One of the most successful volleyball coaches in the history of the sport in Santa Barbara County and in the CIF-Southern Section is retiring after 29 years at the helm.

Chip Fenenga of Santa Ynez High announced he is stepping down from coaching.

In his stellar career, Fenenga’s boys volleyball teams won 75 percent of their games (476-160). His teams won a record four straight CIF-Southern Section championships and seven titles overall, a CIF record-19 consecutive Los Padres League titles and a record-208 consecutive league games.

The Pirates won 23 overall LPL boys titles under Fenenga, made 29 consecutive CIF playoff appearances and twice were named mythical national high school champions by Volleyball Monthly. 

His boys’ program produced 18 NCAA Division 1 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 LPL titles. He made the CIF playoffs every year and reached the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals six times. The program produced six NCAA Division 1 players.

“I have had the best seat in the house,” Fenenga said of his years on the bench.

“We are so blessed to have had a legendary coach who came to practice every day, did the right thing and continued to do it for 29 years.” Santa Ynez Athletic Director Cris Avery said. “Chip will continue teaching in his dynamic, award winning Environmental and Spatial Technologies class and will continue to support Pirate athletics.”

Fenenga thanked all the athletic directors he worked under— Steve Burton, Ken Gruendyke, Ken Frederickson and Avery — and the school for its support.

“Just being around talented, motivated coaches at Santa Ynez High has been inspirational,” he said. “The JV coaches and assistants over the years, John Norris, Jon Gannon, and especially Mark Peterschick, have set the groundwork for success and fun. Mark has really developed kids and been such a bright spot for the program and me.

“But I am most proud of all of the kids who participated, competed and became great players and even better people. I think so often of them and see their faces every day in my classroom. Just having my son, Russ, set here was an honor and really the high point of my career.”

Fenenga said the level of the volleyball program changed “when a tall, talented freshman named Andy Witt entered Santa Ynez High.”

Witt went on to win a NCAA title at Stanford and played for Team USA in the 2000 Olympics.

“His parents, Bob and Kelly, along with Mr. Feliciano and AD Steve Burton started the program,” Fenenga said. “All the success we have had is a result of the initial work, support, coaching and help from Bob Witt. I personally cannot thank Bob and Kelly and their four kids, (Andy, Larry, Charley and Tommy), enough for the foundation of excellence they established. I just had the keys to the gym.”

Fenenga’s program also produced such standout players as George Roumain (two-time national player of the year at Pepperdine, 2000 Olympian), Ed Pankau (NCAA All-American at Harvard), Mike Wall (two-time NCAA champion at BYU, assistant coach 2016 U.S. Olympic team), JT Gilmour (USC All American), Matt McKinney (UCLA volleyball and basketball player), Aaron Richman (UCSB), Carson Clark (UC Irvine, USA National Team) and Russ Fenenga, his son.

“I started just teaching volleyball to young men and only wanted to consistently win the next point,” he said. “Who knew 29 years would go this fast. I was competitive and that cut both ways. I never wanted to be a bottom feeder so we tried to schedule the very best teams and programs. It was an amazing experience to walk into so many historic gyms and play before, with and against some of the best kids and coaches in the area and nation.

“There are so many parents, people and athletes I want to thank and probably more I need to apologize to. It has been a great run but I know that I just cannot continue at a level and commitment that I am happy with. The longer days and bus travel just wear on me.”   

Fenenga is an amazing story. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer 12 years ago and beat it.

“I know coaching helped me stay focused on positive things and people,” he said. “But that effort and commitment does gradually drain your energy and health. There is a fine group of young players coming up, including one of the best ever in Nate Rogers (son of Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Todd Rogers). They deserve a coach committed to “playoff hockey,” and able to consistently give 100 percent.

“I was just so fortunate to be in this place, with these kids, at this time … with the keys to the gym.”

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

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