Marcus and Miles Partain Are Looking Forward to Playing Volleyball Together at UCLA
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For brothers Marcus and Miles Partain nothing is quite as gratifying as winning—especially when it is accomplished together.
Whether on the sand or on the court, they have celebrated many titles together and they hope to celebrate a few more before their careers are over. After being part of three City title-winning volleyball squads at Palisades High they are now teammates at UCLA—the most storied program in NCAA history—and are determined to help the Bruins hang at least one more banner in Pauley Pavilion.
Although the 2020 campaign was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak, Marcus got a taste of Division I college volleyball as a freshman in Westwood while Miles graduated early from Pali High in order to prepare for his freshman year in powder blue and gold in 2021.
In spring 2019, the brothers played on one of the most talented City championship teams ever—one that racked up a school-record 42 victories, reached the CIF SoCal Division I semifinals and finished ranked No. 6 in the nation. Marcus was named City Player of the Year and led a talented senior class that included middle blocker Justin Howard (now at Ohio State), outside hitter Akhil Tangutur (now at UC Irvine) and twin outside hitters Vance and Mason Mallory (now at Endicott College, a Division III program in Massachusetts). His leadership and mastery as a setter made him the ideal quarterback—so much so that Coach Carlos Gray often asked him for strategy or rotation advice. Miles, then still a junior, joined his big brother on the All-City First Team while sharing setting duties and doubling as an opposite hitter. The Dolphins won 104 of 118 sets while finishing runner up at the Best of the West Tournament and capturing the Dos Pueblos Invitational and Redondo Power Classic titles. They defeated El Camino Real in four sets to repeat as City Open Division champions.
In a Western League home match against Hamilton, Marcus did something practically unheard of in the era of rally scoring. He served 24 points in a row to complete a golden set (25-0).
“We started out receiving in rotation 6 and Akhil got a kill from the outside for the first point,” Pali High assistant coach Dustyn Woropay remembers. “Marcus then went back to the line and served 24 straight points with 10 or 12 aces and Akhil mixed in a bunch of kills too. I figured that at some point Marcus would miss a serve, but he never did. When we got to 19 or 20 points, I considered subbing him out but I figured we’d let Marcus keep going. It doesn’t happen very often and the team would’ve been mad at me if I subbed him out there.”
It was a triumphant end to his prep career for Marcus, who had to sit out his whole junior season with an injury while watching his younger brother run the offense in his place.
“Looking back I enjoyed the spontaneous memories that were made as a volleyball team, whether it be the various weekend tournaments, the day-to-day practices after a long day of school or playing spike ball at lunch,” Marcus says. “It was always fun getting to play a sport we all loved while at the same time representing our school and community.”
Individual accolades have never been as important to Marcus as team goals, but earning Player of the Year honors was the icing on the cake.
“It was special, although I’ll say I think a lot of other guys on our team deserved it as well,” he says. “One thing that was unique about our team, particularly my junior and senior years, was the fact that many of us were from the Palisades and grew up playing club together. [Head coach] Carlos) Gray and [assistant coaches] Dustyn Woropay and Dave Suarez consistently pushed us to improve as a team, so while sitting out junior year was tough, I still enjoyed getting to be a part of such a special and tight-knit program and it made being able to play my senior year even more rewarding.”
Marcus didn’t see any action in his first year with the Bruins but he still learned a great deal about what the college game is like.
“We decided I would redshirt due to a nagging injury that resurfaced in the preseason,” Marcus says. “However, it was great just being a part of the team and further learning the game from such passionate and knowledgable coaches and teammates. Nonetheless, the lockdown definitely put a wrench in our season, especially for some of the older players, but we’re looking forward to hopefully starting back up in the fall.”
As Marcus quickly discovered, adjusting to college life entails more than just athletics: “My freshman experience at UCLA was mixed. Academically, it was definitely a good transition. I felt Pali High prepared me for the classes I took. I’m planning to major in applied math, including a minor in either statistics or computer engineering. There were certain teachers at Pali, such as Ms. Smith who taught AP Chemistry and Mr. Shalek who taught AP Physics, that already taught their classes at a college level and I felt the rigors of those classes helped make the academic transition to UCLA so much smoother for me.
I lived in the dorms, so that was a great way to meet people from all around the world. Keeping up with a full course load as well as trying to meet the demands and expectations of the volleyball program was a new challenge. It was a difficult year with respect to the injury and in this time of disappointment I believe Christ was showing me the importance of depending more on Him and less on myself. I definitely learned how to be more independent and take on more responsibility, but overall the pace of life was a bigger transition than I expected.”
The brothers have also paired up for their share of success on the beach. Marcus believes his biggest sports thrill came in the summer of 2017 when he teamed with Miles to reach the main draw at the Hermosa Beach Open. At ages 17 and 15, respectively, they became the youngest tandem in AVP history to accomplish the feat.
“I do plan to continue playing beach volleyball with Miles as well as with other partners,” Marcus says. “I’m not sure how many tournaments I’ll play but I hope to compete in the AVP for many more years to come.”
As for Miles, becoming a Bruin to play alongside his brother was a fairly easy decision.
“I committed to UCLA between the first and second semester of my sophomore year,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to commit so early at the time, but I knew I wanted to attend a school with a strong academic reputation, as well as stay in California somewhere near the beach so UCLA was a good fit. Looking back, committing early to UCLA was such a blessing. Being able to know where I’d go to college lifted a huge burden off my back throughout high school. It allowed me to pursue other interests more fully because I wasn’t thrown into the pressure cooker of college decisions. I graduated from Pali one semester early my senior year so I could hopefully compete in some domestic and international beach volleyball tournaments in the first half of 2020. I’d started attending practices with the USA Beach National Teams in the first few months of the year and was learning so much from the coaches and players as they were getting ready for the Tokyo Olympics. It was obviously a big disappointment when everything was canceled or postponed due to the lockdown. In the meantime I focused on strength training and completing community college courses.”
Like his brother, Miles has fond and lasting memories of Pali High, despite not playing for the Dolphins his senior year.
“There are several lasting memories from Pali volleyball,” he says. “Winning three consecutive City championships with my brother under Carlos Gray is something I’ll never forget. Beating Loyola in the semifinals of the Best of the West in my junior year is also a highlight. My most lasting memory at Pali was beating South Torrance in the SoCal regional quarterfinals my sophomore year. I made some great friends with the juniors and seniors that year and it was a blast to win in front of a packed home crowd.”
Miles is also making his mark on the beach, where he is among the top players his age.
“Last summer was full of memorable tournaments,” Miles recounts. “My brother and I competed in four AVP tournaments—making it to the final round of the qualifiers in New York, Seattle, and Hermosa. Then in Manhattan Beach we were able to get through the final round of the qualifier and break into the main draw. It was great to be able to compete with my brother on the beach, but then he started up at UCLA in mid-August, so I partnered with Paul Lotman for AVP Chicago. We’d competed last summer together for a few tournaments. Paul and I made it through the Chicago qualifier, into the main draw and on to Sunday, finishing fifth. It was incredible to compete on stadium court against players I’ve looked up to for so long. Then, in November, Paul and I competed in Jamaica at the last stop on the NORCECA tour and won a gold medal. It was great being able to travel abroad and represent the USA.”
Miles too appreciates the hard work and talent it takes to perform at the highest level of the sport.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate for God to have given me so many resources to improve in volleyball,” he says. “My parents [Peter and Lisa] have always been supportive. I had great indoor and beach coaches along the way. I grew up close to the beach and took advantage of as many youth and adult CBVA tournaments as I could. Playing with a new partner can be hit or miss, but as long as they are mentally tough and know how to set well the partnership can gel quickly. The beach volleyball community is relatively small and I train with lots of different people either here in the Palisades, in the South Bay or in San Diego so I’ve developed a general sense of different people’s styles of play as I’ve played with or against them or have watched them on video.”
Miles went to watch his share of UCLA matches last season— around 10—to get a feel for what it will be like when he puts on the jersey, and he plans to live in the dorms at Sproul Hall as a freshman next season with a fellow volleyball recruit from San Diego.
He has been working out several days a week in order to prepare, as well as practicing some setting at home. He has also received words of wisdom from his sibling and future Bruins teammate.
“Marcus has given me some great advice and just watching him experience his freshman year at UCLA has been invaluable,” Miles says. “We’re interested in the same kind of major so he has given me advice on the types of classes that are good to take. I visited him several times on campus last year and he’s shown me, for example, which dining halls have the best food. I have a good understanding of the way strength training and practices are run. He made a great group of friends so I already know some familiar faces in addition to my teammates on the volleyball team.”
The Partains have left one volleyball powerhouse and joined another, both off of Sunset Blvd. Palisades has captured more City boys volleyball titles than any other school (16) while UCLA is the most successful program in NCAA annals with 19 national championships. In 2017, the Partains were 33rd at the FIVB U21 championships in Nanjing, China. Not long after, they took second at the USA Volleyball U19 trials.
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