Propelled by Senior Night triumph, Sharks girls volleyball makes playoffs

The Malibu High girls volleyball team earned a spot in the CIF playoffs. Shown from left are Catherine McDonough, Kate Mulder, Jasmine Bellamy, Lucia Granados, Avery Greco, Mia Thomas, Coco Lupo, and Bebe Bushnell. Photo contributed.

Malibu Sharks girls volleyball player Lucia Granados put her body on the line late in the Sharks’ regular-season finale against Santa Paula on Oct. 12 in the Malibu High gym. 

With the match knotted at two sets apiece, the outside hitter and team captain’s pursuit of volleyball sent her crashing into chairs positioned on the Malibu sideline. As the leaping Granados’ legs banged against the seats, her locked-together hands connected with the ball and sent it over her head and back into play. 

“It felt so surreal,” said Granados, a senior. “That was the play of my career. It was crazy. It was the perfect.” 

Senior middle blocker Bebe Bushnell said the way Granados hustled after the ball as it went out of play was one of the best plays she has seen. 

“It was so crazy watching it happen right in front of me,” she said. “It really goes to show her dedication to the sport and her teammates.” 

Granados’ backwards bump sent the ball to Malibu sophomore Catherine McDonough, who, with an overhead bump of her own, sent the ball over the net. Santa Paula knocked the ball back to the Sharks’ side of the net. Then, after a hit and a set, McDonough rose up and spiked the ball over the net for the kill. Granados later nailed the match-winning point for the Sharks in front of over 100 fans in the stands, who stormed the court in celebration when Malibu’s victory was secured.

Whoa, what a senior night. 

The 3-2 victory put Malibu in second place in the Citrus Coast League standings and sent them to the CIF playoffs for the first time since 2017. That Malibu bunch advanced to the tournament’s semifinals.

Granados, 16, and Bushnell, 17, the only seniors on this year’s team, and have played volleyball together for four years. They were honored before the match against Santa Paula, and could feel the support from their teammates, family, and friends throughout the evening.

“Senior night was such an incredible experience,” Bushnell recalled. She said it was one of her favorite happenings in her volleyball-playing years. Granados said the evening couldn’t have been any better.

“Closing out on a win and securing second place in the league is something we’ve wanted to do for so long,” she said. “It’s an extremely huge success for our program.” 

Sharks head coach Derek Saenz said festive energy was in the air. 

“It was nice to have a loud gym and to have people excited about Malibu volleyball,” he stated.

Granados described the Sharks as a sisterhood but said her relationship with Bushnell is tighter because of the ups and downs the team has had, including the extreme down of losing a season to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Experiencing senior night with her is the best possible thing because I love her as a teammate and a friend,” Granados said of Bushnell. 

Their coach said Bushnell improved her volleyball skills each season.

“We saw the best of her this year,” Saenz said. “You could see a change happen in her. She was able to take on more responsibility.” 

He said Granados is enthusiastic and brings lots of energy to the gym. 

“She isn’t just a smiling happy person,” Saenz said. “She is a worker. She is extremely dedicated to the sport.” 

Bushnell called her classmate kind and loving. 

“We’ve grown so close, especially during this season,” she said of Granados. “I am so grateful for that.” 

The two seniors played volleyball as freshmen, but the pandemic eliminated their sophomore seasons. The Sharks were mostly first-year players a season ago, so victories were sparse. 

This year’s squad, though, Saenz said, is talented.

“There is that pressure of ‘Oh, we should win,’” he said. “We haven’t felt that responsibility and pressure in a long time. The girls handled that responsibility and pressure really well.” 

Malibu finished the regular season with a 10-18 overall record, including an 8-4 record in the Citrus Coast League. Malibu downed South El Monte and Le Lycee once each and recorded two wins apiece over Carpinteria, Channel Islands, Fillmore, and Santa Paula.

Saenz said the first victory over Carpinteria stands out because the Sharks didn’t play well but also didn’t give up.

“We scraped through it,” he said. “I told them [that] at every level there are great teams that have days they don’t play well, but the truly great teams don’t give up. They find a way. If you aren’t passing well, serve really tough. Do something else if one category isn’t working for you. A lot of the kids figured that out in that Carp match.” 

The Sharks, Granados said, grew together. 

“We saw what our faults were and worked together to fix them,” she said. “It led us to lots of victories.” 

Malibu played the Coast Union Broncos from San Luis Obispo County’s seaside on Tuesday in the first round of CIF Southern Section Division 8 Girls Volleyball Championships. The winner plays the victor of California Lutheran vs. Liberty on Saturday. 

Bushnell said Malibu has the prowess for postseason success. 

“Being able to apply that skill during games and communicate with each other is what will get us through the playoffs,” she said. 

Granados said making the playoffs is a great feeling. 

“I have a lot of confidence in our ability,’” she said. “I expect the best out of my teammates.”