A Malibu youth boys volleyball team qualified for a national tournament.
The Malibu Volleyball Club’s 14 and under boys team finished third in the Jan. 21-22 Southern California Volleyball Association Invitational Boys Qualifier in Anaheim. The 11-member squad’s top-tier finish out of 32 teams from around Southern California earned them a bid to USA Volleyball’s Boys Junior National Championship in Salt Lake City, Utah, which begins on June 29.
Derek Saenz, director of the two-year-old Malibu program, said the 14U group’s qualifying for the multi-day event, which will draw the top volleyball teams from across the U.S., is a big deal.
“A lot of clubs never qualify for nationals,” said Saenz, also coach of Malibu High’s boys and girls volleyball teams, which are unaffiliated with the club program. “To get a bid year two is really good.”
The 14U boys won three of five games the first day of the two-day event and won two games the next day before being defeated by a team from the Beach Cities Volleyball Club of Manhattan Beach.
The Malibu squad of seventh- and eighth-graders were awarded medals and received a plaque for their standout play.
In jest, Saenz said the team celebrated by doing a lot of cardio during their practice following their success in Anaheim.
“They had to run a lot,” he said. “They were thinking ‘We’re good.’ I was like ‘Get to work.’ They got a little bit ahead of themselves.”
In the same qualifier last year, the 14U team lost every game but their last one.
Liam Moore, the team’s coach and a former standout Malibu High boys volleyball player, said only four of this year’s players were on last year’s team. Moore said the returning players have improved but noted that the key to the bunch’s success at the invitational was how mature the boys acted on the court.
“They are young, but the maturity level has gone way up the past four months,” he said. “That is something I am really proud of.”
Positive attitudes, Moore said, like cheering each other up were passed around the court like a volleyball amongst the players.
Moore said Malibu’s best game was on the first day of the invitational. Malibu played a squad full of big kids that are tremendous hitters. The opposing team won the first set and Malibu bounced back and triumphed in the second. The third and final set was a tough contest, but Moore’s squad was victorious.
“The boys had a bunch of energy and were really hyped,” Moore said. “It was a real competitive match that was great to watch.”
The 14U team includes Madeus Lupo, Joshua Bellamy, Luca Calvo, Gaige Corrodi Lamonea, Lucas Galan, Josh Trepetin, Martin Kurial, Skye James, Lucas Neven, Timur Podgore, and Maxson Chiate.
The Malibu Volleyball Club also has a 16U boys team and several girls teams.
Moore, 19, was the Citrus Coast League Player of the Year his senior year of high school in 2021. He was an assistant coach last year with the volleyball club before being handed the reigns of the 14U team.
Saenz said Moore approaches coaching the same way he became a stellar player.
“He really wants to learn and get better,” Saenz explained. “He is a student of the game. A lot of his attributes — watching video, knowledge of the game — help in coaching.”
Saenz noted how his former player is a quiet person outside of the gym, but once the volleyball is served Moore is very talkative.
“I turn into one of the more vocal people in the gym,” Moore stated. “I try to lead the boys and be a good role model for them.”
Malibu will participate in at least one competition a month until they head to Utah.
Saenz said expectations are high for the 14U team since qualified for nationals.
“They are receptive to it,” he stated. “They are willing to work even harder because they want to be better.”