Pro Player Offers Advice, Support and Perspective

Pro volleyball player Deja McClendon addresses the MHS girls volleyball team.

Members of the Malibu High School Sharks girls volleyball team picked the brain of one sport’s veterans during a Zoom call on June 18. 

Professional volleyballer Deja McClendon discussed aspects of the game with the 10 Sharks during an 80-minute Zoom meeting. McClendon, who has played volleyball overseas for several years, also touched on themes connected to the recent demonstrations and rallies against racism and police brutality that have swept the nation since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, after a player asked about the challenges McClendon has faced in volleyball, according to Sharks coach Derek Saenz. 

McClendon, an All-American volleyball player in college, discussed injuries and a racial slur that was directed at her during a match in Brazil last October. 

“She was really sad and angry,” Saenz recalled. “She told the kids how her teammates were very supportive and spoke out about how wrong that was. That meant the world to her.”

Saenz said McClendon encouraged the Sharks to be vocal in supporting anyone that is being treated wrongly. 

Three days before the online conversation, McClendon told The Malibu Times she is solutions oriented when discussing issues involving race relations.

“We can all use our strengths to combat this problem—the big problem,” said McClendon, who is Black. “I hope to find the right way to talk to these girls who are very different from me. We have commonalities. I want to find a way to use those commonalities to accomplish goals.”

McClendon’s conversation with the group came after a previous video call the team had where they talked about the murder of Floyd and other issues involved in race relations. Saenz said the dialogue was fruitful. 

Linda Morazan, a 16-year-old libero on the team, said the discussion allowed the group to bond.

“We all got to hear each other’s opinions and how we really felt,” the junior said. “It’s an important topic for a team to talk about. It’s important. Everyone should be aware and be educated on it.”

McClendon completed her All-American college career in 2013 at Penn State. She played her first season of professional volleyball in Azerbaijan and played the following three seasons in Poland. She played in Italy before spending last season in Brazil.

The Sharks’ talk with McClendon centered on volleyball. She discussed pressures to succeed in the sport, embracing challenges, being a good teammate and techniques to deal with stress.

Sharks volleyball player Elyse Morales, a setter, said she enjoyed the digital meeting with McClendon. Morazan felt comfortable speaking with the elite player.

“I felt like I could say anything, and she wouldn’t judge me or think anything wrong,” Morales said. “She is a true inspiration. She got me thinking about how I can improve and be a better player.”

Saenz said the young volleyballers were inquisitive.

“The girls asked a lot of good questions, and Deja had some great answers,” he said.