Maggie Danner has been on the Sage Hill School varsity volleyball team since she was a freshman.
You could say her senior year ended abruptly. The No. 3-seeded Lightning lost to top-seeded rival St. Margaret's in five sets in the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A title match Nov. 17 at Cypress College. The following day, they found out they weren't selected for the CIF State playoffs like they were last year.
The main picture that ran in this newspaper after the CIF title match was of Danner, crushed, crying on the shoulder of a teammate. The loss was stunning for the senior outside hitter, a team captain.
But life goes on. Danner said she will play club this year with a St. Margaret's rival, Gigi Morally, on a TStreet 18-and-under team. Danner is also planning to play college volleyball at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a Division 3 program.
But just being in the CIF title match against St. Margaret's for the second straight year, after helping Sage win the Division IV-AA title last year? Those are memories that Danner won't soon forget.
"Even though we didn't win this year, going to the finals two years in a row is so exciting," she said. "Not many people get that opportunity. It was fun. Every game is fun, every volleyball season is fun. Playing St. Margaret's is always intense ... This year was just as exciting as last year, even though we didn't win. I got to end my high school volleyball career on such a good note."
Danner, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, revels in the team aspect that volleyball provides. Yet, individually, she played some of her best volleyball at the end of the season.
Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said that another of his outside hitters, sophomore Halland Mckenna, suffered a sprained ankle in warmups in the 3-A final. Mckenna gutted it out, playing through the injury to record 10 kills, but she clearly wasn't at 100%.
The Tartans were able to key on Danner, who nevertheless had one of her best matches. She tallied 23 kills, three aces and three blocks. She almost helped Sage Hill (21-6) rally from two sets down before the Tartans prevailed, 25-20, 25-22, 11-25, 17-25, 15-8.
"She definitely played her best at the most important time," Thomassen said. "The entire playoffs, she's been a go-to hitter. We usually spread it out, but she's been extremely consistent."
Versatile, too. Danner led the Lightning with 286 kills this year, but she was also third on the team with 47 aces and 202 digs.
The Lightning certainly had a memorable run in CIF. Danner helped lead them to a five-set road quarterfinal win at Riverside La Sierra, then another five-set victory at No. 2-seeded Ontario Christian in the semis. Danner led the way with 21 kills in the latter match.
Danner, one of three team captains along with senior middle blocker Brenna Van Hoogenstyn and junior defensive specialist Claudia Noto, thrived in the role.
"None of us were captains before," Danner said. "We took a silent leadership [role]. It wasn't like it was the three captains telling everyone what to do. We were a team. I think our main role was to make sure that everyone could do it, keep everyone's hopes up."
Danner has never been the loud type. Thomassen said she has always been a "lead by example" type of player.
But he has also seen her become tougher over the years.
"Early on, I thought she was maybe even a little bit too nice," Thomassen said. "She's always had that killer instinct, but she hasn't always shown it."
Danner agreed that it has been a process. She said her competitiveness has grown as her skills have improved. That will definitely help her at the next level.
"The four years on varsity helped me so much," she said. "I was definitely shy my freshman year and I didn't play much, but it helped me a lot. I never really thought about it, but I guess I have become a lot more competitive. Our practices are more competitive and the people around me are more competitive. When the whole team wants to win, then that makes you more competitive.
"Also, I've learned so much about volleyball over the past four years, and that makes me want to win even more. I love playing and being on the court. I love being with my team, and I want to win with them and for them."
Danner showed it her junior year. She had to play out of position quite a bit, at middle blocker, because the team needed it. This year she was back on the outside blasting kills for the Lightning, who reached the section title match for the third time in program history.
It was a step up from the regular season, when the Lightning perhaps disappointed by tying for second in the Academy League.
But, at the end of the year when it was needed the most, Danner was at her best. She'll now transfer her talents to basketball for Sage; it's another sport where she's a four-year varsity player.
"She worked hard every single practice, nothing fake or flashy," Thomassen said. "It's exactly what you want as a coach, and she's that way in everything she does. She's an awesome student too, and you wouldn't know it unless you've taught her or talked to one of her teachers."
Thomassen said he never taught Danner in a class at Sage Hill.
On the volleyball court, he still watched her make big things happen.
Born: June. 9, 1995
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Dan Thomassen
Favorite food: Ice cream
Favorite movie: "The A-Team"
Favorite athletic moment: Helping the Sage Hill girls' volleyball team win the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA title last year, defeating rival St. Margaret's in the championship match.
Week in review: Danner helped the Lightning return to the CIF finals. She had 21 kills in a five-set road victory over Ontario Christian in a CIF Southern Section Division 3-A semifinal match Nov. 13. She followed that up with 23 kills, three service aces and three blocks in the final, a five-set loss to top-seeded St. Margaret's on Nov. 17 at Cypress College.