Outside or inside? Malibu High Sharks volleyball coach Derek Saenz said members of the Sharks boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams will play almost anywhere if they are allowed to participate in the three-month season when it begins in December. 

“I’m sure they’d be down for even a grass volleyball season,” he said. “They want the opportunity to play—even if it’s modified. Throw on a mask or hazmat suit.” 

One of the girls, Lucia Granados, 15, concurred. 

“The season is very important to us,” the outside hitter said. “We’ve been working hard to play well.” 

Of course, playing a sport that brings people together indoors during a worldwide health emergency caused by a highly contagious respiratory illness is a bit more difficult than volleying the ball over the net for a point. Malibu’s volleyball teams’ seasons begin next month; however, at press time, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District hadn’t yet given athletic teams the OK to begin their playing schedules, due to the surge in coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County. 

The squads haven’t been allowed to step on an indoor court to practice but were recently allowed to begin practicing outside on Malibu High’s campus. The participants wear masks and social distance, and no more than two individuals can touch the same volleyball. 

“We can’t do doubles because that would be four people touching a ball,” Saenz said. 

Still, Granados said, practicing on school grounds a few days a week is a slight return to normalcy. 

“We are super happy to be able to train at school,” she said. “Although we wish we could do indoor, this is helpful to us.”

The volleyball team members and other youths have been conducting team skill and polymetric training at Zuma Beach since August under the umbrella of the Malibu Volleyball Club, which is run by Saenz. The club adheres to restrictions set by L.A. County, but does not fall under COVID-19 guidelines set by the school district. 

The players practice at Malibu High on Mondays and Fridays. They have beach trainings Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

The mix of club and official high school practices allows the group to sharpen its skills and be as ready as possible for when it get sapproval to take part in the season. The boys’ and girls’ teams Citrus Coast League opponents—all Ventura County schools—have been holding official practices for some time now. 

Saenz said the Sharks are prepared for the possibility they might not take part in the schedule until January or February. 

“It very well may be the Citrus Coast League is everyone but Malibu, and we have to jump in,” Saenz acknowledged. 

The coach said it was important for Malibu to have competition. The boys’ team’s 2020 spring campaign was axed because of the pandemic. Saenz said if this winter schedule is erased, he’d have players that went without junior and senior seasons. 

“I have kids that might go through their whole high school careers and have not played varsity,” he said. 

Saenz is hopeful. He said many club teams in Southern California have been practicing indoors and playing in tournaments. A few Sharks girls and boys players are members of those clubs. Saenz said competing with coronavirus restrictions in place is happening successfully. 

“The kids are making good decisions,” he said. “Now, it is really outlined for them how responsible.” 

Grant Hall, a 6-foot-6 middle blocker on the boys’ team, has been practicing indoor with his club team. 

“Indoor is a lot different than beach volleyball,” the senior noted. “You can jump higher to hit. You can set in indoor; you can’t set in beach volleyball and there are more people on each team.” 

Granados and her teammates are training as if the season is not in doubt. 

“I’m very passionate about volleyball, so being able to play for my school and with my friends is very important to me,” she said. “It’s not just a sport; it’s a community. I really hope we do have a season.” 

Saenz said all the players put in effort to get better. 

“They want a little return on that by having a season,” he said. 

In years past, the boys’ team’s season started in March. The girls’ team’s season is normally in the fall, but this year the California Interscholastic Federation, the state’s high school sports governing body, delayed and then rearranged the sports calendar. 

Hall and Granados said the ultimate goal of their teams is to compete for a CIF championship. 

Saenz said the boys’ squad is athletic and features skilled players. 

“They have something to prove because last year was supposed to be the breakout year, but we didn’t get it,” he said.

Hall said the Sharks’ main strength is hitting. “Our team is tall, so it is easy to block and hit on the front row,” he said. “I look forward to playing good teams and overcoming them.” 

Saenz said the girls’ roster features experienced players and can challenge the top teams in their league. 

“We lost a lot of close games last year,” he said. “It would be great for us to make the playoffs.”

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