Shark in Familiar Waters

Malibu High School 2020 graduate and volunteer assistant coach George Roth (center) with his parents, Lance and Susanna Roth, during the MHS boys' volleyball team's senior night in May 2021

Former Malibu High School Sharks boys volleyball player George Roth’s senior season didn’t go as expected. 

The 2020 MHS graduate hoped his final campaign in a Sharks uniform would feature plenty of wins, a Citrus Coast League championship and a ticket to the CIF playoffs. Instead, the worldwide spread of the coronavirus ended Malibu’s season prematurely last March. 

Roth, who first played volleyball as a kid with his dad and brother in their driveway, said the forced ending of the last season weighed heavily on him for some time. 

“I always tried in school, but I didn’t feel passionate about most of the stuff I did in school,” he said. “With volleyball, it was really something I cared about. As a competitive person, it gave me a way to compete. Being able to improve and see where that improvement could get me is big for me in all of life. Not being able to see what that improvement could have got me that season really broke me. There was a time after that I couldn’t find a drive for anything.”

The 19-year-old got a piece of his senior dream back last month. Roth decided to serve as a volunteer assistant coach for Malibu this season. He was honored on team’s senior night in May and was on the sidelines offering encouragement as Malibu advanced to within a game of CIF Southern Section’s Division VI championship match later that month. 

The UC-Santa Barbara student, studying remotely because of the pandemic, began working with the squad after Sharks head coach Derek Saenz told him he was welcome in the gym any time. Roth said being part of Malibu’s campaign was a big deal for him.

“Even though it’s different from a coach perspective—a sideline perspective—I got to live through them a little bit,” he said. “Being able to see everyone I competed with experience playing in the playoffs was great to see. It was a lot of excitement.”

Roth was honored along with the squad’s 2021 graduates before Malibu defeated Nordhoff, 3-0, on May 13. He walked onto the court with his parents, Lance and Susanna Roth, and was given a gift bag and bouquet of flowers.

Saenz said the Roths are a big part of Malibu’s volleyball program, so it felt good to see George applauded on senior night. 

“For a long time during quarantine, I felt like a person who promised something they couldn’t deliver,” Saenz said. “I promised the players if they worked hard and committed, they could be successful. COVID took that chance away from the class of 2020.” 

The 2021 Sharks won the Citrus Coast League and advanced through two rounds of the playoffs before being downed in the semifinals. Saenz said Roth was a positive component to the team’s success. 

“We had a close group of guys in the gym, and with George [Roth] being there to help with drills and playing in inter-squad scrimmages, there was a sense that we were playing for him,” said Saenz, who then mentioned a philosophy attributed to legendary UCLA hoops coach John Wooden: “Someone who is willing to do the work required is a far cry from someone who is eager to do it. George helped fortify this team’s eagerness to put in the work to be as successful as we were this season.” 

Indeed, the Sharks were successful. The squad finished with a 14-4 overall record and 8-0 record in the Citrus Coast League. The bunch began the season with a four-game winning streak, and later won seven consecutive contests. 

Malibu opened the playoffs with a 3-0 win over Maranatha on May 20, then downed Avalon by the same score six days later in the second round. Orange beat the Sharks, 3-1, a game before the championship on May 29. 

That was the finest match the Sharks played, despite the loss, according to Roth.

“There were a lot of moments in that game where I was like, ‘This team is the real deal,’” he said. 

Malibu fell short of finishing the season on top, but Saenz is proud of the Sharks.

“Our goal was to win CIF,” he said. “There was no, ‘Well, let’s just see what happens.’ They wanted a championship but getting to the semifinals was huge, too. It was within our ability to win.” 

When the coach hearkened back to Malibu’s previous losing seasons and the impact the pandemic had on this year’s sextet of players, he described them as resolute.

“This group had the most determination possible,” he said. “I don’t know a group of people that could lose so much on the court and off the court and still come back. They were a really good six that just needed a chance to play.”

The boys volleyball team wasn’t the lone Malibu sports team that had a successful season recently. 

The baseball team won the Citrus Coast League with a 13-1 record. The squad rang up a 17-4 record as it advanced to the CIF Southern Section Baseball Championships Division V quarterfinals. The Sharks beat Burroughs, 5-2, in the first round on June 3, then smacked Savanna, 10-2, five days later. Cajon defeated Malibu, 4-3, in the next round on June 11. 

The boys’ basketball team also won a Citrus Coast League title. Malibu went 6-0 in the league and finished the season with an 7-5 overall record. The bunch had a bye in the first round of the Division 5A CIF Southern Section Boys Basketball Championships. The Sharks beat The Webb School 37-34 in the quarterfinals on June 1 but were downed 50-38 by Faith Baptist in the June 4 quarterfinals. Malibu was defeated by Crawford 62-53 in the first round of the Division 6-AA playoffs on June 15. 

 Volleyball player Liam Moore received the Citrus Coast League Player of the Year award on Monday at the team’s banquet. Senior Grant Hall and juniors Finn Kelly and Nate Mulder were named to the Citrus Coast League’s first team, while senior Sebastian Quinonez was named to the second team. Moore and Mulder also received All-CIF honors for their play in the postseason. 

Roth wants to take some classes at Santa Barbara City College in hopes of joining the school’s volleyball team, but before that he will serve as  volunteer assistant coach during the Malibu’s summer training. 

“I want to help create an environment that helps every player play at the top of their game,” he said.