Ross Sets Off Fireworks in Norway
STAVANGER, Norway (July 4, 2009) – By the time she stepped onto center court Saturday night, just moments before the gold medal match at the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Championships for beach volleyball, April Ross was ready for something big – really big.
Just two years ago, the 27-year-old Costa Mesa, Calif., resident was a rookie on the world beach volleyball tour; brilliant at times but erratic and naïve at others.
But on America's Independence Day, Ross and partner Jen Kessy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) drew a line in the sand in Stavanger, surviving the highest-scoring first set in world championship history, then putting away Brazilians in the second set for a 30-28, 23-21 victory.
Moments later, Ross was named tournament MVP, still another sign of her growing stature on the women's tour, where teams are scrambling to fill the void that Misty-May Treanor (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and Kerri Walsh (Saratoga, Calif.) created when they took the season off.
"This is awesome," said Ross, whose 83 mph serve and acrobatic kills repeatedly knocked the Brazilians off balance. "We've worked so hard, and to do it on Independence Day is a huge honor."
In a way, the latest chapter in Ross' career started two years ago in Norway. After losing two early pool matches in the Stavanger Grand Slam, their second international tournament, Ross and Kessy returned to their hotel, convinced that they'd been eliminated. Only when they ran into some teammates did they learn that were scheduled to play the next day.
"We really thought we were toast," Ross said.
The pair went on to become the lowest-seeded women's team (29th) ever to win an FIVB World Tour event. They laugh about their initial confusion now; Ross and Kessy find a touch of humor in nearly every situation.
"We have the same sense of humor," Ross said. "We call it our seventh-grade humor. We joke about stupid stuff. You have to sit back and relax, not be so serious."
Ross' passion for volleyball surfaced about the time she first picked up a ball. After winning national Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a high school senior, Ross led USC to national indoor volleyball championships in 2001 and 2003, and played three seasons in a Puerto Rican indoor professional league.
"Then I waitressed for a year," she said. "I'd been playing volleyball all my life, so I enjoyed having a normal job. It was a breath of fresh air."
In April 2007, Kessy and Ross became partners, but only after a 'try-out match' in Laguna Beach (Calif.), against Walsh and May-Treanor, the reigning Olympic and world champions.
"On paper you think you're going to be great," Ross said. "But you don't know until you get on the court and see. But normally you don't go against (May-Treanor and Walsh).
"And Laguna has the deepest sand, deeper than Hermosa. So you're playing the best in the world, in the hardest sand.
"I was definitely on my toes, for sure."
Ross not only clicked, but she and Kessy beat Walsh and May-Treanor.
"Jen pulled me aside and said: 'You know, people don't beat them, even in practice.' She knew it was a good thing," Ross said.
In their first season, the pair advanced to the semifinals in five AVP tournaments, knocking May-Treanor and Walsh out of the winners' bracket in one event.
But they finished 37th at the 2007 World Championships, winning only one of three pool matches, and failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics; a blow that still stings.
"I knew we could make it," Ross said. "Then we let down and didn't make it. The last tournament we were neck and neck and we let a low-ranked team beat us in Moscow. That shouldn't have happened.
"We were just baffled afterward. It went by so fast and I think we didn't know what happened. We couldn't believe it. I still haven't figured it out."
When Kessy and Ross met to assess their season and plan for the next one, they boiled things down to a simple mantra.
"World Champs, world champs, world champs," Kessy said.
Which is why they peaked Saturday in Stavanger, beating Brazil's Shelda Bede and Ana Paula Connelly in the semifinals, 28-26, 15-21, 15-9.
"They are playing so well, they are being so confident,' Connelly said. "The high point is the serve; they serve so well. And they really play well together. They've only been together for about two years and they're having a lot of fun and are so confident."
At the end of the first game of the finals, Ross dazed Silva/Franca with an 83 mph corner ace, one of five she had in the match. She ended the second set, and the match, with a masterful block.
Talk about fireworks.