There was senior James Havandi, arm extended above the net, slightly tipping the ball down, under the outstretched arms of a defender. There was sophomore Daniel Rafeedie diving for a ball and onto the gym’s floor and then later slicing the ball between two defenders for a point two sets later. There was also sophomore Liam Moore, continuously rising up and hammering the ball over the net.

Yep, the Malibu High boys volleyball team came a long way this season. 

The 11-member squad started the season without a win during its nonleague schedule, but thanks to key wins in the Citrus Coast League, the Sharks hosted a match in the wild card division of the 2019 CIF Southern Section Boys Volleyball Championships on April 27. 

Malibu was beaten, 3-0, by the visiting Cathedral of Los AngelesPhantoms, but the home team’s coach Derek Saenz said the Sharks making an appearance in the postseason for the first time in seven years was a step in the right direction.

“They worked really hard this year,” said the first-year Sharks coach. “We progressed and got better and better and started winning some matches.” 

Malibu dropped a string of matches before defeating Filmore, 3-1, on March 14. The bunch knocked off Hueneme, 3-1, five days later. 

Saenz said beating Hueneme, another team that qualified for CIF, was the Sharks’ best performance of the season. 

“We were consistent, stuck to the game plan and got something amazing done,” he said. “Hueneme was the first time where we were like, ‘OK, we can be competitive.’” 

Malibu also recorded a second victory over Filmore and defeated Nordhoff. 

The Sharks started the season with losses to teams such as Agoura, Brentwood School, Calabasas and Windward. Saenz, a former high school and college volleyball player, who also coaches the Malibu girls team, said throughout the entire season the boys team was learning the essentials of the sport. That was especially apparent in the early season when the opposition was “so far ahead of us,” Malibu’s coach said. 

However, the Sharks progressed and, amidst the losses, the team discussed setting goals and working hard to make the playoffs.

“Imagine what would it feel like to get return on your investments,” Saenz recalled telling the Sharks. After some wins and with spring break on the horizon, the coach said the team’s mindset had changed from “We don’t even go to the playoffs, what are you talking about, coach?” to “Well, if we are going to make playoffs we should practice and not take spring break off.” 

Malibu lost the three sets to Cathedral by scores of 25-18, 25-19, and 25-22. The Phantoms had an early, 12-8, lead in the first match, but the Sharks battled back and took a 15-14 lead, but the visiting team took ahold of the set and won by seven points. 

Cathedral was up, 2-0, in the second match before Havandi’s tipped ball gave Malibu its first point. The Phantoms then led by scores such as 5-2, 8-6, and 13-7 before winning the set. 

Malibu scored the first point of the final set, but Cathedral scored quickly. A point by Sharks sophomore Grant Hall tied the set at 3. The two teams tallied points back-and-forth and then a block by Hall and junior George Roth gave the home team 11 points to Cathedral’s 12. Malibu tied the set and would eventually take a 20-19 lead, but the Phantoms then outscored the Sharks, 6-3, to take the win. 

Saenz said hitting errors doomed the Sharks.

“We do amazing things to keep the ball in play, but we just hit balls in the net,” he said. “If you make 15 errors, most teams can earn 10 points. The more mistakes you make, the easier you can make it for teams to beat you.” 

Saenz added that if the team is going to make mistakes, he’d rather them be “aggressive errors” where they are attacking the ball. 

“If you make errors, you just have to score more points,” he said. “Go in swinging, and you will figure it out.” 

Saenz said the squad’s CIF appearance was fulfilling.

“Seeing them go and understand it’s about hard work and investing into something as a group—[their] team was good, but we had chances,” he said. “Things could have gone our way, but things don’t always.” 

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