Growing up in Louisiana, sports always ran through my blood. However, growing up in Louisiana also meant that volleyball was not one of those sports running through my veins.
In the South, the Big Three sports – baseball, football, and basketball – reign supreme for boys. Football is so big that it’s basically considered a religion. Fridays are reserved for high school games; Saturdays are spent on the couch rooting for the Tigers (the Purple and Gold sort, of course). And Sundays are spent cheering on them boys in the Black and Gold (WHO DAT BABY!).
So, the natural question was and is to this day, “How did you get involved in volleyball?”
Although volleyball is now booming in Louisiana, with six schools boasting beach volleyball programs, it wasn’t always as popular as it is now.
My journey started as a 14 year at Coconut Beach, not to be confused with the 2022 New Orleans AVP site. The Coconut Beach I grew up with is now what the locals know as Old Coconut Beach. This original beach volleyball complex was taken away by the city of New Orleans to help prevent flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
That Old Coconut Beach, where my mom took me week after week to her beer league on Friday nights, was where I found beach volleyball.
I was naturally drawn to the sport when being around it every week. Unfortunately, 14-year-old me was not quite the athlete that I am today. I was short and had a nice little layer of pre-pubescent baby fat. A figure that most would look at and say, “Yea, he’s not an athlete at all.”
This was indeed what my mom and her teammates said. They wouldn’t even let me touch the ball in warmups, much less step foot on the court in games. Fortunately for me, one week a team member didn’t show. The short, chubby kid was forced to sub. I stuck as a permanent replacement for about a year.
In that year of becoming a part of the team, I met the owner of Coconut Beach at the time, Bruce White, who was the driving force behind beach volleyball becoming big in Louisiana. With almost no participation from boys in the whole state, Bruce made an effort to ensure juniors felt welcomed out at the complex.
I’m not sure Bruce’s efforts quite matched with execution, as his idea of fun became having the local Open players go through hitting lines with me sitting in defense on the other side of the net. I’d stay there for what felt like hours, getting pelted by ball after ball. (Unforeseen perk: I am no longer scared of anyone swinging on an open net.)
All jokes aside – Bruce did work very hard in that first year to make sure I was both enjoying the sport and improving rapidly. This led to my mom bringing me out to Coconut Beach six days a week as I became a volleyball junkie, playing about four hours a day until I had to go to sleep and get ready for school the next day.
Playing with the adults helped me grow up pretty fast. I was constantly around my elders since there were no other juniors around. I learned the game from so many Louisianians – shoutouts to Suzi Ruiz, Derek Zimmerman, and Reuben Alumres for the extra time dedicated to making me the player I am today.
My progress was exceptionally fast; it didn’t hurt that I thinned out and sprouted in the next few years. This led to me winning my first Open tournament at 17. About three months after that first victory, I got a taste of the AVP Tour. I played in my first Qualifier at the 2015 AVP New Orleans, winning a match and then getting clobbered by Raffe Paulis and Jake Rosener.
This taste turned an already hungry kid who was constantly playing into a starving fiend who would do whatever it took to try and get that feeling of qualifying and becoming a Main Draw player.
In 2016, I went off to college to play indoor volleyball at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. But that beach volleyball hunger never subsided; I traveled the country each summer, picking up spare cash at small weekend tournaments so I could travel to AVP Qualifiers.
Going for broke with JD Hamilton, we crossed the country chasing our dream of qualifying together. Sadly, this wasn’t in the cards for us. We made multiple final rounds of Qualifiers but could never quite crack through and get to that elusive Main Draw.
After college was halted to a stop by COVID, there were plenty of decisions for me to make. I could go back to indoor for redemption in my senior year, play professionally overseas after being an All-American, or risk it all and go for broke once again chasing that AVP Main Draw.
After much internal discussion, it was pretty clear that my first two options were never really options. They sounded great, but my soul was yearning for the beach. My toes needed to be out of shoes and back in the sand.
I moved back to New Orleans during COVID and started working with Joey Keener as my coach. While everyone else 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 that we needed to make a change to reach my ceiling.
Once again, as everyone stopped for the offseason, we pushed harder. We spent hours on end digging and digging. When we grew tired, we dug some more balls. This all led to where we are today.
After a super successful offseason before the 2021 AVP Season, I won the New Orleans AVP Next Gold Series which granted me a bid to the Manhattan Beach Open. I finally caught that slippery little Main Draw that had so long been eluding me.
After a successful 2021, I moved out to California and am nestled safely in the Main Draw. I’m no longer trying to earn Main Draw bids; I’m aiming to win entire tournaments.
See Y’all out on the beach somewhere near you soon!
-Evan (commonly known as the Guy with the Blue Nose)