Evan Cory coming into his own on AVP tour _lowres

Advocate photo by SOPHIA GERMER -- Evan Cory, 18, who goes to Holy Cross, reaches to hit the ball back over the net during the opening day of the AVP Beach Volleyball Tournament at Laketown in Kenner, Thursday April 14, 2016. The AVP Beach Volleyball tour ends Sunday April 17.

Evan Cory was the youngest person on the sand courts Thursday on the opening day of the AVP New Orleans Open at Laketown in Kenner.

But that’s nothing new to the 18-year old New Orleans native, who was one of the youngest years ago when he tagged along behind his mom when she played at Coconut Beach.

“He’d be over on the side building sandcastles, now he is out here playing himself,” said Laura Beard, Cory’s mom.

It was Cory’s second year competing in the AVP New Orleans Open. He and partner J.D Hamilton of Mobile, Alabama, won their first match 8-11, 11-9, 7-5 before being eliminated in their second match after Hamilton hyperextended his knee.

But for Cory, the experience of playing on one of the biggest stages of beach volleyball was enough.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Cory said. “You watch these guys on TV and they are in the Olympics with gold medals, so it’s exciting. I like the atmosphere and trying to pump up the big crowds.”

It’s the first year that Cory and Hamilton have played together.

Last season, Cory partnered with Derek Zimmerman, 41, and Hamilton teamed with Joey Keener.

Zimmerman and Keener have served as mentors for Cory and Hamilton.

“Derek has played in a couple AVPs, so the experience he has been able to pass down to me has helped tremendously,” Cory said. “And Joey has helped me a lot with my setting.”

Zimmerman and Keener expect big things from Cory and Hamilton, who were undefeated this season in tournaments they have played in.

“They are the hottest team from this area right now,” Keener said.

Hamilton, 22, has enjoyed playing with Cory.

“It’s been awesome,” Hamilton said. “Evan sets so well for a big guy. There are so few tall guys who can turn around and set like him. And he has so much fire. He just does everything well.”

Some of that credit can go to his mom, who got him started.

A few years after those days when he was just building sandcastles while his mom played, she would bring him along to play. He would fill in as a substitute when someone in his mother’s league didn’t show up. Eventually, he became a full-time player.

“Then he got to the point where he couldn’t be on the team because he said we weren’t good enough,” Beard said with a laugh.

He’s been at it every since.

It’s his passion. Cory, now a senior at Holy Cross, gave up basketball after his sophomore season to focus on beach volleyball. He will play indoor volleyball in college, at either UC-San Diego or Lincoln Memorial in Tennessee.

“If I can get good enough for this, I’d love to play professionally for a living,” he said.

And if not, he says he plans to major in engineering or accounting, which should be just as easy as he made things look on the court. He has a 4.78 GPA, scored a 31 on the ACT and is the valedictorian of his class.

“It’s very tough because you don’t get much free time,” he said about balancing school and beach volleyball. “I’m always either playing or studying.”

And for Cory, the hard work seems to be paying off.

“Volleyball is where he likes to be,” said Beard. “It’s where he gets his adrenaline kick. He wants to prove to everybody how good he can be. It gives him something to focus on. A lot of kids are out there worrying about partying. He always says his partying is out there on the court.”