Comeback kid: From 7th-grade cut to MWC success

By By Bubba Brown and By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

Successful athletic careers start in different ways. Danielle Killpack’s started by getting cut from a team.

Killpack, a redshirt sophomore middle blocker for the U volleyball team, was cut from her seventh-grade team, something she said has fueled her to become the player she is today.
“It definitely pushed me,” said the Idaho Falls native. “I’ve worked really hard since then.”
But she did say that her playing level in seventh grade wasn’t great.

“I didn’t have many skills in seventh grade,” Killpack said. “I wasn’t very good.”

It didn’t take long for her to improve. Soon after she was cut, Killpack began playing on a club team, and by high school, she was getting noticed by the U’s coaches.

“She was on our radar as early as ninth or 10th grade,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “She played for one of our former coaches on a USA High Performance team and caught our coach’s eye. We really liked her character and who she was.”

Killpack’s high school volleyball career was an illustrious one. Twice, she led Idaho Falls High School to the Idaho 5A state championship.

As a senior, Killpack smashed 421 kills and pounded 233 blocks en route to being named a High Country Conference First-Team player.

After high school, Killpack made her way to Utah, but her playing time in her early days as a Ute was limited. She redshirted during her first year on campus, and in her second season, she played only five sets in four matches, collecting three kills and two blocks. This included a kill against Air Force, the first of the team’s recently ended 19-match conference winning streak.

Early this season, Killpack was still seeing limited action, but as of late, she has established herself as an important part of Utah’s rotation.

She first made her mark statistically in a win over Utah State. Against the in-state foes, she registered six kills and a team-leading eight blocks.

Her breakout performance came in what was perhaps one of the biggest matches of the season for the Utes8212;a five-set win over rival BYU. Against the Cougars, Killpack registered a then-career-high and team-leading nine kills to help stifle the BYU offensive attack.

More recently, she came up big in matches against TCU and Wyoming. She earned her first career double-digit kill game against the Horned Frogs in a four-set win, getting 10 kills and a match-leading .716 hitting percentage.

During the match, she also chipped in with five blocks. Last week, on the road against Wyoming, she had a career-high 11 blocks, to go along with nine kills in a near double-double performance.

After the TCU victory, she refused to take credit for her performance, choosing instead to compliment her teammates.

“TCU was really blocking (Karolina Bartkowiak), so it really opened it up for everyone else,” she said. “It wasn’t so much what I was doing as much as it was my teammates getting me the opportunity.”

Although Killpack downplays her performance, the statistics don’t.

Killpack leads the team in blocks per set, with 1.22, a mark that also ranks third among all Mountain West Conference players. Offensively, she is sixth on the team in kills per set with 1.28, and her hitting percentage of .316 is the highest of the team.

Seven times this season, she has led the team in blocks, in addition to providing offense that Launiere said gives the team a boost.

“Getting offense out of her position is big,” Launiere said. “We’ve needed that.”

One of Killpack’s strengths that has made her successful is her willingness to work hard.

“She works hard at everything,” Launiere said. “She’s definitely one of the hardest workers on the team. She comes in and gets more film than anyone else so she can watch it on her own time. She’s always trying to make changes to get better.”

Despite Killpack’s success on the volleyball court, she’s not defined by it. She has several interests outside of volleyball.

“I’m interested in a lot of different things,” she said. “I’ve always loved being outdoors. I like going four-wheeling. I also love spending time with my siblings.”

Her interest in outdoor activities stems from growing up in Idaho.

“I lived on a lot of land in Idaho,” Killpack said. “That’s one reason why I was always doing things outside when I was a kid.”

In addition to her love of spending time outdoors, she also knows her way around a corporate setting from her classes as an accounting major.

“I’m really interested in business after college,” she said. “Accounting is the language of business, so that’s a big reason I am majoring in that.”

School is important for Killpack. She puts aside time in the middle of her busy schedule of lifting weights in the morning and team practice every day to focus on schoolwork.
Killpack also has an artistic side. She enjoys quilting and is an accomplished pianist, having played for more than 16 years.

Those who know Killpack best say she is an easy-going person with a funny side.
“She’s great and awesome to be around,” said her father, Kevin. “She’s really fun to be with, always treats others well and has a great sense of humor.”

With her mix of volleyball talent and her humble personality, it’s not hard to see why the Utes are fortunate to have her on their side of the net. However, Killpack insists she is the lucky one.

“I love being a part of this Utah program,” she said. “It’s awesome to play for a great coach like Beth. The legacy that we have here and all the great players that have played here is amazing. We are known to be a great program, and it’s just awesome to be a part of that.”
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Tyler Cobb

Danielle Killpack gets a block in a match against Weber State. She leads the team and is third in the conference with 1.22 blocks per set.