Malibu High Sharks girls’ volleyball player Lucia Granados spent her spring and summer honing her volleyball skills—all without stepping foot on a court.
There were the Zoom meetings with teammates that featured the young ladies smacking the volleyball against a wall to practice different strikes. There were also fitness workouts and discussions centered around on-court schemes during the video chats. Beginning in September, Granados began participating in thrice-weekly training sessions head coach Derek Saenz and assistant coach Elina Domnidou held on the beach for Malibu’s boys’ and girls’ volleyball squads. Additionally, there were the times Granados, stuck at home like most during the nation’s coronavirus quarantine, exercised her craft alone.
All that practice led to the 14-year-old nabbing a spot on the Sunshine Volleyball Club’s top Westside squad for 15-year-olds last month. Granados, a volleyball player of three years, said earning a spot on the Westside No. 1 team was what she strived for during the lockdown.
“I have been working hard to improve my skills,” Granados, who was on the Westside second team last year, said. “It’s the biggest change I have ever had, because it wasn’t just the skill; it was the mentality. When you are training alone it gives you time to reflect on your mentality about the game. All the training helped my get on the “ones” [No. 1] team, and I am so insanely happy.”
Sunshine is a widely recognized volleyball program known for showcasing talented volleyball players and pitting them in competitions against other high-level volleyballers. Saenz said competing with the Los Angeles-based organization is an opportunity Granados worked hard to earn.
“She kept working out and doing everything online,” Saenz recalled. “She was getting touches at home. She has been working out at the beach. She puts the work in. She is a good athlete and is coachable. She is maximizing these opportunities.”
The 10th grader is one of three Sharks volleyball players participating with club teams. The other two—boys Liam Moore and Grant Hall—are members of the Team Rockstar’s 18 Black squad. Like Sunshine, Rockstar, based in Carson City, aims to promote top volleyball talent.
Saenz hopes by competing with the club teams, the trio of Sharks are seeing how Southern California’s best high school volleyball players chase victories.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” he said.
Granados, an outside hitter, knows she is in the company of a stellar group with Sunshine.
“The level of volleyball is insanely amazing,” she said.
Hall, a 6-foot-6 senior, is the tallest member of the Sharks team. He said when he first walked in the gym to join his Rockstar teammates, he wasn’t the only tree in the woods.
“The average height was 6’2”, 6’3” and I think the tallest guy there was 6’8”,” Hall, 17, recalled.
The middle blocker noted that the club is one of the top-rated volleyball organizations in the state. Since Malibu isn’t known for volleyball, he must work hard to show he can play with California’s standout players.
“You have to be motivated to become the best,” Hall said, adding that he wants to play college volleyball. “I take everything the coach says to heart and focus on how to become the best player.”
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the beginning of high school sports around California. The start of the girls’ volleyball season was postponed from September until December by the CIF, the governing body for the Golden State’s high school sports. The boys’ volleyball season is set for a winter start, as well.
Granados, Hall and Moore are doing something a lot of high school volleyball players in Los Angeles County can’t do due to coronavirus regulations—practice on an indoor volleyball court—because they are able to play with club teams that aren’t regulated by the CIF.
On Malibu sand
The three have been training with their Malibu teammates every Tuesday to Thursday at the beach. The workouts feature the athletes doing polymetric exercises and volleyball drills. The group adheres to social distancing guidelines. They haven’t been playing volleyball because of restrictions.
Saenz said 30 Sharks have been participating in the trainings.“The kids have been getting in shape,” he said. “Elina comes up with dynamic stuff. It’s never the same thing twice.”
Granados said the practices are fruitful.
“Training on the beach helps your skills grow and makes it easier on the court,” she said. “Elina does a great job of preparing us for things we are going to encounter on the court in terms of footwork, jumping, approaching—all of it.”
The workouts give the Sharks an outlet from spending most of their days taking online classes and studying, Saenz said.
“They are sedentary nine to 10 hours of the day,” he noted.
The coach said being active is something the players crave.
“Demanding different things of your body throughout the day helps you stay balanced,” Saenz said.
Granados and teammates like the practices.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “This is preparing us for a good season. We are going to be very good and in shape.”
Saenz hopes the volleyballers on club squads will bring their Sharks teammates insight on how high-level volleyball is played.
“These kids are working with Olympic-level coaches and guys that are there to play college volleyball. They will see it’s a different mentality,” he said. “Lucia, Liam and Grant are personable people. It will be a positive for them to come back with perspective and leadership ability.”
“I want to bring the excitement that Sunshine has for volleyball back to Malibu,” Granados said.
Hall hopes to relay some of the skills training he picks up with his club team back to Malibu.
“I hope to teach the other kids things like hand positioning and blocking,” he said. “Maybe how to serve better. I hope I can carry the team to CIF championships.”