"We haven't been playing at the level we have been practicing, which I think is because of our inexperience," said Thomassen, adding that he only has one returning starter off last season's team that reached the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs.
"We're doing a lot of the right things in practice that we see a little bit in the match, but we still give up five to eight points a game. Against the top teams in our division and strong teams we play, [we cannot afford to do that]. We got away with it tonight."
Costa Mesa (1-3), three victories away from matching last season's win total, dug itself a hole, allowing the Lightning to record a season-high 14 aces. In the opening set, Danner ripped four aces.
Danner's serving game allowed Sage Hill to run away with the first set. With the Lightning ahead, 16-15, Danner helped Sage Hill close out the set on a 9-0 run. She capped the run with an ace.
"We put them in trouble with our serve," Thomassen said. "We've just got to play at a higher level."
Sage Hill, ranked No. 7 in the Division IV-AA coaches' poll, had its moments.
After Costa Mesa opened the second set with a 4-1 run, behind outside hitters Shannon Walthers and Alex Krohnfeldt, who finished with a combined 20 kills, the Lightning found a rhythm. The youngsters, sophomore Brenna Van Hoogenstyn and Geocaris, hammered shots, allowing Sage Hill to go on a 9-2 run and take a four-point lead.
Then they let the Mustangs rally.
Carly Mariani recorded one of her seven kills, giving Costa Mesa a 17-16 lead, its first since early in the second set.
The serve proved too much for Costa Mesa to handle.
Zoe Kreitenberg, a middle blocker who usually does her damage at the net, served five straight times and Sage Hill moved closer to taking the second set. Kreitenberg, who finished with five kills and eight digs, led the way.
Being Sage Hill's lone returning starter, Thomassen expects it out of the junior.
"I don't think of it as a rebuilding year, because we have so much talent and we got some versatile players," said Thomassen, who has one senior on the team. "It's just building that team chemistry and coming out to play."