By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Tom Smart (DeseretNews.com)
Right from the start, Rachel and Marisa Parson have been together. Scott and Allison Parson have three kids, but they took the most efficient course of action and had them all at once.
Rachel and Marisa, along with their brother Alex, are triplets. The girls star for the Northridge High volleyball team, while their brother plays basketball for the Knights.
While Rachel and Marisa share a birthday and a lot of similar traits, there are some differences between them, especially when it comes to volleyball. Rachel is 6-foot-1 and an outside hitter, while Marisa is 5-9 and plays setter.
“Marisa and Rachel are awesome,” said first-year Northridge head coach Rylee Garver. “They’re awesome to work with and awesome that they work together. It’s been fun having them on the team because they’ve kind of got the sister thing going – Marisa’s the setter and Rachel’s the hitter.
“As I came in as a new coach, Marisa and Rachel were the first to step up and be leaders to help the team out and also me. Marisa is one who hates to lose. She is very competitive and you can see it on her face, her attitude, the way she plays. Rachel is more excited, but is also very competitive and holds teammates accountable when they aren’t doing maybe what they should be doing.”
The Parson family spends a lot of time involved in sports-related pursuits. Their parents passed along the height gene to their three children, and all three combine that with hard work and training in their athletic successes.
“My dad played football and ran track in high school and my mom danced in high school,” Marisa said. “Everybody thought that was funny because she’s so tall and she should have done sports.”
The kids find the family dynamic to be a huge positive and they love having the friendships it fosters.
“I think it’s cool (being a triplet) because you always have a best friend,” Marisa said. “They’re always there for you and they know what you’re going through. It’s going to be weird when we all get to college because we’ve never been apart from each other and this is going to be the first time we’re going to be separated.”
Though Alex is primarily a basketball player (he has participated in club volleyball), when the family competes together it’s usually in the sisters’ chosen sport. Marisa says her brother is much better at volleyball than the girls are on a basketball court.
“He’s pretty good. He’s really tall, so he can just get up and block balls straight down,” Marisa said. “Our dad set up a grass pit in our back yard, so usually it’s all of us playing volleyball instead of all of us playing basketball.”
The complementary positions put the sisters in prime position to strengthen each other, just as they have all of their lives. Much of that comes in the way they mesh on the court, but some comes in the feedback they give to each other.
“She plays outside, so it’s good for her to be tall,” Marisa said. “I’m a taller setter so that’s good for me. I’m just not as tall as her. I definitely think there is a connection (with Rachel). I know what kind of set she wants. We talk to each other really well. She probably gives me the most feedback, which is good. Sometimes she’s being a little tough on me because she’s my sister, but that pushes me to be better.”
The connection goes both ways, and Rachel sees it as in part inherent to their close relationship and part due to the time they spend working together on their game.
“We’ve been working together and playing together ever since we were in sixth grade,” Rachel said. “We go to practice together, not just with the team but by ourselves. We’ve been working for so long to get to this point, and I can share that with her. It’s different than sharing it with my friends, it’s my sister. I think her being my sister, she trusts me more than other people do, so that’s a little different. If we’re in a tight point, she can just look at me and we know what each other are saying and I can tell.”
As the setter, Marisa is in position to control the direction of play and to decide which teammate will have the chance to finish plays. You would think that would lead to extra swings for Rachel, and there are times their connection leads Marisa to set in that direction, but it’s not always the case.
“I want to mix up the sets so the blockers aren’t focusing on one specific hitter,” Marisa said. “Also, I think you have to be smart because you have to know where to put the ball if they’re going to get a kill, but you also want to deliver the ball around so everybody’s getting hits and so you’re mixing up the offense, so the other side doesn’t know where it’s coming from.”
Rachel is content with the number of sets that come her way and she has a certain sense that lets her know when her sister will be looking her way.
“It’s a good amount (percentage of sets to me),” Rachel said. “We’ve been together since birth, so we have that connection on the court. We always know where we’re going to be on the court and I know what she’s going to do. The little moment before she connects with the ball, I know where she’s going to set.”
One challenge is to avoid taking the game home with them, since the sisters are rarely apart.
“I sometimes don’t like to talk about volleyball after the game,” Rachel said. “If we’re in the car, and we start talking about the game, I usually try to change the subject because I usually don’t like to do that. If it was a tough match or we didn’t play well, I don’t want to focus on the mistakes I made. The same thing with when we win our game, I just want to say, ‘We’re done, let’s go celebrate.'”
The Parson sisters occasionally test their connection on the sand, playing beach volleyball, where they have done quite well.
“When I was little, we played little league soccer and softball and stuff,” Marisa said. “Volleyball is really time consuming and it can be year round. Me and my sister actually played in a sand tournament, so it kind of goes from indoor and outdoor, all year around. They had a juniors tournament a couple of years ago, and we actually took first in our age division.”
That’s My Sister
The Parson sisters both talk about the anticipation of how strange it will be when they are Alex are separated after this senior year is complete. Rachel is headed to Weber State to play volleyball, while the other two are still working on their college plans.
“We have a really good relationship. We tell each other everything. I know a lot of siblings don’t like talking to their siblings about certain things, but we tell each other everything. After dances, we’ll stay up late, until like two in the morning talking about stuff.”
Garver likes the relationships all of her players have, on and off the court, where Rachel and Marisa are more than just sisters.
“I think it works out well because they have the same friends, they have the same interests,” Garver said. “They’re both very good students. I think everything they do is together and they’re honestly just best friends. I know that they’re very defensive about each other and if needed, they step up and let it be known that ‘That’s my sister.'”
Challenging for State Title
This year, Northridge is loaded with senior talent and the Knights have their eyes on a state championship. That has a team that finished fourth in Class 5A a year ago to enter this tournament with confidence.
“We’re mostly seniors and I feel like we have a better connection on the court,” Rachel said. “Last year, we had maybe two seniors and we had a few sophomores and it was mostly juniors on the court. This year we’re all seniors and we have a sophomore and junior on the court, and we all flow together better.”
“I think our energy is important. We took fourth in state last year, which is the best Northridge has ever done, but comparing last year to this year, I think when we get excited and we cheer for each other and our energy is super high, and we are confident each other, we do really good.”
The experience of so much time playing together gives the players the belief that they know what will make them successful in the postseason.
“I think we have to go in with the mentality of just one game at a time, and we can’t think about the future, you need to take care of the present first,” Marisa said. “We’ve really jelled as a team and we have really good connection. We just have to stay positive with each other. I think really it’s our mentality. We all know how to play volleyball, but if our mentality gets in the way, we’re in trouble.”
This is the first year on the Northridge bench for head coach Rylee Garver, who took over an extremely talented group coming off that fourth-place result of a year ago.
“To be honest, to start out with, walking onto the team I felt very grateful and very lucky because they’ve been very well coached, very well disciplined and they know the skills of the game very well,” Garver said. “I feel like, in practices, we don’t have to waste time on the basics. We’re able to do more advanced things because they’ve already been trained. I think it’s one of the good things about us is we’re not doing the little things every day, we’re working on tightening up our offense.”
And like any coach, Garver recognizes the presence of that leadership of which the Parson sisters speak so highly.
“We have seven seniors this year, which has been really strong and at the same time it’s been hard because not all of them get to play because there’s so many of them,” Garver said. “They’re just a great group of girls. They’re best friends off the court, and when it’s time to come to the court, they play really well together and they’re able to be excited for each other.
“I think they’ve learned how to have each other’s backs and to keep each other accountable. We talk about that a lot at practice, you need to be the one that lets them know, ‘You need to pick it up because you’re a part of this team and if you’re not getting better, we’re not getting better.'”