FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was a memorable debut for Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross.
Although the new U.S. beach volleyball team fell just short of a medal on Sunday at the season-opening Swatch Major Series beach volleyball tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, their fourth-place finish was the best of any of the six American women’s teams competing at the FIVB World Tour event in South Florida.
“It does not feel like we just started playing together,” Ross said. “I feel like our skills come together well, and we mesh.”
The veterans joined forces over the winter, following an up-and-down 2016 for Sweat. She and partner Lauren Fendrick came home from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games without a victory in pool play but rebounded to win their first AVP title together at the season finale in September. In December, she announced a new partnership with Ross, who had last teamed with Lane Carico.
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“She texted me in November out of the blue, saying, ‘Hey, you want to play?’” said Sweat. “Once I made the decision to play, she was still available, so I grabbed her up. I think we are only going to get better from here.”
They certainly had a good start.
Earlier in the tournament, Sweat and Ross swept pool D, including a two-set win over Germany’s Julia Grossner and Kira Walkenhorst, the latter being the gold medalist in Rio with partner Laura Ludwig, who missed the Fort Lauderdale event.
After receiving a bye through the round of 24, Sweat and Ross swept their round of 16 and quarterfinal matches before falling 21-16, 21-16 in the semifinal to Brazil’s Larissa França and Talita Antunes, the duo that finished fourth in Rio and went on to win in Fort Lauderdale.
That was followed by a 21-14, 21-14 loss to Germany’s Julia Sude and Chantal Laboureur in the bronze-medal match.
“The Germans played it really good, and we need to bring it better next time,” Ross said.
Despite the two losses to end the tournament, the new American team said it was a good start to their partnership.
“I feel like we have had instant chemistry, but there’s always something to work on and improve,” Sweat said. “It’s just little things here and there, but we’ll go back to California and work on it. Brazil is always dominating, plus they are in the middle of their season down there, so they have been in a flow. This is our first tournament in months.”
Ross finished the event ranked second to Brazil’s Eduarda Santos Lisboa in points per set with an average of 8.80 in 15 sets. She also was one of four players to finish with over 100 kills at 109 and averaged 7.27 per set. Ross served 10 aces, seventh most in the tournament.
Sweat and Ross will likely compete next in the AVP, where they can earn domestic points. They might also enter the four-star event in Rio May 18-21.
Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross reached the quarterfinals before falling to Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk Rippel and Eduarda on Saturday. The U.S. team won the first set 21-16 but lost the second 21-15 and the Brazilians took an intense third set 20-18.
“We felt composed the whole time,” said Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist with former partner Misty May-Treanor. “Even when we were down big in game two, I really thought we were going to come back and win. Game three was neck and neck, but they are Brazil and they're tough. I missed some executions at the end. I need to set April better on the right. We switched sides a month ago and we are working on that part of our game.”
"We’re not as sharp as I wish we were,” April Ross said. “I have never played right side before and need to get used to my angles and my options.”
Agatha and Eduarda started playing together in January and went on to win silver in an all-Brazil final against Larissa and Talita.
Sweat’s former partner Fendrick teamed with collegiate player Sara Hughes and reached the round of 16, as did the fellow U.S. team of Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar. Kelly Claes and Kelly Reeves were eliminated in the round of 24.
On the men’s side, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena took home the bronze medal on Saturday after defeating fellow Americans John Hyden and Ryan Doherty in two sets.
Dalhausser and Lucena also beat the Olympic gold medalist team Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil in the quarterfinal.
“It was nice to defeat them, but put us on such a high that we were a little low this morning and could never get our energy going,” Dalhausser said.
Darren Collette is a sportswriter based out of South Florida. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.