Sports

Athlete Spotlight: Danny Mueller’s unique leadership was key for Heralds volleyball

Danny Mueller provided plenty of momentum shifts with kills like this one against Heritage Christian, Apr. 25.
Danny Mueller provided plenty of momentum shifts with kills like this one against Heritage Christian, Apr. 25.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Despite falling in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs, the Whittier Christian boys’ volleyball team made big progress in its second season under Head Coach Chris Duran.

One of the big reasons for that progress was the senior leadership of Danny Mueller, who found ways to step up for his team in big situations throughout the 2014 season.

A three-sport athlete and three year varsity member in volleyball, Mueller said he felt privileged to be selected as a captain on this year’s team.

“I feel our guys are very respectful of one another and I think we have a really tight-knit group,” Danny said. “Being a co-captain with Austin [Tafoya] is an honor because we’ve played all four years together and we used to play club together. It’s been a lot of fun and a privilege to be captain.”

But Danny knew that being a captain extended past being vocal, throughout the course of the season, Danny has been a catalyst for positive momentum shifts all season.

“He’s been in the program all four years, three years on varsity,” Duran said. “He’s our most consistent overall player over the last couple years where if we needed that pass or that kill, we knew we could go to him and he would make things happen.”

A big reason for Danny’s success is the work ethic he employs in practice.

But through it all, it’s his ability to keep his emotions balanced, whether in practice or in matches, that catches his coach’s eye the most.

“He’s a great passer, great work ethic, always even-keel and if he makes a mistake it’s the same as if he makes a great hit,” Duran said. “It’s cool for us to see him calm and collected all the time. He’s always ready to step up to any challenge to put his team in a spot to succeed.”

Danny’s ability to rise to the occasion on the court isn’t as big of a surprise when finding out exactly how involved the senior is on other parts of campus.

In addition to being a co-captain on volleyball, Danny also played soccer and ran cross country for the Heralds this year.

On top of the athletics, Danny is also a member of the Senior Class Council and ASB, while also acting as Key Club President, Spanish Club President and a participant in the Creative Writing Club.

“[He’s a] Great kid, great heart, great leader, involved in so many things on campus, it’s great to see student athletes create a great environment for themselves,” Duran said. “He’s highly involved in everything and everything he does he puts a lot of hard work into as well.”

Along with his accomplishments on the field, Danny was chosen as a CIF Scholar Athlete and also felt proud to be a part of coordinating the Sadie Hawkins event for the school this season, despite having to make some last-minute changes.

The hard work and leadership could be seen on the court as well this season. Danny, an outside hitter, came up with big kills when the Heralds needed to stop an opponent’s run.

He also provided plenty of support while on the back line this season.

“I think you have to have that mentality, when you know you need the points, you just have to turn it on and come in for your team on those points that really matter,” he said.

However, one aspect of Danny’s leadership role that he felt he had to grow into was how to lead the team and be positive at the same time.

“You also have to bring up the encouragement, we get down on ourselves sometimes and I just try to help the team stay positive and remind them that we’ll get the next point,” Danny said. “I think that’s really important. It’s been my biggest challenge, but I think it’s improved a lot.”

Danny hopes to take what he’s learned through his time at Whittier Christian and apply it next year at Cal State Fullerton, where he will be majoring in Biology.

Coordinating with that major, Danny said that during his senior year, Anatomy has been by far his favorite class.

“We’ve done several dissections and we’ve had the ability to shadow different jobs in the medical field and that’s definitely what I want to do is sports medicine,” he said. “It keeps me excited.”

When it comes to the respect Danny has for his teammates, coaches and opponents, he said he gets most of that by following the advice and example of his role model, Rolland Esslinger, Whittier Christian’s athletic director.

“He is hands-down one of the most sincere people you will ever meet,” Danny said. “He emphasizes so much the importance of good sportsmanship and character and I think it’s something that people struggle with is acting the same around your friends, parents and teachers. He really tries to teach all of our student athletes to have good sportsmanship and to be yourself, have that true character and integrity when you’re on and off the court.”

When Danny isn’t studying hard or practicing on the court, he still keeps himself busy. The senior enjoys playing tennis with friends, geocaching, skiing and also writes a blog on the subject of credit unions.

But as he gets ready to head to the next stage in his life, Danny will take with him some great life lessons as well as some lasting memories.

“I’ve just really enjoyed playing with everyone, we have so much fun that it’s such a privilege, and playing for these coaches, I couldn’t ask for better coaches,” Danny said. “It’s been a great season, I’ve been so blessed to be here at Whittier Christian.”

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.