Lauren Fendrick and April Ross are undefeated as a team. They partnered up shortly before the AVP Huntington Beach Championships as both of their regular partners (Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings, respectively) were sidelined after having shoulder surgery. In Huntington, Fendrick and Ross dropped only two sets on their way to securing the title.
The duo will take the court again in two weeks at the Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Theyll be battling nine other top beach volleyball teams from around the world in hopes of taking home the first-place prize of $100,000the largest winner’s purse ever in beach volleyball history. Even if a team loses every game, theyre guaranteed at least $5,000.
No Olympic qualification points will be awarded at the World Tour Finals, but Ross says that doesnt change her approach at all.
Honestly, I just want to win, she said. The stakes differ from tournament to tournament, and this one is different from one with Olympic qualification points, but I just really want to win.
In pool play, Ross and Fendrick will face Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas de Freitas of Brazil who are currently the top-ranked women’s team on the FIVB tour. Theyll also have to battle the reigning European tour champions and winners of the Yokohama Grand Slam Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany, as well as Canadians Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas and Spaniards Liliana Fernandez and Elsa Baquerizo. In the opposite pool lurks the No. 2-ranked team Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes da Rocha of Brazil, Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan of Canada, Madelein Meppelink and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands, Chantal Laboureur and Julie Sude of Germany, and Americans Jen Kessy and Emily Day.
Though the women’s field includes seven of the top-10 ranked teams in the world, Ross is unintimidated. And by all accounts she has no reason to be. She and Walsh Jennings earned a fourth, second, fifth, and ninth on the international tour even with Walsh Jennings serving underhand and swinging leftie, leading many followers of the sport to declare that Ross is playing better than anyone else in the world right now.
Fendrick, too, has had an impressive season so far, despite her partner’s injury. She and Sweat took four fifth-place finishes on tour this year, two of which they earned after Sweat’s injury.
I have no expectations, said Fendrick of the World Tour Finals event. Im just going to come out there ready to go for it. None of these teams are unbeatable.
With their combined talent unquestioned, the only unknown for Fendrick and Ross at the Fort Lauderdale event will be how well they can gel. In Huntington Beach, since both women usually play on the left side, they switched back and forth trying to figure out which arrangement worked best. In the end, they decided that not committing to one or the other worked best for them, giving them something to switch up when things werent going well.
I think we learned a lot of little adjustments, said Fendrick. Like I was passing really high thinking that will be easier for [April] to go on two, but in fact it forced her to go on two, and it’s actually a little bit easier with a lower pass. Little things like that.
Off the court, the two women, who have known each other for years, competing against each other since high school and throughout their collegiate and professional careers, are friends and even attended each others weddings. But, says Ross, their friendship doesnt play a significant factor into their ability to mesh on the court.
You can be friends off the court and get on the court and it just does not work, she said. It matters more the type of partner you are and the type of person you are, and I think because of that we have good chemistry on the court.
Fendrick highlighted Ross servesboth the jump topspin and the floateras one of the team’s biggest strengths, while Ross dubbed Fendrick one of the top blockers on tour.
For Ross, the World Tour Finals will be the last tournament of her 2015 season. She said she plans to rest her body and mind for a few months before jumping back into training, hopefully with a recovered Walsh Jennings.
Fendrick, on the other hand, aims to get back out on the court after Sweat’s had time to rehab and recover from her relatively minor shoulder surgery and play in some of the late-season tournaments before transitioning into the offseason.
But first, Ross and Fendrick will spend the next two weeks polishing their partnership in order to take on the world in Fort Lauderdale.
The World Tour Finals begin September 29, with live coverage on Universal Sports starting Friday, October 2, and continuing through the weekend. The men’s and women’s finals will air on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET, Sunday, October 4.