Originally from Porter Ranch, California, senior opposite hitter Melissa Evans started playing volleyball at the age of 11, while also playing basketball and softball. At the age of 14, Evans was told she would have to make a decision between the three sports. An easy choice for a natural talent, Evans chose volleyball.
Before coming to NC State, Evans received a call from former NC State head coach Linda Hampton-Keith who invited her to visit the University. Evans wanted to experience the East Coast and how different it would be from California. She mostly enjoyed the Southern hospitality and knew she wanted to be at a place where she could figure out what she wanted to do with her life outside of volleyball.
“My sister and I went, and we just fell in love with the girls I would be playing with that year,” Evans said. “...So I was like, what greater way to be across the country, on the East Coast and figuring it out myself.”
Evans used her dedication to the sport to make an impact and to continue furthering her success when she came to NC State. Confident about her talent and performance, Evans was driven to showcase her passion for her team.
While Evans credits her teammates for pushing her to use her voice not only in volleyball but as a leader in her community, she has also enjoyed having multiple mentors encourage her to apply her talents as a student-athlete to impact the NC State community in a profound way.
“[Assistant AD] Tonya Washington has always pushed me to be more than just an athlete on campus,” Evans said.
In fact, Evans was one of the founders of the Black Athlete Coalition, an NC State student organization that gives “Black student-athletes a voice and a safe space where [they] have the opportunity to talk to each other and administration and where [they] can make a change.” She was instrumental in coordinating logistics for the Black Lives Matter public demonstration on Sept. 12.
Evans credits building her leadership skills by learning from Associate AD Dereck Whittenburg, who specializes in community relations and student support . Having someone like Wittenburg has provided Evans with a mentor she can turn to for advice and guidance in a number of areas outside of her sport.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with him where I can just ask him questions about anything in life, whether it’s in athletics, academics, injustices in America…” Evans said.
Her leadership skills came in handy this season amidst a worldwide pandemic. Despite a schedule change this season, Evans has kept her team on track, stressing the importance of following COVID-19 protocols and setting a strong example to ensure a successful and healthy season.
“We have to be those role models in the community that are being safe, that are not going out...we just have to be super safe about it,” Evans said. “...I think our team is doing amazing. We’re being leaders in that very way.”
When asked about a word that describes her team, Evans reflected on all the hardwork and dedication the team has put into this season.
“I would say resilient, especially during these times, especially at the beginning of the year, we didn’t have a coach,” Evans said.
Although playing an entire season in the midst of a pandemic isn’t an ideal situation for anyone, Evans continued to develop as a leader this year, an invaluable skill she will carry with her even after her playing days are over.