Malibu youth volleyballer wins national tournament championship

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Volleyball player Izzy Von Watts poses with members of the Pepperdine’s men’s volleyball team last year at an open gym at Malibu High. Photo by Derek Saenz

Izzy Von Watts’s club team, SoCal Legends, took home the SoCal Cup Winter Formal title last month

When Izzy Von Watts began playing volleyball over three years ago, he couldn’t step on the court. Instead, the youth dug his feet in the sand and took part in volleyball training and exercise sessions organized by Malibu High boys and girls volleyball head coach Derek Saenz. 

The coach held practices at Zuma Beach from the late summer to the winter in 2020 to give Malibu High players and youths an athletic outlet during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused sports calendars across the globe. Izzy, an 11-year-old elementary school student then, was looking for a sporting pursuit. The beach volleyball sessions, he recalled, hooked him to the sport.

“I thought it was so fun,” Izzy, now 13, said. “A bunch of my friends from Malibu played so I just rolled with it.”

Saenz said the beach training sessions were an opportunity for Izzy to develop basic skills and be around his friends.

“It slowly turned into something they all became passionate about and something that kept them from the brunt of the negatives of the shutdown,” Saenz said.

Izzy has stepped from the sand to the court since then and blossomed. Last month, the seventh-grader helped his club volleyball team, SoCal Legends Volleyball Club in Chatsworth, serve and spike their way to a championship win at the SoCal Cup Winter Formal volleyball tournament at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 

Izzy, a student at Oaks Christian School, said winning the 13 Open division at the country’s biggest premier tournament for boys volleyball age groups 12U to 18U was great.

“We came together as a team,” he said. “At the end, it was stressful, but we came through. I had a fun time.”

The Winter Formal drew 600 club teams that included boys in age groups from 12U to 18U from across the country. There were 11 other division champions. 

SoCal Legends defeated Mountain View Volleyball Club (MVVC) 26-24, 25-19 in the championship match. Izzy, a self-described gritty and aggressive outside hitter, registered a game-point kill to end the first set. 

“I made a really big play,” he said. 

Izzy’s 12-member squad began the three-day tournament on Dec. 8 with a 2-0 victory over Balboa Bay in pool play. They lost to COAST later that day. However, SoCal Legends then defeated MVVC in round one of the crossover bracket. They beat 949, COAST, and Academy of Volleyball in second round of pool play. SoCal Legends downed Balboa Bay and Bay to Bay in the gold bracket before beating MVVC again for the championship. 

Saenz saw SoCal Legends win a match that they struggled in initially. The coach said Izzy was composed throughout.

“He stayed with his team and they ended up coming back to win it,” Saenz remembered. “Seeing him handle expectations was cool to see.” 

Winning the title was full-circle moment for Izzy. Around a year before, he was cut from the SoCal Legends after tryouts. The teen was determined to make the team, so honed his volleyball skills and vertical leap and did plyometrics and weight training in preparation of tryouts later in 2023. Izzy also grew five inches to 5’4” in height. He was confident he would be selected for the Legends’ roster. 

“I’m glad I didn’t make the team,” he said. “It gave me a lot of motivation to train more and play a lot more. I have courts near my house so I just went there every day and played a lot.” 

Izzy didn’t play for one of Saenz’s Malibu Volleyball Club teams because a spot in his age group wasn’t available. The youth found out about SoCal Legends while at a volleyball tournament. Despite not playing for Saenz, Izzy still attends Malibu High matches and volleyball events and still has Saenz’s support. 

“Izzy is super competitive,” he said. “I knew that from day one. Being able to see him mature and use more of his competitive nature in a way that helps him and helps his team play better is really cool to see.”

SoCal Legends is playing in a tournament this week. Izzy said the squad is missing a key player, so he hopes to step up his game.

Izzy has met a few Pepperdine, UCLA, and FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League (VNL) players since he began playing the sport. He hopes to one day reach similar volleyball heights. 

“I want to make it to the VNL and play against a lot of countries and meet new people,” he said.

Hoops photo submitted by Izzy Von Watts
Volleyball player Izzy Von Watts, 13, spikes the ball during a recent practice. The Oaks Christian School student is in his first year playing for the SoCal Legends club volleyball team. Photo Courtesy of Izzy Von Watts