Last week, April Ross and her partner, Jen Kessy, picked up a victory on the women’s pro volleyball tour in, of all places, the infield of the Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore – home to The Preakness Stakes, the second leg in horse racing’s famed Triple Crown.
April is a lot more accustomed to drilling volleyballs into the sand at Corona del Mar’ State Beach and training at her gym, CdM Fitness, back home here in Newport Beach than playing beach volleyball in the infield of a horse track.
And that is where you’ll find her most of the time these days as she is making her final preparations for her first trip to the Olympic Games in London this July.
Four years ago, Ross barely missed making the two-team USA women’s beach volleyball squad that went to the Beijing games in 2008.
This year, she and Kessy made it, based on their performance and a point system that determines who will go to represent the USA on the Olympic sand.
April says she can’t wait, but, “I’m glad we’ve qualified in advance and can have more time to specifically prepare for the games.”
The other US women’s beach volleyball team headed to London is led by Misty May-Treanor, the two-time Olympic women’s beach volleyball gold medalist.
Like the veteran May-Treanor, first-timer Ross attended Newport Harbor High School.
After high school Ross went on to star at USC on the school’s women’s indoor volleyball team, garnering a list of awards far to long to list here during her standout All-American collegiate career.
After college Ross decided to switch to beach volleyball full-time.
Ross says she made the switch for personal and professional reasons and has never looked back.
“My body sustained too many injuries playing indoor and I didn’t enjoy being controlled by coaches and owners of professional teams. I tried beach and fell in love with the game, the culture and the freedom to control my training.”
When not on an airplane headed to a pro beach volleyball tournament somewhere around the world Ross say’s living in her hometown of Newport with her husband, pro beach volleyball player Brad Keenan, give her all the local grounding she needs.
“I love living in the Newport-Mesa area, it’s so relaxed and casual” she told the Independent in an interview last week.
April’s roots here go way back.
“My grandpa … was a fish and game warden in Newport, lived in Costa Mesa in the house where my mom was born and raised and where me and my sister were born and raised,” she said.
Her involvement in volleyball started at Newport’s Ensign Middle School, where her love for the sport began to take root.
“It was what all my friends were playing in Junior High at Ensign and when they all started playing club at Orange County Volleyball Club my dad convinced me to tryout for a team.”
Her talent and skill weren’t always evident, even to herself, but with practice a lot of determination and dedication her success in the sport as kid growing up in Newport began to build
“I started when I was in 7th grade, I had no idea how to play, but I tried out for the school team and just barely made the third string which didn’t even get to travel to matches, but I got better that year and made the first string the next year and started club after my 8th grade season.”
During her high school years at Newport Harbor High her athletic prowess started to shine through. Ross not only played volleyball, but also basketball and was on the track and field team.
“Playing at Harbor was different every year. My freshman year was tough. Coach Glenn took me on varsity and I had a lot of learning and growing to do and not all of the upperclassmen enjoyed having me on the team, especially since I took a starting position – but it was a good experience for me. My sophomore, junior, and senior years got better and better. We won CIF my sophomore year, but lost in state and then my junior and senior years we won the State Championship, which was an amazing experience. I feel lucky to have gone to such a good athletic and academic high school, … I loved going to the football games and all the dances, overall I had a really great time!”
Unlike many athletes, the dream of competing against the worlds best in the Olympic games didn’t take hold early on – it was more of an evolution, Ross says.
“I think I realized I wanted to play professionally at the end of my senior year in college, I never considered it until I got some offers from professional teams. I didn’t decide to go for the Olympics until I started playing beach volleyball with my current partner Jen Kessy and we won our second international tournament together.”
Ross say’s her Olympic dream was born of what her parents instilled her as a kid.
“I didn’t really grow up with Olympic idols, my parents were my role models and they instilled in me an intense work ethic that has gotten me pretty far, they also taught me to always be humble and appreciate what I have.”
With the London Games less than two months away, Ross is training hard and honing her skills.
And if you thought it was easy going once you make the Olympic team, think again, Ross told the Independent.
“My life is A LOT of volleyball! We practice five times a week, sometimes with our coach and sometimes with other teams, either doing drills or scrimmaging. We weight train three times a week and have sand plyometrics once a week and then the other days we supplement practice with cardio training. We also drive to Marina del Rey to do brain training, which is a new technology that is equal to weight training for your brain. We are just trying to do whatever we can to be at the top of our game going into the Olympics.”
Ross just returned from a tournament in China, where she played on the court built for the last Olympic Games and where her Newport counterpart May-Treanor won her most recent gold medal.
“It was cool being in the place of the 2008 Games looking forward to the London Games this summer”.
For now, as April Ross waits and prepares for her Olympic moment to begin, she says any downtime around Newport is usually spent with her husband enjoying one of their favorite restaurants and spending time with friends.
“I love going out to eat with my husband to places like Eat Chow, Haute Cakes, R&D Kitchen, Gulfstream, Summer House, and Ho Sum Bistro.”
“When I have free time I like to visit friends who still live in the area and just hang out at home, every once in a while I will venture out to the Peninsula, usually to Malarky’s or Rudy’s, for a night out on the town.”
But with the Olympics so close, April says there two places you’ll find her most around Newport Beach they “are the beach and CdM Fitness, where we train.”
April’s also says she’s ready.
“There’s a great sense of accomplishment from gaining that bid to the Olympics … I am so excited to be part of the elite club of athletes who get a chance to compete at the Olympics.”