Emily Evans' life for the last 10 years has just about come full circle.
Evans has been overcoming obstacles for most of her life after a swimming pool diving accident broke her neck, bruised her spinal cord and left her paralyzed.
The former Bucklin High and Pratt Community College volleyball star has persevered as a former Miss Wheelchair Kansas and as an assistant volleyball coach for her beloved Lady Aces the past four seasons under Greg Wyrick.
Now Evans has a new challenge as she takes over the reins as head coach of the Bucklin-Ashland squad, a team that has qualified for the state tournament the past three seasons.
"This is where I played and it's kind of surreal," Evans said. "I honestly never thought about coaching. It was never in my wheelhouse of things I wanted to do. I have always loved the sport; but when you're in chair, I never thought it would be possible. I'm really excited about the season, but I'm also very nervous."
Evans got the chance to take over the program after Wyrick decided to step down due to all of the travel required to coach the team.
Evans said her style on the coaching level will need to change with the top coaching job.
"Greg Wyrick is a very inspirational guy and I took a back burner where I'm more technical with stats and positions. I consider that my strong suit," Evans said. "I have to learn to portray that motivation. I think I can be, but I just don't vocalize it as much as I should."
Evans does have a team with a lot of varsity experience this season to have a chance of making a run for a fourth straight state qualification while battling Kiowa County, Spearville and South Central for the Southern Plains-Iroquois Activities Association.
Five players are seniors — three from Bucklin and two from Ashland — and while the Lady Aces lost perhaps their best attacker from last season, the head coach feels this group could also be playing in the state meet at Fort Hays State University. It's an expectation Evans understands from the two communities after the recent successes.
"My Ashland girls and my Bucklin girls are great girls," Evans said. "They both a great group of girls and get along well. They respect all of our coaching staff. We have that senior leadership and we have some players who will be coming up who can make an impact. We lost some good seniors, but I think we'll be a competitive team and be able to get there again.
"I'm really blessed about it."
There are some aspects of her position that she can't do because of her disability. She can't show how she wants the players to attack the net and also can't ride the school bus with the Lady Aces because it is not wheelchair accessible. She will travel to competition in her truck, which she said could be a benefit.
"I probably won't sound as nervous talking to the players while we're riding the bus to games," Evans said. "It could also be beneficial because the driving could allow me to get some extra cool off if I'm mad.
"A major part of coaching is demonstrating, but I can't do that. The girls listen to me and I'm grateful that they take instruction from me and I have two amazing assistant coaches who are helping me to show something."
Evans continues to try to take everything in stride ever since her injury. At the time, she said she was the calmest around after hitting her head at the bottom of the pool because she knew she would be OK. Even after the prognosis that she would never walk again, she has never felt sorry for herself and pushes on in her life.
"It's not who I am," Evans said. "When you see people in therapy and you see people with good attitudes and others with crappy attitudes, you see those with good attitudes be more successful. I truly made a choice early on that I was going to put a smile on my face, be happy, and give it my all."
Evans wants to continue to be an inspiration to those who have also suffered disabling injuries and there's only one aspect she is still working on for her life to come around completely full circle. That is to walk again.
"The doctor said I would never walk again and I looked at him and said 'I think you're wrong,'" Evans said. "I still, to this day, think that I will walk again; either by the grace of God or by medical technology."