Time and time again, Candace Danz has been asked to step outside of herself.
In every case, it means stepping up in trying to fill big shoes as a rising sophomore on the Indian Creek High School girls basketball team.
And to think her now-budding career was almost nipped in the bud many years before her high school days. More on that later.
As for the present, with former Braves’ standout Ally Lehman now enjoying an NCAA Division I college career, Danz is now the “go-to” player on a young Braves squad.
As the season begins to wind down, Lehman’s rather large shoes – figuratively speaking – are fitting better all the time for Danz.
She’s averaging 21.4 points per game, scoring 30 or more points on three occasions, and is one of the top rebounders for the Braves, who had a 4-10 overall record but a 3-3 mark in the Mid-Hoosier Conference as of Jan. 11.
Last season, the Braves captured the league title and rolled up a 20-6 overall mark. Danz scored 317 points, third-best on the squad, averaging 12.2 per contest along with 6.5 rebounds per game.
Better is Danz’s watchword. Her objective is to improve – day by day, practice by practice, game by game.
“I think Candace is getting better and better,” Indian Creek’s fifth-year coach Dan Burkman said. “She’s got a lot of good skills and a good basketball I.Q., and I’ve been very happy with how she’s been leading our team offensively and defensively.
“I probably put a little extra pressure on her to do more and more, but I can’t help it.”
The soft-spoken sophomore knows her place. That is, she isn’t focused on matching Lehman’s former role, knowing she’s still learning the game.
Lehman had an obviously impressive list of superlatives.
A four-year starter, Lehman was an Indiana All-Star last season, a two-time Johnson County Player of the Year and was last year’s Johnson County Female Athlete of the Year.
She’s taken her talents to Northern Illinois, where she’s won a starting guard spot as a freshman for the Huskies. Danz had a chance to get together with her former teammate during the recent holiday break.
“She actually taught me one of her moves a couple of weeks ago,” said Danz, smiling. “But I still haven’t used it yet.”
Her own skills on the hardwood haven’t been the only place Danz is trying to gain her footing.
“I’ve never really been used to being a leader. I’m not really the talkative type,” she said. “But being out on the court, it just feels natural. It just kind of kicked in this year.
“It used to be Ally, which was awesome. But I’ve had to step up and the girls have really helped me with my confidence.”
One of her teammates is her older sister, Raven, who’s now a junior on the team and appeared in each of Indian Creek’s 26 contests last season.
Candace believes she still has a ways to go to truly emulate Lehman’s unquestioned leadership qualities.
“I don’t think I could fulfill it (the role) as well as Ally did,” Danz said. “I’m working hard, and I think I could make a difference like she did, but I don’t think I could ever be the player she was mentally. Off the court, she made a huge impression on us. Speaking up … she was really good at that.
“Ally could trust her team. I’m trying to learn that, but I think I’ll eventually get there.”
Her coach agrees.
“By nature, Candace is pretty quiet. Ally was very similar at that age,” Burkman said. “It wasn’t a comfortable thing for her, but by the time Ally was a senior there was no doubt she was a leader. The big difference between last year and this year is Ally Lehman is not here. (Candace) is not taking a back seat to anyone now.
“You can see how mentally aggressive she is playing offense.”
If first impressions are lasting, Danz somehow overcame a negative one of organized play when she was at Indian Creek Elementary.
“I was just playing around when I was in kindergarten. When I was in second grade, I played in a fifth-grade game because a girl was hurt,” she said. “There were fifth-grade girls there. It just scared me, and I never wanted to play again.
“Then when I was in fifth grade, a girl got me into a league, and I’ve been playing better ever since.”
And what if Danz had decided hoops wasn’t for her?
“I’d probably still be in choir,” she said, “and I’m already playing (varsity) tennis.”
To say Burkman is glad she stayed with basketball is a quite an understatement.
“She’s a good kid, and that’s just as important to me as what kind of basketball player she is,” he said. “Ally did a lot, but Candace actually scored more points as a freshman than Ally.
“She’s going to be a very good player, but only time will tell.”
And one step at a time.