Born within a strong athletic background, Danika Young’s talent and passion for volleyball has led to her having a huge leadership role for the Cougars
Written by Tien Thai (Staff Writer) and Brandon Rodriguez (Sports Editor)
Everyone has a different life experience and journey, and success comes to different people in different sizes, shapes and situations. The expression, “strive not to be a success but rather to be of value” is one of the many ways to describe APU junior volleyball player Danika Young.
Young is one of the team captains for APU volleyball, which comes from her belief in being a team player.
“I was motivated just by my parents always encouraging me to play sports because I loved the competitiveness of it, and they never pressured me to play sports, it is just something they always encouraged me to do, but it was my decision to make,” Young said.
Young started playing volleyball when she was 10 years old, and played throughout middle school and high school.
Young decided to attend Azusa Pacific because of its athletic program and Christian environment. Being part of a strong volleyball program along with majoring in Christian Ministry drew her to attend APU.
Young shared the root of her volleyball passion that she earned from her family’s athletic tradition. Her grandfather played professional football with the San Diego Chargers; her father was a soccer standout at Mira Costa college and one of her cousins played football at Fresno State, then went on to play in the Arena League.
In addition to this, her father coached volleyball, and her parents met each other though playing volleyball in high school.
Young explained that sports are a big part of her family, and that they spent plenty of their family events on athletic related activities.
“Athletics has always been a huge part of my family. Every Saturday was spent going out to the soccer or football field. Thanksgiving is always spent watching football; sports were just ingrained into who we are,” Young said.
Although she does not have a specific role model, because just about everyone in her family has served as a role model, she was inspired at a young age from athletic films.
“I never had a specific volleyball inspiration, but when I was younger, I remember watching the movies ‘Remember The Titans’ and ‘Rudy,'” Young said. “Rudy was someone that I related to in a lot of ways. He was really small and un-athletic, but he worked his butt off to get to college and play football. That’s something that resonated with me.”
Young, just like Rudy, is one of the smallest players on the team, standing at 5’5″. Yet, she has one of the most important roles on the team as the setter. As a setter, Young is an offensive playmaker, helping control the offense and give her team scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in play or putting her teammates in position for a kill.
As a leader, Young is one of the most mature players on the team. She is one of only four juniors on a team that has no seniors and are predominately underclassmen.
Young is second on the team in offensive assists on the season with 336, and is currently fourth on the team in defensive digs with 129.
Besides inspiration from her family, Young is also driven to play volleyball by her teammates. She loves the interaction and the relationship that she has with the team inside and outside of volleyball.
“At the end of the day, our time here is so short and sweet, and our time with volleyball is going to come to a close eventually, so: Are you going to have 12 to 13 people that you knew and played with in the same teams many years, or are you going to have sisters in Christ and continue those relationships you have going on afterwards?” Young said.
Young also expressed that as a captain and a leader, the most important thing is cultivating a positive team environment and connection with each other, in order for her and the team to be aware of each other’s life and eventually successful on the court.
“I have had great conversations, and we have grown so close as a team this year. It has been fun to go to the battlefield together and go fight for each other in the court, and we are in it together and for each other. When we put it all out there, for us it is not solely about winning, we want to go out there and say that we have done our best,” Young said.
The team has been very successful on the court this year, having one of their best seasons in years. The Cougars are currently 19-5 this season, and with only four more games left, APU is preparing to make the playoffs.
Sara Wagenveld, a sophomore middle blocker for the team, acknowledged the positive experience she has had with Young.
“Dani is absolutely a huge leader on the team, and also her personality and who she is, she is such a steady figure, like a mom on the team, even though she is small,” Wagenveld said. “But she is so strong. She is always there and does take on a lot of responsibilities of the team. She does a really great job as a main leader on the court and with the team dynamic in general.”
Wagenveld also expressed the growth and maturity the team has accomplished so far, which has been one of the biggest characteristics to their overall success.
“There is not a single girl on the team that I would not enjoy spending time with and hanging out with outside of volleyball. This is just a really awesome group of great people with great character and great work ethic,” Wagenveld said. “Looking at the difference from last year and this year, we have growth in maturity and physically. It’s just another year of growing together as a team.”
Additionally, Young’s personality and character has been described by head coach Chris Keife as genuine, loyal, caring, modest and an intellectual.
“As a captain, Danika is a leader of our team spiritually, and she really wants the best for this team,” Keife said. “She has continually given more and more responsibilities on and off the court every year she has been in this program. Her integrity and character are what helps her make a good captain.”
Keife acknowledged that Young helps set the team to success and inspires her teammates by the maturity she possesses in making decisions. Young has the ability to see the big-picture ideas of the coaches’ expectation for the team.
The great situation that this team has with players such as Young, is that they have the remainder of this season and all of next season to look forward to, and grow even closer as a team.
Young and the Cougars will take on Hawai’i Hilo on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Felix Event Center.