MHS Boys’ Volleyball Advances in CIF Playoffs

Boys' volleyball plays against Nordhoff earlier this season.

The Malibu High Sharks boys’ volleyball team advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time in the program’s history. 

The squad defeated the Maranatha Minutemen, 3-0, at home on May 20 in the playoff’s first round to move on to the quarterfinal matchup at the Avalon Lancers on Wednesday. 

Sharks head coach Derek Saenz said his group is confident heading into the game against the Santa Catalina Island-based Lancers. 

“If we play well, we can beat anyone,” he said. “We are looking forward to that match.”

Saenz said Malibu isn’t satisfied with one postseason victory, despite making it beyond the first round of the playoffs.

“Our goal is to win CIF,” he said. 

The 13-3 Sharks won Citrus Coast League with an 8-0 league record. Their successful regular season garnered them the No. 2 seed in the CIF Southern Section’s Division VI playoffs. If Malibu beats Avalon, the team will play the winner of the Orange versus Sierra Vista quarterfinal on May 29.  The winner of that contest will snag a spot in the championship game on June 5. If Malibu triumphs, it could host at least one of those contests. 

The Sharks downed the Minutemen, 25-11, 25-18, 25-11. Senior outside hitter Liam Moore led Malibu with 23 kills, while senior middle blocker Grant Hall led the squad with 10 blocks. Moore also led the bunch with 18 digs. Sophomore middle blocker Caleb Newman had four serving aces.

Saenz said Moore and junior Nate Mulder, another outside hitter, excelled; as did setter Finn Kelly, Mulder’s classmate.

“He has been putting in extra work,” Saenz said of Kelly. “He really wants it. I don’t know of many programs that have kids rushing from practice to private lessons.”

Saenz said the Sharks were anxious at the beginning of the first-round match but finished strong. 

“They were eager to play,” he said. “I just want my gym full of kids who love playing the game. There should not be anyone who can go six months and not play volleyball—you’re not my guy. That is pretty much what we have. We have a gym full of guys that love to play the game.”

Saenz continued: “They enjoy playing and competing. The tougher the team the more fun they have with it.” 

The Malibu coach said playing strong teams in higher divisions was key to their season. The Sharks’ regular season losses were to Orange Lutheran, Royal and Oxnard. All three teams are in higher divisions. Saenz said Orange Lutheran walloped Malibu in the first two sets in an April 27 contest, but the Sharks bounced back and played the team’s best volleyball of the season in the final set.

“In the third set, the guys finally got it together,” he said. “The kids were doing big stuff. That was the biggest match for us to play in and play well.

The Sharks’ 2020 campaign was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. This season was delayed also because of the health epidemic. To make up from time lost competing against opponents, members of Malibu’s boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams spent a lot of time training together outdoors at the beach and eventually at the school. The players had months and months of skill development, but Saenz still wants the boys’ team to get better as they advance in the playoffs. 

“I want us peaking at the right time,” he said. “There is still a lot we have to learn. They have missed so much competition. This year has been tough with a shortened season and new tournaments, so we are missing hours of competition. They haven’t been in the fire as often as we would like.”

Still, Malibu is playing close to the level Saenz envisions. 

“We work hard and are playing consistent,” he said. “They are a very good group.”