(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
It's hard to believe that one of the leading hitters of the BYU volleyball team was originally recruited to be a setter, but that's the truth for senior outside hitter, Taylor Evans.
As a Danville, California native, Evans didn't know of all the doors that volleyball would open to him-team captain two years in high school, a scholarship to a top school, meeting his wife and much more to come.
He got an early start in volleyball because his dad was so infatuated with it. While other adolescents were shooting baskets after school, Evans, his older brother and his dad would pepper and hit a volleyball around for hours in the backyard. While he didn't start playing organized volleyball until his freshman year of high school, he did recall an experience in eighth grade.
"I actually remember playing volleyball one time in eighth grade with a guy from my ward who was a pretty good athlete. Once when we were playing on a really low net; they served the ball to me and I passed it to this kid, he set the ball to me and I went up to hit it and bounced it straight down. I remember the referee called his set a lift because she wasn't familiar with volleyball and didn't know what a set was. She was my English teacher that was helping out and wasn't exposed to the sport. Middle school volleyball was kind of over before it even started."
Volleyball in middle school is pretty much a joke wherever you are, but Evans was fortunate to attend a high school that offered it all four years.
Evans, along with current setter Rob Neilson and current assistant coach Chris Gorny, were all at the same BYU volleyball camp to get recruited. At that time Evans played setter, but at the camp he got to do a little bit of everything.
"I hit and set with Rob [Neilson], but he was way more advanced than I was-he had been training and setting for a really long time, so he was really good."
Following the camp, Evans got a letter from BYU saying that they wanted to give him a scholarship to play, and the coach told him to practice setting.
"Because I was 6'1", the idea was to come here and make me into a setter of some sort. That was the original plan. We're so far removed from that now that it seems silly, but back then it made the most sense. You don't usually recruit 6-foot tall people to play outside or opposite. I came in as a freshman and probably a combination of being okay at hitting and not being a very good setter, I quickly moved to exclusively hitting and I've been there ever since."
Evans was recruited by Coach Carl McGown and said that he helped him a lot but felt very intimidated by McGown.
"He kicked me out of practice the first day because he was teaching me to pass and I couldn't keep my arms straight-something that is really important-and I unknowingly would bend my arms and then pass the ball instead of just keeping my arms out straight. I couldn't see it and I couldn't feel it, so he said, 'You're done for the day, and don't come back until you can pass with your arms straight.' It was the first day! I wasn't crying outwardly, but I was crying on the inside because it was my first day and I was only 18 years old. He was really into technique and would hold you to a higher standard."
Now that Evans plays for coach Tom Peterson, he said McGown and Peterson are very different people with very different coaching styles.
"Tom is a lot more understanding...He would kick someone out of practice for having a bad attitude, which he has done on occasion to me and other guys, but he's not an intimidating guy by any means," he said.
A great thing happened to Evans while he has been on the volleyball team. The men practice right after the women do, so Evans met Lauren Richards, a member of the women's volleyball team. They got to be friends and eventually started dating. On June 18, 2005 they were married and now the two athletes look to their future together.
After graduation they're not exactly sure what they're going to do.
"My wife has some pretty good offers to play pro volleyball in Europe, so I'd go with her and either play myself or work. I don't really know. If we don't end up going there for any reason, I'll probably continue studying. I have lots of interviews with consulting firms. It keeps me really busy with trying to find a job, playing volleyball and going to school. Finding a job is like a full-time job!"
Evans also commented on having a family. "I want to have kids, sons. So however many girls come along the way while I am having sons, it's cool. I don't have anything against having daughters, but I want to have boys."
When Evans came back from his mission in 2003 he injured his shoulder, probably due to not using his arm for a really long time. He got it x-rayed and was diagnosed with rotator cuff tears. He was operated on in November and maybe he came back too early or the surgery didn't correct all the problems, but he had to get operated on again in March.
Being put on the shelf for a year was hard because he didn't know what to do. "You're 6'1" and 165 pounds and you don't have an arm, so you ask yourself, how are you going to be a volleyball player?" he said. "But it has worked out okay, and I was able to come back and my arm feels a lot better. Even if I never play volleyball again, I know that it has gotten me through my college career at least."
The expectations for the team at the beginning of the season were those of fear for Evans. He thought it was going to be a repeat of last year's team, "We had good talent [last year], but we never played ball, we never got consistently good enough where we could play at the level we wanted to play at." Now that the season is progressing he says, "I had those fears, but so far in the large part those fears have been dispelled. We have been playing a lot better, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I feel better about the team now than I did in September because I didn't know what kind of BYU team was going to show up this year."
Now that the team is ranked No. 1, Evans feels it's flattering, but wishes it would go away. "It puts a bull's eye on you, and we don't need that, we don't need to think that we're better than we are. We just need to get after it and handle our business. I think that the one good thing about being No. 1 is that it puts us in a good position for the Final Four. Which is one of our big, intermediate goals for National Championships. All things equal, I could kind of care less for what we're ranked."
When asked about how he felt to have the second-most service aces in one game (7) in BYU history he said, "It was awesome to get those! It was interesting because maybe I didn't serve well the rest of the match, but I got six of those in a row, which was really weird and that kind of caught me off-guard. It's cool to be able to be in the record book somewhere; I'm probably not going to appear in there many more places, but it's cool to be immortalized."
And immortalized he will be in the record books and on the hearts of coaches, teammates, family and friends. Evans will continue being a great asset to the Cougar team through the end of the season and will go on to do great things in the economic and legal world as well.