Rob Bruce tried to warn John King.
“Put my boys on center court,” he told the AVP’s most genial and well-respected ref, the man in charge of running AVPNext Gold events and the one you’ll usually see on the stand during the AVP’s most important matches. He’s a man who runs things by the book, King, which both makes him lovable and maddeningly impossible to argue with. Bruce, the manager at Coconut Beach, a sprawling volleyball facility in Kenner, a humid, rainy, sports-mad town 15 minutes outside of New Orleans, was quickly seeing why.
He wanted his “boys,” Evan Cory and Logan Webber on center court, which had a pop-up stadium that could fit roughly 800 people, a quality stream, VIP seats, the works. King, however, was obligated to put the top seeded on center court, which was an AVP main draw match: Rafu Rodriguez and Piotr Marciniak vs. Troy Field and Eric Beranek.
King quickly discovered why Bruce was so enthusiastic about the matter.
When both semifinals began, the only individuals watching on stadium court were the ones overflowing from court No. 2, which backed up against the stadium. You see, it wasn’t just Bruce who wanted to watch Evan Cory play beach volleyball.
It was damn near the entire town of Kenner.
“They said ‘We don’t care about these main draw guys. We want to watch our local guy,’” Cory said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “That’s the point.”
He lives in Hermosa Beach, California, now. But Cory will forever be Louisiana Beach Volleyball’s first son. His climb through the AVP’s ranks has been akin to that of an off-shore storm: steady, unwavering, one in which everyone knows will soon break. It was simply a matter of time.
That time has come.
In 2021, Cory, after competing in 10 AVP qualifiers, beginning with his first in 2015, made his first main draw, debuting at the Manhattan Beach Open. It’s poetic, too, where he qualified: Coconut Beach, the very court that served as his de facto baby sitter from the time he was a teenager until he moved across the country after celebrating Mardi Gras this past March.
“I was 13 or 14 at the time, and my mom would go play, and she would bring me to Coconut Beach, and she had a team, and I was not allowed to play, and then one night they needed a sub on their team, and they’re like ‘Fine, I guess we’ll allow you to play, Evan.’ And then they said ‘Oh, damn, he’s better than the person who was missing,’” recalled Cory, who is now 24 years old.
“So six nights a week, Monday through Friday, I would go and find pickup games or if someone needed a sub. She’d drop me off at six and pick me up at 11, and I would just play and play, and then Saturday was the tournament, so she’d drop me off at the tournament, 8 a.m., and I’d call her when the tournament was over. Definitely couldn’t get enough volleyball.”
The culture of beach volleyball in the Southeast is drastically different from its counterpart in the west. If you’re a beach volleyball player in Florida or Louisiana or Texas or the Carolinas, you hop in the car and you drive to whatever nook beach volleyball is being played. Then you do it again the next day. Cars fill up with the recognizable detritus of road trips: Old Smoothie King cups, McDonald’s napkins, plastic straws, wrappers of dozens of different sorts. You crash on couches and floors and wherever someone in Fort Walton Beach or Navarre or San Antonio might have a spare 6-foot stretch of space for you to fold yourself into.
Ever since he was 15, that has been Evan Cory’s life.
“Me and JD [Hamilton] played so many of those tournaments together throughout the years. That’s kinda how I started,” Cory said. “That’s all you do in the Southeast. You just go and play one-day tournaments. Most of the time there’s a Saturday one then a Sunday one, and you just play one then drive and play the next, and you try and make a couple hundred bucks on the weekend. That’s just what I’m used to.”
And all of that competing taught him what is arguably the most intangible lesson in sports, one for which there is no manual or instruction book, no simple how-to formula: Evan Cory learned how to win. He has won them everywhere. He’s won them on the left with Tim Brewster and the right with Hamilton and Jon Justice and Drew Hamilton and dozens of others. He’s won them blocking and defending and split-blocking. He’s won them at 2 in the morning, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he’s won them in the midst of tropical storms.
He chides himself a bit — mostly joking — for the fact that he’s never truly qualified for an AVP main draw. Both of his bids have been earned via AVPNext Gold victories, which boosted his points to where he is now seeded directly into the main draw with Bill Kolinske. But anyone doing the math knows that to win an AVPNext Gold is exponentially more difficult than qualifying, a simple but difficult matter of winning just three matches.
That AVPNext Gold in New Orleans, for example? It called for Cory and Webber to win five matches in a row, all in a single elimination format, all on one day. It was a battle of attrition. True to form, in the finals, it was Marciniak who cramped. Cory and Webber could have played another few.
His main draw berth into Chicago later that season?
Oh, there’s a story for you. If you had only a single anecdote that could properly summarize who Cory is as a player, this would do the trick just fine.
On the morning of Friday, August 12, Cory was supposed to be in Portland, Oregon. He wasn’t. Instead, he was stuck in an airport in Phoenix, the possibilities of him playing the annual Seaside Open, with its $20,000 in prize money and main draw bid on the line, disappearing with each delayed flight.
Well, pause here: Cory wasn’t supposed in Oregon at all. He was supposed to be in Atlanta, Georgia, competing in his first main draw. But after winning the first set of the final qualifying round against Avery Drost and Miles Partain, all went south. A 19-16 lead in the second disappeared, and suddenly Cory and Webber were out, and they, like many who fell in that qualifier, were bolting to the airport. Webber’s flight went smooth enough, landing in Portland later that evening.
But Cory’s was an abject disaster, filled with delays and missed connections. He scrambled, buying a different flight out of Phoenix, which would land him in Portland in the late morning. His match was scheduled in two hours; he still had a 90-minute drive through the lush Oregon mountains.
So, on no sleep, fueled by airport food and plane snacks, Cory rolled up to his court in Seaside — and promptly won enough to make it to the next day. Then he and Webber would win their quarterfinal, their semifinal, their final, and just like that, easy as pie, their second main draw berth was sealed up.
“Yeah,” he said, laughing at the memory. “That was a crazy one.”
For the foreseeable future, Cory will no longer need the road dog route to qualifying. He’s the No. 8 seed in next weekend’s AVP in Austin and the 9 in New Orleans.
And if you’re King or the AVP, when Evan Cory — or the daughters of Louisiana, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth — is playing, it’s perhaps best to heed Bruce’s advice from one year ago: Put the kid with the blue nose on center court.
“Just in general, Louisiana, if they’re going to get behind a sport, they’re going to go all out for you,” Cory said. “That’s been a huge help because there’s a huge support base already. The second I started traveling for stuff, everybody just clung to it. I’d go back to Coconut Beach during the week, and they’re like ‘I saw you here! I saw you here!’ They just love to talk about it. That was the easiest fan base to get because it was right there at home and they knew me from playing there with them.”
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