives on learning now."

The Lightning are talented at every spot, with seniors down to talented freshmen like outside hitter Halland McKenna and setter Maddy Abbott contributing. But Kreitenberg's skills sure do come in handy.

Behind Kreitenberg, Thomassen said the Lightning out-blocked St. Margaret's, 12-1, in the Division IV-AA title match.

"Blocking used to be one of her weaknesses," he said. "She was kind of slow to close the block, to recognize situations. Over the last six, seven weeks, we made it a priority and she's really grabbed onto it. She's jumping with a lot more power, and really shutting down the best attackers. We match her up with the best attackers on other teams, and that's been the difference in a lot of our wins."

Thomassen said if Kreitenberg again has a great match Saturday night, his team has a chance at La Jolla Country Day. She is playing her best volleyball at the right time for the Lightning, one of just four Orange County teams still playing in the state playoffs.

The three other teams are Los Al, Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar.

"I think a big thing about her is that she's helped put Sage on the stage with the other big schools in the area," Thomassen said. "We're kind of sharing the stage with the Laguna Beaches, the Corona del Mars, the Newport Harbors as a solid volleyball program. She's a big reason for that."

One thing Thomassen does know about Saturday's match is that Kreitenberg will give everything she's got.

And now, it's all for the team.

"Even though she's a captain, to put the team first was not always easy for her," Thomassen said. "That's been monumental … She's gone from the girl who wanted to get set every time, to the girl who just wants the team to win every time. It's been a slow change, but an important one, because we share the ball. Our freshmen get kills, and [junior] Maggie Danner's a big part of our offense, whether she's middle or outside.

"That unselfishness that Zoe's developed is what's making us such a better team."

Twitter: @mjszabo

Zoe Kreitenberg

Born: May 19, 1994

Hometown: Los Alamitos

Height: 6-foot-2

Sport: Volleyball

Coach: Dan Thomassen

Favorite food: Sushi

Favorite movie: "Mean Girls"

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA title this year.

Week in review: Kreitenberg, a senior middle blocker, helped Sage Hill win its second CIF title in program history. She had 15 kills, seven block assists and one solo block in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA final, a five-set victory over rival St. Margaret's on Saturday night at Cypress College.

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