Growing up in Louisiana, sport has always been in my blood. However, growing up in Louisiana also meant that volleyball wasn’t one of those sports that ran through my veins.
In the South, the big three sports – baseball, football and basketball – reign supreme among boys. Football is so big that it is basically considered a religion. Fridays are reserved for high school games; Saturdays are spent on the couch looking for the Tigers (the purple and gold kind, of course). And Sundays are spent cheering on them boys in the Black and Gold (WHO DAT BABY!).
So the natural question was and still is today: “How did you get involved in volleyball?”
Although volleyball was booming in Louisiana, with six schools offering beach volleyball programs, it wasn’t always as popular as it is today.
My journey began when I was 14 in Coconut Beach, not to be confused with the AVP 2022 site in New Orleans. The Coconut Beach I grew up with is now what the locals call Old Coconut Beach. This original beach volleyball complex was washed away by the city of New Orleans to help prevent flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
This Old Coconut Beach, where my mom used to take me week after week to her Friday night beer league, was where I discovered beach volleyball.
I was naturally drawn to the sport when I was there every week. Unfortunately, at 14, I wasn’t quite the athlete I am today. I was short and had a nice little layer of prepubescent baby fat. A character that most would look at and say, “Yeah, he’s not an athlete at all.”
This is indeed what my mother and her teammates said. They wouldn’t even let me touch the ball during warm-ups, let alone set foot on the pitch during games. Luckily for me, one week a team member didn’t show up. The short, chubby kid was forced into submission. I stayed on as a permanent replacement for about a year.
During that year that I joined the team, I met the owner of Coconut Beach at the time, Bruce White, who was the driving force behind the development of beach volleyball in Louisiana. With almost no attendance from the boys statewide, Bruce worked hard to make sure the juniors felt welcome at the resort.
I’m not sure Bruce’s efforts quite matched the execution, as his idea of having fun became local Open players crossing strike lines with me sitting in defense of the other side of the net. I stood there for what felt like hours, getting bombarded with bullet after bullet. (Unexpected benefit: I’m no longer afraid of someone swinging on an open net.)
All kidding aside, Bruce worked really hard in that first year to make sure I was enjoying the sport and improving quickly. This led to my mom taking me to Coconut Beach six days a week as I got addicted to volleyball, playing about four hours a day until I had to go to sleep and get ready for school the next day. .
Playing with adults helped me grow up pretty fast. I was constantly around my seniors since there were no other juniors around. I learned the game from so many Louisianans – kudos to Suzi Ruiz, Derek Zimmerman and Reuben Alumres for the extra time that went into making me the player I am today.
My progress has been exceptionally rapid; it didn’t hurt that i slimmed down and sprouted over the next few years. This allowed me to win my first Open tournament at 17 years old. About three months after that first win, I got a taste of the AVP Tour. I played my first qualifier at AVP New Orleans 2015, winning a match and then getting beaten up by Raffe Paulis and Jake Rosener.
This taste turned an already hungry kid who constantly played into a hungry demon who would do whatever it took to try and get that feeling of qualifying and becoming a main draw player.
In 2016 I went to college to play indoor volleyball at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. But that hunger for beach volleyball never subsided; I traveled the country every summer, collecting spending money from small weekend tournaments so I could make it to the AVP qualifiers.
Struggling with JD Hamilton, we crossed the country in pursuit of our dream of qualifying together. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards for us. We made several final qualifying rounds, but we were never able to qualify and make it to that elusive main draw.
After college was shut down by COVID, there were a lot of decisions for me to make. I could go back inside to redeem myself in my senior year, play professionally on the road after being an All-American, or risk it all and try my luck one more time chasing that AVP main draw.
After much internal discussion, it was pretty clear that my first two options were never really options. They sounded good, but my soul yearned for the beach. My toes had to be shoeless and back in the sand.
I moved back to New Orleans during COVID and started working with Joey Keener as a coach. As everyone stopped, we went harder than ever. After a pretty successful 2020, we (read: Joey) took the risk of turning me into a defender. After seven years as a blocker, Joey looked at my skills and decided we needed to make a change to hit my cap.
Again, as everyone stopped for the offseason, we pushed harder. We spent hours digging and digging. When we got tired, we dug more balls. All of this led to where we are today.
After a super successful offseason ahead of the 2021 AVP season, I won the New Orleans AVP Next Gold Series which granted me an offer for the Manhattan Beach Open. I finally caught that slippery little main board that had eluded me for so long.
After a successful 2021, I moved to California and am safely nestled in the main draw. I no longer try to win bids on the main draw; I aim to win entire tournaments.
See you soon on the beach somewhere near you!
-Evan (commonly known as the blue-nosed guy)