Ethan Marshall’s backyard has been converted into a year-round volleyball court.
The net in the middle is supported by steel posts which are permanently secured in concrete which were installed a couple years ago.
The thought was that Marshall — a West Ranch junior — lives, breathes and sleeps volleyball. So his parents thought it made sense to give him a court to use at home.
But while the yard serves as a venue for some informal hitting and friendly pick-up games, Marshall takes the sport very seriously when he steps into a gym.
That’s the place where he’s developed into West Ranch’s excellent starting setter and the type of player who is already drawing attention from prominent college volleyball programs before he’s even entered his final year of high school.
“It’s always a good place to build a team around, and we’re lucky with him,” says West Ranch head coach Nate Sparks of the 17-year-old.
This has been a year of transition for West Ranch volleyball after it graduated two straight classes that included big, powerful hitters in each of the last two seasons.
This year’s team is made up of smaller players who rely more on athleticism, which meant a complete overhaul of the offense. It’s been Marshall who has been tasked with running the team’s new, quicker system that involves more on deception and strategy.
In his second year as West Ranch’s varsity setter, Marshall has taken charge of the new scheme in masterful fashion.
He has 720 assists so far with an average of 10.3 assists per game. To go along with that, he also has a team-high 39 aces and 43 total blocks.
And when it comes to executing a new offensive strategy, no position has been more important than Marshall’s.
“I like being kind of like the captain, the quarterback,” Marshall says. “I get to control what happens. That’s what I like about it is the power it gives me.”
Even as a freshman, Sparks said he recognized Marshall’s skills and knew he was very technically advanced for his age. Marshall was the starting setter for West Ranch’s junior varsity team that season, and he was swiftly called up to the varsity team as a sophomore.
Before he even started high school, Marshall was a polished player.
While it’s rare to see boys start playing volleyball formally before age 14 or 15 in the Santa Clarita Valley, Marshall was an exception to that rule.
He joined his first organized volleyball team with Santa Monica Beach Club at age 12, following the path of his father, Kevin, who was once a high-level, semi-professional beach volleyball player.
“I wasn’t expecting him to really take to it but he really enjoyed it,” Kevin says of his son.
Though Ethan started as an outside hitter, the position his father played, Ethan settled in as a setter within a couple years playing the sport.
The first time he played in a tournament as a setter, he recalls thinking to himself: “I should keep doing this because I’m not that bad at it.”
There was always something about setter than felt natural to Ethan. Though he’s not the one putting the ball away for an emphatic kill, he gets a kick out of being part of the process.
“For myself I feel rewarded if we do win or we do get that nice kill because I feel like I did do it,” he says.
Through the years, he’s encountered the right types of coaches who have taught him the different aspects of playing the complicated position.
It starts with the footwork and hand placement, but it’s also about getting high enough in the air to keep opponents guessing about where the ball is going.
Outside of the setting itself, Marshall is also in charge of blocking in the front row (a 34-inch vertical leap helps) and defense in the back row.
One of his club coaches trained him to not be afraid of the ball by standing a couple feet a way and slamming volleyballs at him constantly.
And his dad has always been willing to offer a few pointers as well given their shared passion for the sport.
Kevin grew up in Minnesota, where he played for the state’s only club based in Minneapolis and he went on to play for a club team at the University of Minnesota.
After college, he moved to Redondo Beach, where he played beach volleyball and earned AAA status, which is the highest possible semi-pro rating.
While the sport never became a career for Kevin, he stayed involved in it through the years and continues to play for fun on the weekends.
In turn, Ethan was exposed to the sport at a young age. He and his dad occasionally play beach tournaments and Ethan was recently invited to a USA High Performance beach volleyball tryout in Chula Vista.
That could wind up landing him on a youth national team.
Or better yet, he could end up achieving his one major goal of landing on a big college team.
“I feel like as long as I work hard, I’ll really be able to take off,” Ethan says.