Sharks volleyball coach Saenz begins season with promising boys team

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Photo by Devon Meyers/TMT

The team had a big three-set win over Viewpoint in the Malibu High gym on Feb. 20 

When Derek Saenz was a high school and college volleyball player in the San Fernando Valley, he was aggressive, methodical, and also the guy that sought to energize his squad on the court.

“I was one of the loudest players out there,” he recalled. “Mostly because I knew it hyped my team up, and they would play better.”

Now Saenz, 41, the boys and girls volleyball coach at Malibu High, is less animated but still strives for his squads to improve with each strike of the volleyball. 

“I treat my athletes like adults,” he said. “My expectations for their communication, their effort, their energy … Having that expectation and showing respect for them, the ‘We are on this journey together, and I know the road ahead’ mentality is the kind of coaching I really wanted at this age and what is responded the best to.”

Saenz began his sixth season coaching the boys team this month. The team had a big three-set win over Viewpoint in the Malibu High gym on Feb. 20. The 25-16, 25-17, 25-15 triumph was orchestrated by a group of volleyball players Saenz has guided down the volleyball road for a number of years through his youth program, the Malibu Volleyball Club.

“Everyone is excited about playing,” Saenz said. “We are at a point where a majority of the kids play club volleyball but are also very excited to play with their high school program.” 

Another big triumph the team has had this season was its 3-1 win over Oaks Christian on Feb. 27. The Sharks dominated the last set 25-16. Senior setter Axel Jimenez, an All-Citrus Coast League first-teamer in 2023, had a few stellar serves that gave Malibu momentum toward the win. 

Malibu opened the season with losses to Vista del Lago and Monrovia in a tournament. They then beat Rio Hondo Prep, Vista Lago, and Orange Vista. The Sharks lost to Camarillo, San Marino, and San Juan Hills after beating Oaks Christian. 

Malibu hosted Hueneme on Tuesday and play at Channel Islands on Thursday. They host Fillmore on March 12. 

The squad’s season stretches until mid-April. They hope to compete for a CIF title.

“We’ve improved by leaps and bounds,” Saenz stated. “It was a fun hobby in the beginning, and then we began competing. Hopefully, we will learn to compete for championships. That is a totally different animal. There is a difference between being good enough and actually getting the job done.” 

Saenz should know. He won two state titles as a member of Pierce College’s volleyball team in the early 2000s. He fell in love with volleyball while watching his older sister play the sport in high school and college. Years later, the kid who was always at his sister’s practices hitting the ball at the net, played volleyball at Granada Hills High School. He was an assertive player at Pierce College, located in Woodland Hills, from 2000-02. Saenz coached a bit. The volleyball bug had been volleyed to him. 

“Volleyball is so fun for me,” Saenz said. “It’s the team dynamic of it. The ball is in the air for so long and you have to coordinate or the ball is going to hit the floor. The vibe is cool. The sport is real welcoming.” 

Saenz coached high school and club volleyball for 18 years in Orange and Ventura counties, and even on the East Coast, before getting hired to coach Malibu High’s squads in 2018. He immediately began holding training sessions and scrimmages with former college and professional volleyball players he knows. The coach wanted to show Malibu players and parents how fun volleyball is.

“The excitement of ‘Oh wow. Good volleyball in our gym,’” Saenz said. 

Saenz established the Malibu Volleyball Club. He organized training sessions on the beach for young athletes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the players on the Sharks’ roster now, initially played volleyball then. 

“It was the only outlet they had,” Saenz said. “Everyone was happy to have something.”

He has coached the girls and boys teams to several victories. The boys team has qualified for the CIF playoffs for three straight seasons. 

The girls team qualified and advanced in the CIF playoffs in 2022. Some Sharks players have gone on to play in the college ranks. The Malibu Volleyball Club won a division at the SA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championship in Salt Lake City last summer. 

Saenz hopes he has established a volleyball community in Malibu.

“It’s not the mafia, but you are in it for life,” he said. “You are a part of something special.”

This year’s boys team, Saenz said, can be a standout group.

“We have the talent and a lot of potential,” he said. “Talent and potential don’t win championships. They are just ingredients. Ingredients does not a cake make.”