Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sage living the California dream

Huron's Sara Sage is living her volleyball dream.

Sage is in her sophomore season playing volleyball at UCLA in California, playing for her dream team Bruins.

Sage first met UCLA head coach
Andy Banachowski, while playing for the USA Volleyball team in eighth grade. She then visited the campus as a freshman in high school.

"As soon as I stepped on campus I knew it was home," said Sage, who is a middle hitter. "It was perfect. It's an honor to go to UCLA. It's everything I expected and more. I absolutely love the school. It's a great education. Volleyball is awesome and it's so competitive. There's nothing that I would change. It's a beautiful place."

The No. 14 Bruins found themselves as high as seventh in the nation, but lost 2-of-3 matches, dropping them to 14th on a recent poll.

On Saturday, the Bruins snapped a two-game losing skid, defeating No. 19 Arizona in four sets, 22-25, 27-25, 25-14, 25-13. The Bruins improve to 11-4 overall and 1-1 in Pac-10 play.

Last week, in front of an NCAA regular season-record crowd of 13,780, Sage and the No. 7 Bruins snapped No. 5 Nebraska's 90-match home winning streak in a five-set victory at the Ameritas Players Challenge. Set scores were 18-25, 25-17, 25-22, 24-26, 15-7.

"Playing in front of that big of a crowd gets you pumped up in warm-ups," Sage said. "But the second the whistle blows, I don't even notice anything. It's game time and you get the job done, and then you get going."

As a freshman, Sage played in 26 matches and 78 sets, making 18 starts. She was named to the Pacific-10 Conference All-Freshman honorable mention team. The Bruins lost in the NCAA Sweet 16 to Texas.

"Last year, everything seemed so new and I was like a deer in headlights," Sage said. "But now with a year under my belt, I feel a lot more comfortable. I feel like the game's a lot quicker and I can catch up to it. I know what to expect. I can read everything a lot easier. Last year I had to learn how to play it again and now everything comes natural to me."

Her highlight last season was when her Bruins took Stanford to five games and lost. It was Stanford's senior night and the Bruins were trying to snap an eight-year losing streak to the Cardinal.

"That was my absolute favorite match," Sage said. "That match was phenomenal. We took them to five on their senior night and we almost won. We ended up losing, 13-11, but it was still amazing. The whole aura of the gym was something else. I was so happy to be a part of it. That's definitely going to be up there in my memories."

The road to success wasn't easy as Sage endured three knee surgeries on her right knee. Her first surgery was her freshman year of high school after breaking her femur. Another surgery followed her junior year, on the same knee. She had the same knee scoped after her freshman year of college, but now feels in the best shape of her life.

At Huron High School, Sage was a four-year letter winner and a three-time All-Sandusky Bay Conference selection, All-District and an All-Ohio selection. She was named the SBC Player of the Year, All-District Player of the Year and Prep Volleyball All-American in her junior and senior seasons. She led Huron to the state semifinals her junior year. Even though she played just 2 1/2 seasons due to injury, she finished third all-time in kills with 1,343.

"The speed of the game and the competition level is the biggest difference in college volleyball," Sage said. "You're competing on every single play, every single touch. In high school, you just play and try and put the ball away. In college, you don't have time to have a mental lapse. You have to go hard every second of the game that you're out there."

Sage has adjusted well to West Coast living, but still appreciates coming home to Ohio.

"You're always on-the-go here in California, it's fast paced," said Sage, who is majoring in psychology. "There's really never time to sit back and relax. Everyone is always trying to one-up each other. You're competing every single day pretty much. So whenever I go home, I have no stress, I'm completely relaxed and I just let my hair down. When I'm at school, I'm always on the run and always have something going on."

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