By Raiza Giorgi

The start of Chip Fenenga’s affiliation with volleyball started as just something fun to do when there weren’t any waves to surf. Growing up in San Clemente, Fenenga spent as much time in the water as he could and loved playing volleyball in the sand with his friends. 

“I enjoyed volleyball because it was like tennis in the sand. I wasn’t all that good at it, but I loved watching and being a part of it,” Fenenga said. “It’s the Yoder family who really let me be a part of their team, who are a big, big volleyball family. Bob (Yoder) was the coach at USC for a long time, and I got to luckily be their fourth player when needed.”

Learning the game from the Yoder family, Fenenga played volleyball at San Clemente High School in 1976 and 1977, but laughs that he spent most of his time on the bench. 

“I think my perspective from the bench helped me in my coaching career, because I wasn’t a star athlete, but I saw what was necessary to get a kid to shine,” he said. 

Coach Chip Fenenga (second from left) is shown with SYHS graduates Aly Squires (who went to UC Irvine), Matt McKinney (UCLA) and JT Gilmour (USC) at their induction into the SYHS Hall of Fame.
Photo contributed

Fenenga was pleasantly surprised when he learned that he will be inducted into the CIF Hall of Fame on Oct. 14, after being nominated by current SYHS Athletic Director Ashley Coelho. 

“I knew he would get it. I have known Chip for 10 years and he stood out to me as someone who was just a positive influence on anyone he’s around,” Coelho said. “Since I’ve taken over athletic director Chip has been a rock for me and a great mentor.” 

Fenenga retired from teaching this past year, and from coaching in 2019. 

Fenenga led his Santa Ynez boys volleyball teams to seven CIF-Southern Section titles and made the CIF-SS finals 10 times. The boys program qualified for the CIF-SS playoffs 29 years in a row and set CIF records with 19 consecutive league championships, 208 straight league wins and four straight CIF-SS titles.

Combining boys and girls volleyball Los Padres League titles, Fenenga holds the most league championships by any coach in Santa Ynez school history at 30. Under Fenenga, the boys volleyball teams won 75 percent of their games (476-160 career record) and were named mythical National High School champions by Volleyball Monthly. 

Fenenga’s boys volleyball program produced 18 NCAA Division I players, including four NCAA National Players of the Year, and three U.S. Olympians.

In his 10 years as the girls volleyball coach, Fenenga went 199-86, with seven Los Padres League titles. He made the CIF-SS playoffs 10 years in a row, reaching the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals six times. The program produced six NCAA Division I players.

Fenenga was also California Coach of the Year (as named by the California Coaches Association in 1998) and the Los Padres League Coach of the Year in volleyball 23 times for the boys program and seven times with the girls program. 

He now joins the honor of being in the Hall of Fame with former coaching and teaching colleague JoAnn Reck, who received her award back in 2018 for her basketball coaching career. 

Fenenga’s career started when he accepted a teaching position at Santa Ynez in 1989, and began coaching the next year when Kit Myers, the girls’ varsity coach at the time, invited him to coach the girls’ junior varsity team.

Coach Chip Fenenga (far right) with the boys volleyball team after winning the CIF title in 1999.
Photo contributed

“It was around 1992 when Bob Witt approached me about his incoming freshmen and expressed desire for me to coach a boys team,” Fenenga said. “We literally built the program from the ground up and I am so honored I got to teach all those kids. I also had fantastic assistant coaches like Mark Peterschick and we worked so well together.”

The success his players found in volleyball continued beyond high school. Fenenga has seen 18 student-athletes move on to play at the NCAA Division I level, including George Roumain, Chris Peña, and Andy and Larry Witt. The Witt brothers’ success also continued after college, as they played AVP Pro Beach Volleyball, and Andy Witt went on to the Olympic team, winning silver in the 1996 Olympic Games. 

Peña went on to play at UCLA as well as professionally in Europe. Peña won championships while playing in Spain and France.

After being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer 14 years ago, a focus on winning that next point in volleyball helped Fenenga battle the disease.

“That’s one of the great thing about sports. You forget about all the stuff, the needles, the surgery, the chemotherapy,” Fenenga said. “It just disappears and all you have is the game and the kids and a simple goal. It was positive and very affirming.”

He has been cancer free for eight years.

Even though there wasn’t much pomp and circumstance, he loved his time at SYHS and all the kids he got to coach and his fellow coaches and teaching staff. 

“I really appreciated the opportunity that I got to coach my own kids and connect with them in that way as well,” Fenenga said. “And of course my wife, who let me do this while she took care of all the things at home when I was away.” 

Fenenga said he hasn’t really had a chance to soak in retirement yet with all that is going on in the world. He also realized that his “Honey-Do” list is miles long and there’s always something needing to be fixed. 

“I am just so thankful and glad to have been able to coach all those kids and work with so many great people, but I am excited for the next chapter and to enjoy more time with my family,” Fenenga said.