Competing in athletics have been a big part of Danika White’s life for as long as she she can remember.
Following in the footsteps of her older sister Danae, White grew up playing YMCA basketball and tee-ball and later became a member of the New Athens-based Southern Illinois Falcons softball team.
It wasn’t until she entered the sixth grade that she played volleyball for the first time. Five years later, volleyball is White’s passion.
“I really couldn’t tell you why. I just really love playing volleyball,’’ White said. “I just know that when I started playing in the sixth grade I just really had a passion for it. Plus, my sister played it and she played in college. I had been watching her play for so long that I just really grew to love it,’’
That passion for the sport along with a tireless work ethic and exceptional athletic ability have helped to make White one of the top volleyball players and athletes in southern Illinois.
A 5-11 junior setter/outisde hitter, White led New Athens in blocks (132), kills (268) and assists (295) and was also among the team leaders in aces (25) and digs (138) this season. She was a major force on a Yellowjackets team which finished 30-6 but lost to Lebanon in the Class 1A Centralia Christ our Rock Lutheran Regional.
While the early tournament loss was difficult to take, White had no time to pout. The Belleville News-Democrat Class 1A-2A Player of the Year, White was back in the gym a few days later as basketball practice began.
“I’m pretty used to going from season-to-season without much of a break. It’s hard on your body though,’’ White said. “When I do get a week off every now and then I like spending time with my friends, many of which I am very close to. But I also like to sleep..
“After a a few days off though I’m ready to get back. I don’t want to be lazy.’’
In addition to being a leader on the Yellowjackets volleyball team, she also competed in cross country this fall and is currently averaging 19 points, eight rebounds and nearly five steals a game for the New Athens basketball team which has won five straight games after an 0-4 start.
In the spring, White will pursue her other passion in track and field where she is one of the top Class 1A 400- and 800-meter runners in southern Illinois.
Watching White compete at a high level on the volleyball court is nothing new to Yellowjackets coach Sara Dinkelman. The former Pinckneyville Panther athlete has coached White for the last five years. Dinkelman recently competed her first season as the varsity coach.
“I have been very fortunate to be Danika’s coach since she was in the sixth grade. She is not only very talented and gifted, but she is also very coachable,’’ Dinkelman said. “She takes criticism very well and has a very strong work ethic.
“She is very quick, she is probably the fastest female athlete in the school and she can flat jump out of the gym. She can probably out jump a lot of the boys. Plus, a lot of the girls look up to her and she just has a natural leadership quality about her.’’
White’s ability on the volleyball court is even more impressive when considering New Athens has had three different head coaches in the past three years. Still, White continues to excel.
“My goal is to become a better volleyball player each year. I feel like I did that again this season.’’ White said. “Having a different coach each year was difficult because you really don’t know what to expect.
“But honestly I think having different coaches has helped me as well.. Each year I’ve been able to learn something different. Having Miss Dinkelman this year I learned a lot again. Not from just the physical standpoint but about the mental side of the game as well.’’
White also takes her role as leader seriously. Despite being the top player on the team, she is careful to send out a positive message to her teammates.
“I know I am looked up to by a lot of girls in the program and I don’t want to let people down. Therefore, I try to set a good example and do the right things,’’ White said. “I’’m vocal at times but there other times when I try to tone it down because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.
“I try to push them to play as hard as they can. But I don’t push real hard because sometimes that make a player or team play worse.’’
White is just now starting to draw interest from college recruiters. She’ll have options by virtue of her multi-sport talents, but the volleyball court is where she sees herself at the next level.
“I’ve heard from a few schools, but I’m not really sure where I want to go or what I want to study. My sister is at Kansas State and she’s going to be a speech pathologist and so I’ve thought about maybe doing that, but I really have no idea,’’ White said. “I want to play volleyball in college, but it depends on what school offers a scholarship. I really like track and field a lot too. We’ll see what is out there when the time comes.’’
Class 1-2A All-Area Volleyball Team
Player of the Year
Danika White, New Athens, jr.
Coach of the Year
Josh Konkel, Nashville
Abigail Reinneck, Lebanon, sr.
Delaney Varel, Nashville, jr.
Emily Reinneck, Lebanon, sr.
Brooklynn Smith, Carlyle, sr.
Brooklyn Taylor, Marquette, sr.
Kayla Huels, Gibault, jr.
Sara Andres, Valmeyer, sr.
Molly Diekemper, Carlyle, jr.
Claire McKee, Father McGivney, sr.
Guin Kohnz, Valmeyer, sr.
Kayla Guetersloh, Carlyle, sr.
Ashlyn Wightman, Gibault, jr.
Sidney Vetter, Metro East Lutheran, sr.
Sami Kasting, Matro East Lutheran, sr.
Paige Hand, Marissa, jr.
Lindsey Averbeck, Okawville; Alanna Blanks, Lebanon; Delaney Cain, Marquette; Reagan Carner, Dupo; Alyssa Cowell, Red Bud; Caitlin Crossin, Valmeyer; Haley Davitz, Gibault; Emma Deist, Father McGivney; Julia Drake, New Athens; Alyssa Faulkner, Wesclin; Cameron Foster, Dupo; Abby Grabowski, Nashville; Kendra Goldschmidt, Valmeyer; Ande Grohmann, Gibault; Claire Grohmann, Red Bud; Katie Hartsock, Marquette; Alyssa Heller, Red Bud; Rachel Heinz, Marquette; Macy Hoppes, Father McGivney; Anne Kienle, Metro East Lutheran; Hazel Konkel, Nashville; Bailey Kosarek, New Athens; Katelyn Kruse, Lebanon; Chloe Langendorf, Metro East Lutheran; Taylor Macke, New Athens; Anna McKee, Father McGivney; Cambria Newsome, Lebanon; Emily Ottensmeier, Wesclin; Lindsey Poirot, New Athens; Gracie Reymond, Wesclin; Caitlin Reynolds, Metro East Lutheran; Jenna Salger, Red Bud; Megan Schleifer, Okawville; Emily Schnitker, Nashville; Sydney Schnitker, Nashville; Macey Schreiber, Marissa; Josie Schubert, Lebanon; Emily Takacs, Wesclin; Kaitlin Trame, Wesclin; Lohgan VonHatten, Carlyle; Madison Webb, Father McGivney; Jacey Weis, Marissa; Abby Wessleman, Nashville; Faith Wyman, Wesclin; Jenna Zacha, Marquette;