Freshman Challenges Just A Day At The Beach For Ross
Sept. 12, 2011
SEATTLE - Flip the calendar back just one year from today, and Summer Ross is in very different surroundings. At just seventeen years old, Washington's starting outside hitter is headed to Alanya, a city on the southern coast of Turkey overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There she will compete for the USA against women as much as four years older than her for the World Junior Beach Volleyball Championships.
Ross has already won the World Youth title a month earlier, an age group that goes up to 19 years as opposed to the 21-year limit for the Junior event. But now she is switching partners, playing now with Tara Roenicke after winning Youths with Jane Croson, and her expectations are not for a repeat performance.
Do your best, and have fun. That is all that ran through her head entering her second World Championship in two months. Yet a week later, Ross and Roenicke had rolled through the tournament to the finals, and went up against an experience Italian team, both of them three years older than Summer. After dropping the first set, the Americans won a marathon second set and held on in the third for the 19-21, 26-24, 15-13 victory.
Ross became the first American player ever to win gold at both events, and was named USA Volleyball Beach Player of the Year for 2010, the first time that award was handed out to a junior-aged player.
"It feels like a long time ago," says Ross, now sitting in Alaska Airlines Arena. "The first one in Portugal we just came out trying to do our best, but we didn't think we'd win. Same with the next one, cause that was even older, so it was a surprise. Jane and Tara, I've known them for so long it was easy to play with them."
Still, one has to think that Croson and Roenicke would say it's pretty easy to play with Summer as well. Ross made her home debut this past weekend, ranking second on the team in kills in a pair of sweeps over Seattle U. and Fresno State. Fans at those first two matches likely noticed the seeming ease with which Summer moved around the court; bumping the ball up to herself before a perfectly-placed serve, or shrugging off a rare mistake with the same air of calm you might find in a day at the beach.
That calmness under pressure, and a great all-around set of skills developed on the beach, have made for a smooth transition for Ross to the indoor game. Ross was home schooled through high school, so her indoor play was limited. She estimates she has spent "seventy ... maybe sixty-five" of her time playing beach since she picked up the sport.
"I grew up on the beach," Ross says happily. "I didn't start indoors until I was twelve. My mom, dad and brother (Chase, a senior outside hitter at Pepperdine) all played beach."
Despite the lingering summer feel in Seattle this month, any day now the clouds could move in and the beach might not be the most inviting location for a few months. So how did the lifelong SoCal girl wind up in the Northwest? Ross says, "My folks just wanted me to go to a great volleyball program and that was UW." When asked to write why she chose Washington, she starts with great coaches, moves to great teammates and fans, and then adds "I love rain."
She enrolled at Washington in the spring and was able to participate in the spring practice season. While the sudden change in both practice environment and school setting might seem jarring, as with most things Ross seems to have taken it all in stride.
"I'm used to studying in my pajamas with just my mom and dad, and in Psychology at UW there were hundreds of kids," Ross admits.
Prior to the spring practice season, Ross had not played indoors in about a year. Getting those extra weeks of practice prior to the fall helped a great deal. Pressed for specifics on some of the differences between the two variations, Ross says "It was so cool learning how to swing block (indoors), and learning to pass correctly and just meeting the whole team."
With just two players on one half of a beach court, it stands to reason that a World Champion would be able to do many things well, rather than just smash the ball. Ross has shown that to be the case early on in her Husky career. Right now she ranks fourth on the team in kills per set (2.00), is tied for the team lead in aces (10), ranks fourth in digs with 1.62 per set, and is third on the team in blocks with 0.96 per set.
The deft placement of her serves and her variety of spins and off-speed shots on offense are the best indicators of her time on the sand. And her ball control has been critical to UW's early success, as she is one of Washington's primary passers, who are counted on to handle the opponent's service.
For now, Ross will put her superstar beach status on hold, finding time for the game here and there, as she did this summer when she went to Manhattan Beach to train for a month with the USA Under-26 High Performance teams, coached by former U.S. Olympic coach Anna Collier. "With Anna we worked a lot on picking up the short ball or cut, and then backing up quickly to hit," Ross says. She then went to Quebec to play in an FIVB tournament, going 1-1 with Roenicke once again. Ross relished the chance to practice with former World Champions and 2009 USA Beach Team of the Year April Ross (no relation) and Jennifer Kessy.
Playing in the wind again took some adjusting, she said, and her legs felt a little tired working through the sand, but "some of the blocking techniques really helped I think."
Now the focus is back solely on indoors. She'll look for the spare sand match at Denny Field or Alki Beach after the season, but is fully committed to honing her hardwood game. One thing Ross says she has to do without is the sky ball, an extremely high serve in beach, because "that big box is in the way," she says, referring to the scoreboard.
A minor inconvenience, but Ross will figure out a way to adapt.