Among all things that are inevitable, death has the ability to hurt, alter, and change those who are still living, and volleyball player Evan Bender is no exception.
According to the 2012 Census Bureau, approximately 151,600 people die a day and two every second but the stats for losing a cousin, grandfather, and dad all within a year and a half is still a mystery for Bender.
“All three [deaths] happened while I was at Pierce playing volleyball so it was hard to focus and stay on the right path,” said Bender.
Now 21, Bender’s determination to succeed surpasses that of personal preference or skill.
He does it for his family whose spirits now occupies the stands and their words of encouragement serve as the adrenaline that displaces his pre- game jitters.
Standing at a lean 6’6 Bender is usually found proudly sporting Pierce paraphilia as he walks the gym halls making sure everyone is aware of his next game.
Bender is a big promoter of not only volleyball but all Pierce athletics as he attends various sporting events and the other teams gladly return the favor.
“It’s a beautiful thing what he did for the program,” said Joseph Roberson, a Pierce academic counselor.
“An upper-class male Caucasian could be standoffish,” Roberson said. “Where else do you see black football players yelling from the front row at a volleyball game, he did that.”
Coming into this season, Bender already established a game plan nine months before he would even step foot on to the court.
“It’s not all about winning, we bought a sense of brotherhood back to Pierce this year,” said Bender. “I wish I was a freshman now so I could witness the great things that will happen next season, it’s been magical.”
A very recognizable face on campus Bender speaks to everybody, even asking a young lady about her day while trying to scrabble for a parking space in the congested lot in front of the South Gym.
“Doesn’t matter if he doesn’t know you, he will approach you without any problems at all,” said Daniel Williams, fellow co-captain of the men’s volleyball team. “He is just real like that.”
Not only does he embrace the task of being Pierce’s unofficial cheerleader, Bender embodies the definition of a true Brahma according to head volleyball coach Lance Walker.
“He is always going the extra mile,” said Walker. “Whenever there is a problem he is like ‘what can I do, how I fix it?'”
This previous season Bender single handily brought in close to $1,000 dollars in sponsorship money to help keep a struggling program running.
He also takes it upon himself to email and text his teammates to make sure they show up to practice and games on time.
“I have a lot of words for Evan,” said Walker. “Hard worker, dedicated… he is just an all-around good guy.”
Though very enthusiastic about what he does, had the baseball program at El Camino High School in Burbank not face cancellation, Bender might have been catching fly balls instead of serving them.
Growing three inches during the summer of his high school junior year Evan was almost unrecognizable by his class mates but his 6’4 presence drew the attention of the volleyball staff.
“I loved volleyball so much that my first year playing I tried out for a club team and made it,” said Bender. “I was fortunate enough to be coached by Jeff Stork who is a gold medal Olympian.”
Despite being a late bloomer, Bender’s athleticism and tall stature landed him a starting position at El Camino but his inexperience and lack of fundamentals caused him to red shirt his first season and only play five minutes in his second season at Pierce College.
“So actually this year is my first real season,” said Bender. “The other years I was just learning the game and trying to get two percent better every day.”
In Bender’s first year as a starter he was named to the First Team All-Conference, selected as a First Team Final Four All-State Player, and served as co- captain along with Daniel Williams whom he personally recruited.
“I met him at a tournament and he said I should play Pierce ball,” said Williams. “I thought, hey cool I’ll meet you there.”
Together Williams and Bender helped transformed a below .500 program into Western State Conference champs all while taking third in the state championships.
Graduating from Pierce this year will cause Bender to miss his first practice in three years next season.
“I’m interested in going to UC Irvine or UC Santa Barbara,” said Bender.
Keeping his options open, Bender has spoken to coaches at University of the Pacific, Cal Baptist University, University of Southern California, and Lance Walker’s former school, Pepperdine.
As of right now Bender has over a 3.3 grade point average and hopes that a degree in business will land him at a Fortune 500 Company if volleyball doesn’t pan out.
Once a scared teen, Bender has used his misfortune to motivate him onto a path of success bearing a big smile all the way.
“He [Bender] is a character, you won’t ever meet an individual like him,” said Williams laughingly while reminiscing about their many adventures together.
“He’s Evan Bender, you got to love him, you can’t hate him,” Williams added.