Trojan great April Ross excelling in the sand

first_imgEtched into the five obelisks adjacent to USC’s Cromwell Field are the names of some of the university’s most storied Olympic athletes. The Trojans have a long and illustrious history in the Olympic Games, having sent more athletes to the Olympics than any other university.Just beachy · AVP pro beach volleyball star and Olympic silver medalist April Ross won two NCAA championships with USC’s indoor women’s volleyball team in 2002 and 2003 before hitting the sand. – Photo courtesy of AVP/Robert Beck One of those 420 world-class athletes is former Trojan volleyball player and current AVP pro beach volleyball star April Ross. Ross, who hails from Newport Beach, California, took home a silver medal in beach volleyball at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. The 6-foot-1, blonde and bronzed Ross looks like the perfect specimen for beach volleyball, but her path to glory on the sand was by no means linear.Ross excelled in indoor volleyball throughout her four years at USC, winning two NCAA championships (2002 and 2003) under head coach Mick Haley, who still coaches the Women of Troy today. In her senior year, Ross led the team in kills, service aces and points, and prepared herself to play professionally. But her first few years of professional indoor volleyball were tough on the former All-American, and almost put an end to her dreams.“From playing indoor here, I actually went and played professionally in Puerto Rico for three years and my body just kind of fell apart,” Ross said. “You have a whole team of managers [in the United States]. You have your coach, obviously, and then your physical therapists that work on you. You have your weight lifting coach who keeps you strong so you don’t get hurt. When I went down to Puerto Rico, I didn’t have any of that. My body broke down. I came home, had surgery on my knee and I was like, ‘I’m done with volleyball. I’m not playing ever again.’”But a twist of fate led to Ross heading down a path she never anticipated. She received a phone call from a former USC teammate, Keao Burdine, inviting her to try out beach volleyball. Ross hit the ground running and never looked back.“I just kind of fell in love,” Ross said. “I was really bad, so it was like starting over again, starting a new sport. I had to learn so much. But I fell in love with the sport and the culture and the people.”Ross’ modesty lent to her willingness to quickly learn the ins and outs of beach volleyball, and as she improved, she was noticed by another former Trojan volleyball star: Jennifer Kessy. Little did the duo know when they paired up that they’d go on to be partners for seven years and represent their country in the gold medal match at the 2012 Olympic Games. Kessy and Ross’ success was especially improbable considering Ross’ feelings toward her future teammate before they paired up.“I played against her one time when I was in high school and she was at ’SC and I remember not liking her,” Ross said. “She, I think, yelled at me through the net one time … And I played against her my first year on the AVP. That did nothing to help my image of her — she always beat me.”But once they got on the same side of the court, the former Women of Troy built instant chemistry — the kind that can only be accomplished by what Ross describes as the teammates’ desire to give their all for each other at every moment. This chemistry allowed the duo to sail through the pro tours and make their way to the Olympics, an experience Ross still has a hard time putting into words.“It’s just the most amazing feeling,” Ross said. “But I don’t think it really, really hit me until we were going out for our first match. We were warming up and it didn’t hit me. I was nervous, obviously, but walking through the tunnel into the big arena with like 15,000 people, that’s when you’re actually competing in the Olympics.”Kessy and Ross fought their way through the first few rounds, and upset the top-seeded team in the Games, Brazil’s Larissa França and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva, in the semifinals, 15-21, 21-19, 15-12.That set up an All-American gold medal match, where Kessy and Ross came up short against the legendary Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.“I know it was hard for people to watch and choose to cheer for one or the other,” Ross said about playing against her compatriots. “I felt a lot of love and I felt like a lot of people were on our side. I was bummed that we lost, but to stand up there on the podium with gold and silver for the U.S., I was still really proud and really happy.”Though Ross felt the sting of losing that day in London, it didn’t stop her from teaming up with Walsh Jennings after the Olympics ended. Kessy and May-Treanor both decided to retire, allowing Ross and Walsh Jennings to pair up and become the nation’s new No. 1 beach volleyball team.Ross is embracing the view from the top.“It’s the first time that I haven’t been any kind of an underdog,” Ross said. “It’s crazy to have everyone trying to knock you off all the time and you have to defend your No. 1 standing in the country and, a lot of the time, in the world, this past summer.”But the duo absolutely refused to let anyone knock them off this summer. In fact, they became the first teammates in the 31-year history of the AVP Tour to win all seven tournaments on the schedule.Now, the pair is focusing on gearing up for the next AVP season and preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Ross said the process involves working out in the gym for a few hours every day and doing “brain training,” an activity in which she has electrodes attached to her head that allow her to control virtual situations, like driving a car, only using her mind. Though it seems unorthodox, Ross insists it improves her abilities on the court.“You just have to play with your brain and not try too hard but not relax completely,” Ross said. “You have to find that middle ground, which is essentially where you want to play volleyball.”Should the duo make it to Rio, it would only add to the list of breathtaking places Ross has had the opportunity to play volleyball, such as under the Eiffel Tower and in the Swiss Alps.Despite all her travels, Ross still keeps a close eye on her home, and tries to follow Trojan athletics when she can.“I’m actually really fired up on the sand program,” Ross said. “I want to see some of them come out to the AVP and eventually compete there. So I follow them a lot and I’m hoping they can win a team national championship this year.”While Ross continues to root for USC, the Trojan Family will certainly be rooting for her in her ultimate quest for Olympic gold.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *