League champion Sharks boys volleyball begin season with a younger team

The Malibu High boys volleyball team practices Monday in preparation for its season opener, which began at Palisades on Tuesday. Photos by Derek Saenz

The Malibu Sharks boys volleyball team has finished atop the Citrus Coast League for two consecutive years. The 11-member squad is serving and spiking to win another league title this season. 

Sharks head coach Derek Saenz described Malibu’s players as optimistic and focused. 

“We want to win again,” he noted. “That is definitely on the table. It will be difficult because we have a lot of young talent.”

Malibu won the Citrus Coast League outright in 2021, then finished tied for first in the league standings with Carpinteria last April. 

However, Malibu lost five players — Diogo Fernandez, Finn Kelly, Luke Levin, Maxim Podigore, and Nate Mulder — from the 2022 squad due to graduation. Senior Caleb Newman, an outside hitter often positioned all over the court for Malibu, is the group’s only returning starter. 

Saenz, in his fifth season as the Sharks’ coach, said Newman, a three-year starter, has to be a leader. 

“We have some talented young guys, but he needs to help keep them focused,” Saenz said. “Caleb is a team culture guy, so get everyone’s work ethic up.”

Seven of the Sharks roster members are freshman. 

Saenz said in two weeks of practice before the season’s tipoff that Malibu’s skill is apparent. 

Malibu’s season began the season with match at Palisades on Tuesday. They played at Viewpoint the next day. The bunch will play in a tournament in Redondo Beach on Friday and Saturday. 

The boys first home contest is Feb. 28 against Burbank at 5:30 p.m. They host Santa Monica on March 1 at 5:30 p.m. and Nordoff the following day at 6 p.m.

Malibu’s early season schedule, Saenz explained, is loaded with good opponents to prepare the team for league play. 

“I want to see the guys stick together and just do what they can,” he said. “I want them to compete. Win or lose, don’t just give anything away. That characteristic is what you build on. From this group, we should be able to see that pretty quickly.”

Along with Newman, Malibu’s team includes juniors Axel Jimenez and Matteo Costella and sophomore Nicolas Shaifai. The freshmen are Keegan Cross, Taj Menteer, Alex Galan, Sebastian Longo, Kane Bendler, Basil Weiss, and Luke Light. 

Malibu was downed 3-0 by Calabasas in the first round of the playoffs in 2022. 

Saenz said Malibu will play a faster pace of volleyball this season because of team’s passing aptitude.

“Our thing is really going to be a whole team dynamic,” he said. “We have to play steady, clean volleyball to be successful. We need good passes, good sets, our serves have got to be on. We aren’t going to physically overpower anyone.”