NDSU molds great talents with their programs. The list of professional athletes who are former Bison is extensive. This month we caught up with the pro beach volleyball player to discuss her bid for the Olympics, NDSU and (of course) bikinis.
The jump between indoor and beach volleyball can be a hard one to make. Some of the differences are obvious: fewer number of teammates, sand is a heck of a lot harder to run in, you have to compete with the elements and the outfits are much more revealing. All these challenges, and much more, stop many volleyball players from making the switch to the beach. Heather Evans was an all star volleyball player at NDSU from 1998 – 2001, and she has successfully made that jump. Evans now lives in California, where she’s competing as a professional beach volleyball player. Her ultimate goal is to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Last month, she was in Fargo to teach a beach volleyball camp at Sky Center. Bison Illustrated caught up with her to discuss her long road to Rio.
BI: What does it take to get to the Olympics in Beach Volleyball?
Evans: You and your teammate have to be in the top 16 in the world. There’s an international tour called the FIVB (Federation International Volleyball.) Of those top 16, only two teams can represent your country.
Next summer I need to be at the FIVB events. Those are everywhere; China, Japan and Indonesia… In the main events 24 teams can play in it, so you have all these countries. Only two teams can make it in the main draw. There’s a qualifier for that main draw. There’s a country quota to see who gets in the qualifier, to see who gets in the main draw. I could inevitably fly to Japan, play in a qualifier, lose once and be done for an entire week’s worth of playing. It’s single elimination in the country quota and the qualifier, and double elimination in the main draw.
BI: You’re 32 years old. Do you find that challenging?
Evans: I’m old in the volleyball world. You have Jen Kessy and April Ross who are 35 and late 20’s. Misty May and Kerri Walsh are 34 and 35. By the time I’m 36, in four years, I’m doing OK. However, that will be my first Olympics. Technically this was Jen Kessy’s first Olympics at the age of 35, but she’s been playing on the international tour for six years and dominating. So, I have big shoes to fill, and a big dream to try for.
BI: What do your family and friends think about your bid for the Olympics?
Evans: All the alumni that I played volleyball with, we just had a girl’s weekend, and they said that if I make it then they’re going. So, we’re going to have our girl’s weekend in Rio. My family and everybody all believe that I can do it. I get a lot of people who laugh at me and say, ‘Wait, you want to be an Olympian?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. You OK with that?’ I call them haters.
BI: Talk about your volleyball career and what brought you to NDSU.
Evans: I came from a very small town in Minnesota — Warroad. I think volleyball became my favorite sport when I was 14… I started to think, ‘I want to go Division 1.’ So, I wrote letters to every single Big 10 school, and I was determined to get in a Big 10 school. NDSU found me my sophomore year, and Zaundra Bina and Bob Jones were coaching at the time. They stalked me and wrote me letters. Long story short, I fell in love with Zaundra, Bob, all the girls and the entire campus. Everything was so inviting and it felt like home… It was a very easy decision to say yes.
BI: What made you decide to become a professional beach volleyball player?
Evans: After I played professionally in France, I decided to come home and live a normal life. I started to coach at the University of Minnesota Mankato. I loved that job. I always wanted to be a coach. My head coach, Dennis Amundson, told me a year into the career, ‘I think you’re getting better as a player, than you are as a coach.’ I felt that way because I was eating up everything he said… I was also a practice player and I was determined to beat my girls. So I thought, ‘I want to play professionally, but I can’t play indoor, there’s no pro indoor leagues. What do I have? I have to play beach.’ That was 2006, and here I am six years later and I’m a pro beach volleyball player.
BI: Tell us about your partner.
Evans: My partner is Amanda Wiggins. She’s new to the tour… This kid is going to be great. She’s young, 27. She can jump. She’s explosive. She defends behind my block. It’s nice, because once I dig the ball she can jump and crush the ball.
BI: We have to ask, what do you think about the uniforms of beach volleyball?
Evans: When I first started wearing them, the girls made fun of me a lot. They said that I wore granny panties, because I wore bottoms that were too big by their standards. It took me two years to realize that smaller bikinis are actually more comfortable and more flattering. I now run around in my bikini. I clean in my bikini. I do everything in my bikini. It’s second nature to me. I get very warm very fast in the sun and layers of clothing suffocate me. I’ve gotten very comfortable wearing the bikini, but it took a while.