April Ross (L) and Lauren Fendrick celebrate a pool-play win at the Long Beach Presidents Cup on July 13, 2017 in Long Beach, Calif.
From a late partnership to tournament ups and downs to a broken toe, the 2017 beach volleyball season has had its share of plot twists for April Ross and Lauren Fendrick leading up to the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, which begin Friday in Vienna, Austria.
Yet they’ve arrived at the tournament on which they’ve been focused the past three months in a state of excitement, anticipation and — perhaps most of all — gratitude.
“I think this summer has been a huge lesson in (gratitude), which is weird to say because I feel like I’m always grateful for the sport and this opportunity all the time, but way more so now,” Ross told TeamUSA.org this week. “We’ve had enough experience together and adjusted to each other enough that we know what we need to do to be one of the top teams and do well in this tournament. If we’re disciplined and focused in executing those things, I think we can do well.”
It’s been just three months since Ross split from her former partner, Kerri Walsh Jennings, with whom she won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. The duo separated after Walsh Jennings decided not to play on the AVP Tour.
Ross said she liked the idea of teaming with Fendrick in part because she’s “one of the best blockers in the world” and thought they’d have a lot of chances to score points with her at the net.
Fendrick said when the two-time Olympic medalist Ross became available, she instantly jumped at the chance to play with her. The two previously played in two matches together in the fall of 2015.
“She has an incredible offensive weapon in her serve and in her attack, and I love the passion she has for the game and for training and preparation,” said Fendrick, who competed at the 2016 Olympics with partner Brooke Sweat.
With no preseason to speak of, Fendrick and Ross made their 2017 debut at the FIVB World Tour stop in Moscow at the beginning of June. They won their first two matches in two sets before losing a close one to a team from Germany, then went back to practice and made some adjustments. They headed back out for the AVP New York City Open beginning June 8, and all was going well until the semifinals, when the two collided and Ross broke her toe. They scored the final points to win and advance to the title game against Sweat and Summer Ross (no relation), but April Ross wasn’t at all sure she could do it.
“It was so painful,” she said. “After two hours of resting it, it got more painful. I was walking around trying to feel it out on the sand, and five different times I think I said to Lauren that we should call it because I couldn’t move. Then something hit me and I was like, ‘You can’t just not try. No matter what, you can’t give up before you start.’”
They started the match and fell behind 8-2, but then slowly started to chip away. Ross credited Fendrick for doing whatever she could to get to the ball, block and get aces, and for taking over where Ross couldn’t.
Fendrick learned just how tough her new partner was.
“She’s got another level inside her,” Fendrick said.
They won 24-22, 21-15, but then Ross was off the sand for the next three weeks. Fendrick played two tournaments with former partner Lane Carico before Ross returned for the FIVB stop in Gstaad, Switzerland, beginning on July 3. With their momentum stalled and Ross still hampered by the injury, they won just one match.
It didn’t take long to improve on that result, however.
On July 15, Ross and Fendrick captured the silver medal at the World Series of Beach Volleyball tournament in Long Beach, California, losing to Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil in the final.
Now, since arriving in Vienna, Ross said she’s finally at the point where she’s no longer worrying about her toe and they’re ready to use their strengths — among them the ability to cover a lot of the court on defense, their size, their serving and their attack — to do what they need to do in order to have success.
Fendrick added that their ability to problem-solve and make in-game adjustments as strengths that should serve them well when they open play on Friday against Chen Xue and Xinxin Wang of China. The world championships run through Aug. 5, with the women’s final on Aug. 4.
“We’re feeling really good and really excited for this week of competition,” Fendrick said. “When we first partnered up we were like, worlds is what we’re building toward. It’s been in the backs of our minds since the beginning.”