COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 11, 2014) – It wasn’t long after April Ross started playing with Kerri Walsh Jennings full time that Ross realized she was now on “The Team to Beat” and felt a target on her back.
| April Ross celebrates at the World Series of Beach Volleyball.
“After winning the last two Grand Slams of 2013 and winning the first Open of 2014 (in Fuzhou, China), which was a pretty heavy draw; after winning that one and beating Brazil and China, I think that solidified it,” Ross (Costa Mesa, Calif.) remembered. “That’s when the target got there and people started taking it seriously.”
Following Ross and Walsh Jennings’ victory at the Fuzhou Open in April, Australian beach volleyball gold medalist Natalie Cook wrote in her FIVB blog: “I can’t say I was surprised that April Ross and Kerri Walsh won gold and topped the podium; both players know exactly what is required to finish first in competitions and have the uncanny ability to turn around impossible situations to win. They gave us all a taste of what was to come at the end of 2013… and have now laid down a marker to the rest of the competition of what to expect this season and through to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.”
Even with the added pressure of being “The Team to Beat,” the pair won four gold medals on the FIVB World Tour at the Fuzhou Open in China, the Moscow Grand Slam, the Stavanger Grand Slam in Norway and the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif. Ross and Walsh Jennings finished the season ranked third by the FIVB.
The pair was even more dominant domestically, sweeping all seven events, going 36-0 in matches and losing only three out of 73 sets. Ross led all AVP players in aces with 94. She was third in digs with 372 and second, behind Walsh Jennings, in hitting percentage at .509.
For her performance, Ross, 32, has been named the USA Volleyball Female Beach Player of the Year for the second straight year and the fourth time overall.
A lot was expected when Ross, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist with partner Jennifer Kessy, joined with Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist with Misty May-Treanor.
Working to meet those expectations made for a grueling season in 2014, Ross said.
“We are trying to navigate being on a new team and finding little ways to mesh better on the court,” Ross said. “It feels like we get along and our games go together. But there are little things that a new team doesn’t have.
“But being the No. 1 seeded team every weekend and people taking their best shot; that added to how grueling it was,” Ross said. “That’s something I need to get used to and get comfortable with. Kerri is already used to it.”
If becoming part of “The Team to Beat” takes hard work, then staying there takes even more. Ross is known for her tough workout routines and has written in her blog about the importance of self-discipline.
She surrounds herself with a small group of supporters including Coach Marcio Sicoli, U.S. Olympic Committee strength coach Tim Pelot, her agent Lindsay Colas and her family, including husband Brad Keenan, who also plays beach volleyball, and sister Amy.
And while there may be pressure in being part of The Team to Beat, there are plenty of rewards too, Ross said.
“That is the best thing; just the fact that I am on the same team with Kerri,” Ross said. “I didn’t think it would ever happen. It is fun learning with her and improving with her. She is super understanding and generous. The whole thing is great.”
USA Volleyball Female Beach Players of the Year
2014: April Ross
2013: April Ross
2012: Misty May-Treanor
2011: April Ross
2010: Summer Ross
2009: April Ross
2008: Misty May-Treanor
2007: Misty May-Treanor