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Whitford a versatile threat for Lightning

Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week

Junior outside hitter, a great athlete, is excelling for surging Sage Hill squad.

September 27, 2013|By Matt Szabo
  • Sage Hill School junior volleyball player Kekai Whitford is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week.
Sage Hill School junior volleyball player Kekai Whitford… (Don Leach, Daily…)

When Sage Hill School girls' volleyball coach Dan Thomassen compares his star outside hitter Kekai Whitford to Bo Jackson, there is admittedly a bit of a disconnect.

Jackson was known for being a freak athlete, a two-sport star in professional baseball and football in the late 1980s. He was also known for being unstoppable as a running back in the "Tecmo Super Bowl" video game, as well as for making Nike a lot of money with his cross-trainer shoes and famous "Bo Knows" commercials.

Jackson isn't known at all to Whitford, who was born three years after Jackson's last season of Major League Baseball. She said she has never heard of him.

But that doesn't mean the comparison doesn't work. There is the sense that Whitford, a junior who is a three-year varsity starter in both volleyball and soccer at Sage, could really be successful in any sport she chooses.

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"She's willing to try everything, and that's so encouraging," Thomassen said. "Coaches get kids who don't want to try a different position or a new sport, but I think that flexibility and kind of sense of adventure is something that we really look for. She works hard in the weight room, and that makes a big difference."

Whitford grew up playing tennis for years as well. She spent her time on the courts at the Marriott in Fashion Island. If she wasn't there, she might be riding horses or hanging out at the Newport Aquatic Center, which was started and is run by her father, Billy, the executive director. Father and daughter also used to play golf together on the weekends.

"I was very active, which I think was very good for my personality," Kekai Whitford said. "I don't like sitting still."

Billy Whitford went to Newport Harbor High, where he was on the 1970 football team that was co-league champions and featured in the recent documentary, "Touchdown Newport." Kekai credits her father for his support. She said she's also learned humility from him, and a desire to help others.

In terms of volleyball, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week helps Sage plenty. And that could be true at any position. Her freshman year, she played middle blocker before suffering an abdominal injury. When she came back she was in the back row, where she still helped the Lightning win the CIF Southern Section Division 4-AA title over rival St. Margaret's.

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