Jan. 8, 2006
By Kevin Sauls
Rarely has the Valley Oak League seen a volleyball player perform at such a high level and with such versatility as Sonora High School senior Lindsy Evans.
She dominated the VOL the last two seasons with an extraordinary combination of power and finesse as both a hitter and setter. With Evans doing the lion's share of the hitting and spending the rest of her court time setting up her teammates, Sonora won every league match in 2004 and again in 2005.
Such are her abilities that she was picked for the U.S. Olympic developmental program and she was taken off the recruiting market by an NCAA Division I college, Santa Clara University, before the start of her junior season.
Evans, the VOL's two-time Most Valuable Player and perhaps the finest volleyball player Tuolumne County has ever produced, is The Union Democrat's 2005 Sports Figure of the Year.
She is the 27th recipient of the award and the first volleyball player to be chosen since Sonora's Nicole Taylor in 1987.
Evans' hitting is downright fearsome, her right-handed spikes searing over the net and either nosing into the floor like a split-finger fastball or ricocheting off of jittery defenders. Her setting is a sight to behold, too, Evans feathering the ball with accuracy and guile to the Wildcats' array of other talented hitters, sometimes from seemingly impossible angles and distances.
At a long and lean 6-foot-2 -- "with my shoes on, I play at 6-3" -- Evans has the powerful build of a hitter. But she has the heart of a setter, and she's determined to continue her career in that role even though she's been typecast as a power player.
"One time at a camp, they said, `middle blockers over here, setters over here,' " Evans recalled. "I went to the setters' line and they said, `you belong over there (with the blockers).' "
Evans went to the setters' line anyway. She's of the minority opinion that her height actually will help her at a position usually occupied by much smaller players who skitter about the court like basketball point guards.
"I'm a tall setter, and that's so rare," she said.
"Setters that are 6-2 and 6-3 are few and far between," said Greg Harford, Evans' club volleyball coach and one person who encouraged her love of setting. "When you see potential, you have to try it."
"They looked at me like I was crazy (at the camp)," Evans said. "And even my mom thought (Harford) was crazy."
What position Evans will play for Santa Clara remains to be seen, but she'll be happy to do anything for the Broncos.
"It's just exciting going to a school that's at the top level," she said.
Santa Clara finished the season with a No. 4 national ranking after advancing all the way to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament as an unseeded team. The Broncos will return all but one starter.
"About all of them are sophomores and they haven't reached their full potential," Evans said. "It's such a big leap (from high school) and there are so many great players. I can learn a lot from them, and I have to go out and prove myself. It should be pretty amazing."
It all started ...
Evans' volleyball journey began way back around the fourth or fifth grade, right after her family moved to the Phoenix Lake area from Tracy after pulling up stakes in San Jose. They soon became acquainted with Harford.
"She and her mom came over and we had a mini-clinic in my front yard," Harford said. "We were batting the ball around and my jaw kind of dropped and I said, `this girl needs to be playing volleyball.' "
Evans soon was competing on the club circuit and, as she grew and improved, she starting turning heads.
"One of my coaches pulled me aside and said I could play college volleyball," Evans said. "I was so shocked."
She traveled extensively in tournament play and attended USA Volleyball camps in Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and San Francisco. Colleges began calling after her eighth-grade season at Curtis Creek School, leading her eventually to take the pressure off herself and her family with an early commitment to Santa Clara.
Volleyball over hoops
Evans also was an accomplished basketball player at Curtis Creek.
"She has very good athletic ability and if she would have elected to play basketball, too, I think she would have been an all-league player," Sonora Athletic Director Rick Francis said. "But she concentrated on volleyball and it's paid off for her. We're all very excited for her."
"I wanted to be great at one or the other and I didn't think I could be great doing two things," Evans said. "It was my decision, and it was not an easy choice. Volleyball just seemed more me. I'm not really the aggressive, go-get-'em, push-'em'-out-of-the-way type.
"I like having a net in the way, so (opposing players) can only look at you."
She's spending the basketball season playing club volleyball and watching her freshman brother, Brenden, play basketball for the Sonora sophomore team.
"I used to beat him all the time, but I know he'd beat me now."
Basketball runs in her family as her father, 6-foot-7 Tuolumne County sheriff's deputy Neil Evans, played collegiately at Washington State University and professionally in a Japanese league.
He's helping her condition herself for college volleyball by running with her on a steep, 100-yard stretch of a hill behind their house.
"He's been helping me a lot," Lindsy said. "It's our bonding."
Evans' senior season was successful, eventful and difficult at the same time. She and her teammates were stunned last spring when their coach, Darla Mayhew, was diagnosed with leukemia. Mayhew died late in the season, the morning after Sonora posted a rousing five-game victory over arch-rival Oakdale.
"It was the hardest thing we ever had to go through," Evans said. "But it brought us closer together. The match after Darla died, Manteca had a moment of silence and their players gave us all flowers. I just remember all of us having tears in our eyes."
Evans' mother, Kim, coached the Wildcats as they rolled to their fourth VOL title in five years and equaled the best run in school history by reaching the
semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
"It was good for her," Lindsy said. "She's a mom and (volleyball) just added 13 extra girls to our family."
"It was very special," Kim said. "I really enjoyed the opportunity and it was easier than I expected. All of the girls just wanted to do so well."
But there were mother-daughter moments.
"She always been an assistant (in club) and she never said much, but every once in a while (as head coach) it was like her telling me I was doing something wrong at home," Lindsy said. "I had to work past that."
"Every once in a while," Kim said, "I'd get the 'I KNOW.' "
"All the girls love her," Lindsy said. "It's nice having a mom everybody likes."
Lindsy herself is pretty popular around campus, so much so that she was elected homecoming queen the night in mid-October when Sonora upset eventual section champion Manteca in football.
Evans nominated her friend Maia Pothier, but when the announcement was made at halftime it was Evans' named
that was called. "I felt like `That's not me. No, there's a mistake,' " Evans said. "My mouth dropped and I just looked at everybody. I always wanted to try it, but I never thought it would happen."
The Wildcats certainly made it happen on the court, all the while coping with Mayhew's illness and eventual passing, and also with being every opponent's biggest match of the season.
"It was really tough at times, but we pulled through," Evans said. "It really shows the kind of chemistry the team had."
Evans was a big part of that chemistry.
"She's a very nice person," senior middle blocker Kendra Vasquez said. "On the court, she's focused and wants everyone to do their best. And when we're down, she tells us it's OK. She's just the best person ever."
"She's a leader," junior and fellow setter Abby Barton said. "She's really dependable. You can always count on her to be there. If I made a bad play, she'd make it good."
"I've played with her since eighth grade and we've gone through a lot together," junior hitter Rebecca Mele said. "I'm sad she's going to be leaving. She brought everybody up, always pulled the team together. If we missed one, she'd say, `It's all right, you'll get the next one.' She believed in everybody."
"I just wanted to try to get the girls better and be there for them and do what they needed me to do," Evans said.
"We had a lot of good times. It's been so much fun and I love it, but I have to let it go. I'm moving on."