The Malibu High Sharks boys volleyball team was down 21-8 in the first set of their home match against Palisades on March 4. Then, the Sharks began to battle back.
There was a kill on the left side of the net by Alex Newman, then moments later another kill by team co-captain Nate Mulder.
Malibu coach Derek Saenz clapped his hands together and encouraged his bunch.
“Alright. Here we go,” he said from the sideline.
Saenz’s ra-ra was immediately followed by a block at the net by Axal Jimenez and Finn Kelly, Malibu’s other co-captain, that put the score at 22-11. However, that was as close as the Sharks would get. Palisades eventually won the set 25-22. The Sharks battled their visiting opponents from the start to finish of the second match but were downed 25-21. Palisades won the third and final set 25-19.
The Sharks, said Saenz, are a younger team than Palisades, so they have to get better in pressure situations.
“We have new guys who haven’t played, so we just have to find ways to be competitive without making errors,” he said. “The other team’s level of concentration was just a bit hire. We did pretty well, though.”
Malibu matched Palisades point for point most of the second match, and at one point, the home team led 13-12 before the visitors pulled away. Saenz said his team was more aggressive then.
“We found a little bit more consistency,” he said. “We played a team that makes nothing easy around the net, so we were forced to step up a little bit.”
Kelly, a senior, said Malibu played well and thought it was the Sharks’ top performance of the year so far.
“It was pretty good overall,” he said. “We did struggle with serve-receive a little bit. As the season progress, we get better.”
Malibu had a 3-3 record heading into their match at Hueneme on Tuesday. The squad opened the season on Feb. 22 with a victory over Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, then was defeated by Orange Lutheran. The Sharks have also defeated Agoura and Viewpoint this year. The other loss was to Royal.
Saenz said Malibu’s losses have been respectable.
“We’ve only lost to quality, strong programs,” he said.
The Sharks only return a four players—Kelly, Mulder, Jimenez, and Caleb Newman from their squad that won the Citrus Coast League title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time in program history last May. The other five players—Alex Newman, Luke Levine, Nicholas, Shafai, Maxim Podigore, and Diego Fernandez are first-time team members. Due to that, Malibu does have some things to get better at.
“We are working on our leadership,” he said. “Not just being able to do more on the court but communicate better and make easier for the guys to get going. We won’t everybody to understand their role and how it fits into the machine of Malibu volleyball.”
The coach said confidence is key.
“A lot of our errors are just passive,” Saenz said. “We aren’t being aggressive—late to the ball and second-guessing who is going to go get it. We have to go for it.”
The Sharks play at Carpinteria on Thursday and then at the Dos Pueblos Tournament in Santa Barbara this weekend. The squad will host the Malibu Tournament on March 18 and 19 and then host Camarillo on March 21. Additionally, Malibu will have an alumni game on March 15. Saenz said that alumni from the early 2000s to last season should participate in the event.
“It creates more value for the program,” he said. “I want younger guys to see the success that has come out of this program and realize they can be a part of it.”
Kelly said Malibu has high hopes for the season.
“We will be a pretty solid team,” he said. “Hopefully, we will win league, and we will see what happens in CIF.”