Sunday, April 8, 2012

Summer Ross and sand volleyball partner win big vs. USC

MALIBU, CA—The sky was brilliant blue. The Zuma Beach sand grew warmer as the temperature inched past 75 degrees. It was spring, but Summer was in heaven.

Pepperdine's #1 sand volleyball dual Caitlin Racich and Summer Ross in action against USC
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“I love this,” Summer Ross beamed. “I can go to school and play nothing but sand volleyball.”

Ross, a freshman, is half of Pepperdine’s #1 sand volleyball dual, after spending the fall playing indoor volleyball for Washington. Ross and irrepressible teammate Caitlin Racich are among the favorites to win the inaugural AVCA/NCAA sand championship later this month.

During a break in a daylong combination dual/pairs competition against USC, Ross talked about her transfer to Pepperdine. “I get to see my brother (Pepperdine men’s volleyball player Chase Ross) every day. It’s really great.”

Summer Ross blocks against USC at Zuma Beach
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Also great for Ross is the chance to play sand ball year round. “No more indoor for me,” she says, “It’s just sand.”

Ross says she left Washington on good terms, and says she stays in touch with her former Huskies teammates. She’s on a sand scholarship with the Waves, which means she is not eligible for the indoor team in fall.

But on the beach, Ross shows much of what made her special at Washington. Her defense is relentless, keeping rally after rally alive by instantly sticking out her forearms in near-perfect point-saving platforms. She plays with little outward emotion, rarely getting rattled by a lost opportunity. The same redirections, roll shots and dinks that sometimes baffled Washington fans are deadly weapons in the sand.

Against USC’s #1 dual of Sara Shaw and Geena Urango, Ross’s shy demeanor stood out next to her buoyant Pepperdine partner. Racich, a junior, plays with abandon, but sees the court well. Neither athlete makes many unforced errors.

“Sand is so different from indoor,” Racich said. “You have to be great at every volleyball skill, and you need to be ready to defend every inch of the court.”

Among those in the sun-drenched crowd of about 200 was USC indoor coach Mick Haley. Haley says he’s happy USC is the first (and, so far, only) Pac-12 school to compete in sand. “It’s definitely an advantage in recruiting,” he says, adding “for now.” But, he says, “I’d like all the Pac-12 schools to be playing in both fall and spring.

Stanford is building a campus sand arena for 2013. USC is also building it’s own campus complex, complete with bleachers. No other Pac-12 schools have yet committed to next season.

Pepperdine's Summer Ross
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Ross and Racich breezed past Shaw and Urango during the morning team dual competition, as Pepperdine won 4 matches to 1, to go 10-0 in team play this season. During the afternoon, Ross and Racich stayed unbeaten on the day, winning three matches to capture the pairs tournament, defeating USC’s Natalie  Hagglund and Katie Fuller in straight sets. The Waves and Trojans should be among the top contenders during the AVCA national championships at the end of April. And several players on both teams have their eyes on bigger prizes.

The London Olympics are this summer; the host in 2016 will be Rio de Janeiro.

“Beach ball is huge at the Olympic games,” Haley says, “and there is a demand for televised matches that will stretch next season and beyond.”

“Rio,” says Ross, “is definitely on my mind.”

  • Both teams wear tank tops and shorts, a noticeable (and, some say, welcome) contrast to the skinny bikinis worn by pros and Olympians.
  • Racich was a high school teammate of the late Sam Wopat. Wopat, a Stanford sophomore, took her own life last month just before final exams. "It hurts," Racich says. "The Wopat family needs all the love we can give."
  • While Washington's indoor team began spring training this week, Haley held team drills in January, to accommodate sand.
  • A refreshing difference in the sand game: no line judges. The up ref makes line calls, and asks players to help  with out-of-bounds calls when they can.

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