The volleyball-coaching bug bit Derek Saenz when he was a senior volleyball player at Granada Hills High School in the San Fernando Valley.
The school’s girls’ volleyball team didn’t have a coach, and Saenz agreed to lead the squad in a summer practice session after a friend on the team called him to complain about the squad being coachless.
“I called everybody, got them in the gym and told them I know of a drill my team runs,” Saenz said. “They couldn’t find an actual coach, so the baseball coach stepped [in]. But, my senior year, I stayed on to help coach. I had a ton of fun doing it and just stayed on from there.”
He continued to coach at Granada Hills while he played on the volleyball team at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. Saenz’s 18-year coaching journey took him to the East Coast, Orange County, Ventura County and more. Now, it has brought him to Malibu. The 35-year-old was named the coach of Malibu High’s girls’ volleyball team last month.
Saenz said he wants to develop a culture of high-level volleyball at the school.
“It is really just getting the kids to be proud of being part of a team—not just another program or thing to put on the resume,” he said. “I really want to develop relationships with alumni like the kids that graduated this year but want to stay in touch.”
The new coach added, “When you see the people that came before you, it can make you proud. Alumni are a way to add value to a program.”
Saenz follows Jenna Pierson as Malibu’s coach. Pierson coached the Sharks to a 23-3 overall record, including a 12-0 record in the Frontier League, and the CIF Southern Section Division 8 Girls Volleyball semifinals last season.
The Sharks won the league title and made a deep run in the CIF playoffs in 2016 as well.
Saenz said he has three experienced assistant coaches—KhaTara Steen, Ben Harmon and Matt States—which will help him navigate through Malibu’s 2018 campaign in the fall.
“We are going to be able to focus on each position and each person in those positions,” he said. “Having other coaches will make every moment in the gym high energy and high focus.”
Saenz still coached at his alma mater while he won a pair of state championships while playing at Pierce from 2000-02. Shortly after, he began a spirited coaching life that featured him on high school, club team and collegiate volleyball sidelines.
Saenz coached at Santa Monica Beach Volleyball Club from 2002-05 before founding the Shock Volleyball Club in Thousand Oaks in 2006. He was hired as an assistant volleyball coach at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University in 2008. Two years later, the volleyballer coached and trained at Mizuno Long Beach and Mizuno LB West, and spent a few seasons coaching the men’s team at Irvine Valley College. Saenz coached the Laguna Beach girl’s 14-1 team in 2015. He was a boys’ volleyball team assistant coach at Notre Dame for the past two seasons. Saenz was also a Sunshine Volleyball Club coach last season.
Saenz said he has learned a lot manning the sidelines on various levels of volleyball.
“I’m excited about Malibu because I have so much experience in vastly different areas of the sport,” he said. “I’m pretty well prepared for almost any situation at this point.”
The former player will hold a five-week volleyball camp this summer, beginning on July 10. The camp will be for boys and girls, experienced and beginning volleyball players in fifth to 12th grades. The three-day-a-week program will feature beach training in the morning and indoor training in the early afternoon and a summer league for high school girls. The camp will conclude with junior varsity and varsity team tryouts Aug. 6-7 and Sharks team members competing in the Queen’s Court Tournament at the American Sports Center in Anaheim, Aug. 11-12.
Saenz put together the summer program to allow experienced and beginning volleyball players the chance to get to know him and his coaching staff, develop skills and set the foundation for a continuously winning volleyball program at the high school.
He said the Sharks coaching gig is a dream job based in a great area.
“Providing something locally should be well received by just doing it the right way,” he said. “Starting with young kids and just developing that culture—we are looking to start a club program and grow it. We want to have kids playing year-round and have kids familiar with the coaching staff and school.”
Saenz hasn’t set any expectations for the girls’ varsity team when the season starts in the fall. He said the style of play would be whatever makes the girls successful on the court
“We are going to be pushing them to be pretty consistent on their ball control and positioning,” he said.
The coach also said he will make sure the girls understand what their teammate playing another position’s job is on the floor.
“When I coach, everyone passes—even my liberos know how to hit,” Saenz said. “We want them to be accountable for what they are doing and how it affects everyone else. I think it helps with trust.”
For more information on the summer camp, visit malibuvolleyball.com.