Summer Ross goes pro full time
Summer Ross first stepped into the world of professional beach volleyball at the age of 15, and began to turn some heads the next summer, in 2009, when she was part of the youngest team to ever qualify for an AVP Tour main draw.
Though her amateur status prevented her from actually collecting cash, advancing to the money rounds became more common for Ross in 2010. But her biggest achievement may have been garnering the attention of the game's ultimate legend, Misty May-Treanor.
The now-retired three-time Olympic gold medalist faced hundreds of different competitors in a career that spanned more than a dozen years and nearly 200 tournaments worldwide. So it's saying something that May-Treanor remembers her first match against Ross.
"She was young but definitely not threatened by the veteran players," May-Treanor recalled. "Or threatened by the competitiveness of everybody out on the beach."
Beach veterans will see a lot more of that competitiveness next season. Ross, who turned 20 Thursday, decided this past summer to forego her final two years of college and become a professional. She does so with an eye toward the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
You could say the summer of 2010 was Ross' coming-out party. After a few more AVP matchups against May-Treanor, she won both the Under-19 and Under-21 International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) world championships (with different partners), becoming the first person to collect both titles in the same year. That earned her USA Volleyball's beach female athlete of the year honor.
The 6-foot-2 Ross played sporadically outdoors in 2011, focusing more on the University of Washington indoor team, for which she started all 32 matches and earned Pac-12 all-freshman team honorable mention. But sand volleyball became a women's collegiate sport in 2012, and when UW didn't form an outdoor program, Ross transferred to Pepperdine. There she captured the inaugural AVCA collegiate sand volleyball national championship with Caitlin Racich and helped Pepperdine to the team title.
Soon thereafter, Ross hopped back in with the pros. She played two Pro Beach Volleyball Series events in May and June, then received a surprise phone call in July from Nicole Branagh, a 2008 Olympian who needed a partner for the Berlin Grand Slam, one of the FIVB Tour's major events. With only a week's notice, Ross arrived in Germany, played with an Olympic veteran for the first time and won two of three matches in pool play. The duo fell in the first elimination round, but it marked a good showing for Ross, appearing in her first elite international tournament main draw.
It was a really hard decision to leave Pepperdine because I had some great teammates there and I love the program. But if I wanted to have a chance for [the] 2016 [Olympics], I think this is what I have to do.Summer Ross
Ross played the next week with Tara Roenicke at the Grand Slam in Klagenfurt, Austria, and while the pair didn't win a match, it faced three teams that showed up on TV the next week in the London Games. That taste of the highest international level led Ross to turn pro. She yearns to be one of those women at the Olympics.
"It was a really hard decision to leave Pepperdine because I had some great teammates there and I love the program. But if I wanted to have a chance for [the] 2016 [Olympics], I think this is what I have to do," Ross said.
The timing is ideal. May-Treanor's retirement following London means Ross won't have to battle the sport's all-time top team for one of two U.S. Olympic berths. May-Treanor's longtime partner, Kerri Walsh Jennings, still aims to be at the Rio Games, but who she'll play with is unclear. London Olympic silver medalist April Ross (no relation to Summer) is a strong possibility, and that duo would appear to be the top American tandem, leaving no clear-cut No. 2.
It's a spot Summer Ross could fill. First, though, she needs a partner. She doesn't yet know who she'll team up with to begin 2013, but Ross plans to train with as many pros as possible in the coming months.
"I'll bug whoever I can to try and get in their practice," said Ross, who resides in Carlsbad, Calif., adding, "Beg them to let me on the court."
She won't have to plead for help from May-Treanor. The prodigy recently contacted the legend, who plans to meet up after the holidays, and possibly even jump on the sand with Ross. Wouldn't that be fitting? May-Treanor training the one player many think will fill the vacancy her retirement has left open.
"I definitely think she's the future of our sport, I definitely see that," May-Treanor said of Ross. "And I think she's doing all the right things to get there. She went for indoor, found her heart was beach, went professional in beach, and I know she's very dedicated to the beach game. And trying her hand at 2016, which is not out of her sights at all. She can definitely make that a reality, in my eyes."