April Ross, Team USA 2016 Olympic Beach Volleyball Player, On Her Start In Outdoor, Pre-Match Prep [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
April Ross, 34-year-old Team USA beach volleyball player, is in Rio preparing to play for gold in the next two weeks. London 2012 Olympics Ross and her teammate at the time Jennifer Kessy, in a USA-USA final against Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. This year Ross and Jennings are teammates as each of their teammates decided to retire and they are going for gold. Ross discussed how she got her start in outdoor and her pre-match routines with uSports.
Ross has been an athlete all her life. She started in gymnastics and then took to soccer and then started playing volleyball. She took her volleyball talents to the University of Southern California where she was Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and the NCAA National Freshman of the Year. In her junior and senior year at USC she helped the team win back-to-back NCAA Championships and finished as one of USC’s all-time career record-holders including first in points with 1,430.
Coaches and teammates tried to convince Ross to play beach volleyball, but initially she didn’t really enjoy it. It wasn’t until she noticed how indoor volleyball was wearing on her body that she decided to give outdoor a try, she said.
“I started playing professionally indoor and started feeling very beat up, my knees broke down on me, my shoulder, I couldn’t swing at the ball anymore,” Ross said. “I actually gave up indoor volleyball. I gave up volleyball, I got a hostessing job and was like ‘Ok, I’m going to figure out how to make a living outside of volleyball.’ I actually enjoyed it but then my teammate from SC, Keao Burdine called me up and said ‘Hey come out and play on the beach with me, just try it, see if you like it’ I said ‘Ok, why not.'”
Ross enjoyed it even though she wasn’t as good at it as she was at indoor volleyball.
“I was terrible and I don’t know why I liked it because I usually only like things that I’m good at but I think it was just being out on the beach and the culture, it was a tonne of fun and I stuck with it and finally got better,” she said. “It was just random act of fate and here I am.”
It was an adjustment because indoor is so different than outdoor. One of the differences between indoor and outdoor is that there’s no hiding behind anyone because there’s only two players on the beach instead of six on the court. Beach is best of three sets and indoor is a best of five sets making there less room for error, she said.
“You have to think for yourself on the beach, you don’t have a coach on the sidelines yelling at you telling you what to do, subbing you out if you aren’t playing the way he wants you to. If you’re not playing good enough to win, you gotta figure it out. You gotta figure out how you’re gonna do something to beat the opponent,” Ross said. “You have to touch the ball every other time … so you have to be working on all your skills all the time.”
Volleyball athletes prepare for their competition the same way other team sports do by scouting the opponent, but the difference is that beach volleyball players are their own coach during the game on the beach, if they need to change the game plan they call their own timeout and make adjustments.
“We have our coach who before each match watches video of our opponent and draws out a scouting report, shows us their tendencies, writes down what he thinks we should do against the team,” she said. “We take that and then we kinda talk amongst ourselves and what we feel comfortable doing against the other team so it’s kind of a collaboration. It’s always a work in progress but I’d say it starts with our coach and his notes.”
For training and game days Ross isn’t superstitious but she does like to start her day relaxing with coffee.
“I like to have some time to sit at breakfast,” she said. ‘We like to have at least 45 minutes where we can drink our coffee and kind of relax and we try not to rush because if you’re rushing at breakfast you’re just going to end up rushing the rest of the day. So I guess if there’s one thing it’s just to take our time and enjoy a little but of time in the morning.”
As a professional Ross has eight AVP and nine FIVB first place finished overall.