COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 21, 2012) – In a season of standout performances from several U.S. women’s beach volleyball teams, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross have been named the USA Volleyball Beach Team of the Year.
Kessy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) and Ross (Costa Mesa, Calif.) won the title for their success both internationally, where they were ranked fourth on the FIVB World Tour, and domestically, where they were the top-ranked players in the USA Volleyball Beach Rankings.
The 2012 season also saw outstanding performances by Misty May-Treanor (Santa Monica, Calif.) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (Saratoga, Calif.), who won their third-straight Olympic gold medal along with a gold medal in Gstaad, Switzerland and a silver medal in Moscow, and Jenny Kropp (Grand Island, Neb.) and Whitney Pavlik (Laguna Beach, Calif.), who dominated the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Tour with six victories.
On the FIVB World Tour, Kessy, 35, and Ross, 30, won a bronze medal in Rome and a gold medal in Thailand to go with the silver they won at the 2012 Olympic Games. They also had six fifth-place finishes on the Tour.
In the United States, Kessy and Ross won the women’s titles at the AVP tournaments in Cincinnati and Santa Barbara and the NVL event in Baltimore.
For Kessy, the highlights of the season were qualifying for the Olympic Games, reaching the podium in London, and winning the gold medal in Thailand. The toughest part of the season was not reaching the podium in some of the early FIVB World Tour events.
“We didn’t have our best year leading into the Olympics,” Kessy said. “In Rome we got on the podium (with a bronze). You want to win every tournament. But the main goal was winning at the Olympics.”
The finishes off the podium were difficult for Ross as well.
“I thought we were going to be a bigger presence on the podium going into the Olympics,” Ross said. “I can remember being upset about it. Maybe it helped us in the end. I wasn’t overconfident going into London.”
Jeff Conover (Bellflower, Calif.), who has coached Kessy and Ross since 2009, was concerned about the finishes, but kept his team focused on its goal.
“I was a little nervous. We usually win three or four gold medals per year,” Conover said. “We wanted to do well every tournament. But in the end, it was always going to be about being ready for London.”
London was the highlight of the season for Ross, particularly her team’s 15-21, 21-19, 15-12 victory in the semifinals over Brazil’s No. 1-seeded Larissa França and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva, a team that had defeated the Americans in their previous nine meetings.
“That was the most fun and meaningful match I’ve played in my entire life,” Ross said. “I’ve played in the world championships and the NCAA championships. That match was by far the best thing in my career.”
Conover agreed that the match was a high point.
“We played Brazil three or four times last year before the Olympics,” Conover said. “There were two matches that were identical (to the Olympic semifinal) where we got to 10-all in the third set and then gave points away. For us to come out on the winning end in the same situation was validating for them.”
Kessy and Ross fell to compatriots May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, 21-16, 21-16 in the Olympic gold medal match the day after the semifinals. Conover said that if Kessy and Ross had had another day to prepare, they would have at least given May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings a tougher match.
Following the Olympics, Kessy and Ross took another fifth place at the Mazuri Orlen Grand Slam in Poland before finally winning their only FIVB gold medal of the season in Thailand. Kessy and Ross stayed in Thailand following the tournament to help children who had been orphaned by the 2004 tsunami.
Kessy and Ross were introduced to the children two years ago by Bob Selznick (son of the late beach volleyball player and coach Gene Selznick), who had brought a team to compete in a junior tournament that was held in conjunction to the FIVB tournament in Thailand.
“Bob Selznick lives over there,” Kessy explained. “Two years ago, he brought a team from the SOS Children’s Village. The players had been orphaned by the tsunami. They won the tournament over players who were luckier in life. We were really intrigued.”
Kessy and Ross have donated clothing and equipment to the village, but now with the help of their sponsor, 4POINT4, a philanthropic brand of sports apparel and gear that donates sports equipment to developing nations, they will be able to do more.
“I’m such a believer that kids need to play sports growing up,” Ross said. “It gives you advantages and teaches you to be confident. Especially these girls who are orphaned and like to play beach volleyball, they don’t have all the advantages. I think that’s a worthy cause.”
The future is somewhat uncertain for Kessy and Ross. They are currently training for the 2013 FIVB World Cup tournament that is scheduled for Brazil early in the season (the date and city have yet to be announced). They have their sights set on winning the 2013 FIVB Beach World Championship in Stare Jablonki, Poland.
Kessy has talked about retiring after 2013 while Ross is looking toward the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I want to focus on being the best volleyball player I can be,” Ross said. “Going forward, I don’t know what is going to happen. I believe in being prepared for anything.”
“Domestically, we would love to bring more popularity to the sport,” Kessy added. “We really want it to get back on TV.”
Ross on what makes Jennifer Kessy special: “I think as a player, if I have to narrow it down, it’s her competitiveness. It probably exceeds anyone I’ve ever known. It really does get us through matches sometimes. I think in our partnership, we have a lot of balance. Having fun and enjoying what you do is important to your success.”
Kessy on what makes April Ross special: “April would not cancel practice if it was snowing out there. Sometimes she hurts her neck and can barely move and I have to force her to leave. She’s so motivated and she wants to be at practice and does not want to miss a workout. She always works as hard as she can the entire time. Sometimes I’m not feeling it at the gym; it really pushes me to snap out of it.”
Conover on what makes the team of Kessy and Ross special: “Kessy is the one that is going to make the awesome game-changing play. Ross is the steady one who consistently does amazing things. It’s the perfect combination. They just balance each other out really well.”