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Pacific Palisades is trying to reconnect with its legacy of volleyball greatness

Pacific Palisades is trying to reconnect with its legacy of volleyball greatness
Palisades volleyball standouts Miles Partain, from left, Marcus Partain, Justin Howard and Akhil Tangutur are headed to UCLA, UCLA, Ohio State and UC Irvine, respectively. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

There was a time that Pacific Palisades was known as Volleyball Town USA. It was a place from where Olympians and NCAA champions came.

In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Palisades High produced: Chris Marlowe, NCAA champion, Olympic gold medalist; Fred Sturm, three-time NCAA champion, Olympic coach; Ricci Luyties, four-time NCAA champion, Olympic gold medalist; Dave Saunders three-time NCAA champion, Olympic gold medalist; Kent Steffes Olympic gold medalist, beach champion; Randy Stoklos, beach champion; Don Shaw, U.S. national team member, women’s coach at four-time NCAA champion Stanford.

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The Palisades boys’ volleyball team has a chance this season to live up to the legacy of the past. There are four starters headed to big-time college programs, and the Dolphins (24-1) have already beaten their share of Southern Section teams to stamp themselves as one of the best in the state.

“Finally we had a group of kids who came in and started to win,” coach Carlos Gray said.

Justin Howard, a 6-foot-6 senior, has signed with Ohio State. The Partain brothers, Marcus, a senior, and Miles, a junior, are committed to UCLA. Akhil Tangutur, a 6-3 senior, is headed to UC Irvine.

It’s a refreshing return to greatness for Palisades, something that has been made more difficult because private schools love to land volleyball players from the Pacific Palisades. The players achieved great satisfaction earlier this season in defeating Loyola, one of those teams that usually has its share of Palisades residents on its roster.

“This group has been wanting to play Loyola ever since we came here as freshmen,” Howard said. “We know pretty much every single kid on that team. When we played them, we all thought it was a big opportunity.”

UC Irvine-bound Akhil Tangutur, right, on the attack against Oak Park at the Dos Pueblos Invitational on March 30, 2019.
UC Irvine-bound Akhil Tangutur, right, on the attack against Oak Park at the Dos Pueblos Invitational on March 30, 2019. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Howard is a neighbor of the Partain brothers, who live about a three-minute drive from campus. He didn’t start playing competitive volleyball until eighth grade. The Partains have had great success as beach players but are enjoying this final season together. Last year, Marcus missed the entire season because of a back injury.

“I’m super-grateful to play with him,” the 6-3 Marcus said. “I think it helps me become a better player.”

Marcus is serving as the setter, and the two use their closeness and instincts to connect on the court.

“He’s awesome,” Marcus said of his brother. “He makes me look a lot better than I am.”

Said Miles: “We’ve been playing together for so long that I know almost where every set will be.”

Tangutur moved to the area when his father changed jobs and specifically picked out Palisades.

Everyone is acutely aware of the Palisades volleyball tradition, which includes 15 City Section championships.

“Walking into the gym, we have a trophy case with all the players,” Howard said. “All those guys were Olympians.”

Palisades’ closeness to the beach and history of volleyball success creates the environment to excel. Now the Dolphins want to go beyond simply winning another City title. Their goal is to be the best in California and the nation.

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