April Ross, Lauren Fendrick, after world silver, look to the future
VIENNA — Lauren Fendrick stood to the left of partner April Ross at a post-match press conference at the world beach volleyball championships.
Fendrick suddenly asked to switch sides, realizing it would put a temporary tattoo of a sponsor’s logo on her right shoulder in view of the cameras. Flipping places also put Ross’ sponsors in a better position for exposure.
“Everything is clicking for us, both on and off the sand,” Fendrick said.
Fendrick and Ross earned the silver medal in Saturday’s final, falling to Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany in three sets.
The U.S. pair is less than three months into their partnership.
“I have always felt we had this potential,” Ross said. “I am kind of surprised at how much better we got with every single match, but where we got to, I knew we could get to.”
It was the first international medal of any color for Fendrick, 35, who bowed out of the Rio Olympic group stage with Brooke Sweat.
Ross, also 35, won the 2009 World title with Jen Kessy, as well as the 2012 Olympic silver medal with Kessy and the 2016 Olympic bronze medal with Kerri Walsh Jennings.
“This shows you what kind of leader April is,” said 2000 Olympic champion Dain Blanton, who was in Vienna as a TV analyst. “April went from a secondary role, playing with Kerri Walsh, to assuming a role that whoever she plays with, they bring their game up. April helped Lauren get to another level.”
Fendrick and Ross first met in high school, when they competed for rival club teams. The rivalry continued in college, with Fendrick playing indoor volleyball for UCLA and Ross representing USC.
They occasionally played together in the past, most notably finishing fifth at the 2015 World Tour Finals, but only debuted as full-time partners in June.
Fendrick received a call from Ross, who had recently split with Walsh Jennings, while attending the Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championships in Tucson, Ariz. in late April.
“It was surprising for sure,” Fendrick said. “April is one of the best players in the world.”
Ross picked Fendrick because of her work ethic and blocking ability. No player has more career blocks at the world championships than the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.
“Nobody knows just how good of blocker she is better than I do,” Ross said. “I’ve seen it from both sides of the net.”
The mid-season partnership change required patience. They finished no better than ninth in their first three international tournaments, as Fendrick had to adjust to playing on the right side for the first time. Even their high-five routine required coordination.
“The more we play, the more we are meshing and finding our rhythm,” Ross said. “The chemistry has a lot to do with our long-term relationship and getting along so well.”
The pair will play in two upcoming domestic AVP tournaments. They are also hoping for a wild-card invitation to the World Tour Finals in Hamburg beginning Aug. 22.
They will then reevaluate their partnership at the end of the season.
“We are really good together, but we have to see what the future holds,” Ross said.
Ross’ main goal is making her third Olympic team in 2020.
“If I make that,” she said, “I can’t imagine not going for 2024.”
Ross was hoping Los Angeles would host the Olympics in 2024, when she will be 42. She grew up in Costa Mesa, Calif., and serves on the Athletes’ Advisory Commission for the Los Angeles bid committee.
But now it is expected that Paris will host the 2024 Games, while Los Angeles will wait until 2028. Beach volleyball will be played near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, while Santa Monica Beach, which is considered the birthplace of sport, will be the setting in Los Angeles.
“I’ve had to change my mindset about it,” Ross said. “At first I was disappointed, because I wanted to play in Los Angeles [in 2024]. Now I realize I can still be involved in other ways.”
Ross expressed an interest in a future in broadcasting. She filmed a video interview with IOC President Thomas Bach and FIVB President Ary Graca in Vienna, and recently taught NBA players Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell how to play beach volleyball in a video for Gatorade.
“I love journalism,” she said. “It felt natural.”
She would also be open to other opportunities to help grow the sport, as well as make the experience better for the competitors.
“Beach volleyball is going to be epic in Santa Monica,” Ross said. “It’s going to be the place to be in 2028.”
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