The Hague, The Netherlands, June 15, 2017 - It’s safe to say that a year ago, no one would have predicted that one of the most solid teams on the women’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour would be Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat.
After placing 19th at the Rio Olympics, Sweat planned to have surgery to repair her right shoulder while her Olympic partner, Lauren Fendrick, tried to start a family. Instead, Sweat’s MRI showed that her shoulder was healing.
“The doctor was like, ‘Why don’t you just take three months off? I don’t want to touch it,’” Sweat recalled.
Then, out of the blue, Ross asked her to play in November.
A month later, at their first practice, Sweat, 31, said, “We just knew.”
Since then, the new American pair has been on fire. They placed fourth in their debut, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They placed second in Moscow this month. They also placed second in New York City last weekend on the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour. And they have high hopes for The Hague.
Summer Ross (left) and Brooke Sweat during their opening success together in Fort Lauderdale
While she was Stateside, however, the less-quoted Ross took a moment to discuss the genesis of their partnership and share a few details about her own life and career.
QUESTION - In the past, you’ve teamed with Emily Day, Jennifer Fopma, Lane Carico…what were you hoping to find with Brooke when you contacted her in November?
SUMMER ROSS - “Ever since I was little and signed up for the AVP qualifiers, I always saw Brooke out there and was like, ‘Oh man, her ball control! Her game is amazing!’ I’ve always known I wasn’t ready to play with her, though. She was so good. I was stoked when she said ‘Yes’ to my text – asking if you could play. It was the best thing ever. I couldn’t believe it!”
QUESTION - At your first practice, in December 2016, at Hermosa Beach…
SR - “We were like, ‘This is amazing! Let’s do it!’ It didn’t even feel like the first time we were playing together. We gelled perfectly. I knew what kind of set she wanted, right off the bat. I told Brooke I want to be a left-sider because I feel better over there and I can go on two as much as I want. And she’s a right-sider, so it works perfectly.”
QUESTION - She said that your 2-ball is one of the best in the world. What is Brooke the best in the world at?
SR - “I think she’s the best defender. She scoops up everything. If I can just put up a decent block where I don’t get tooled, I can count on her to dig it no matter what.”
QUESTION - In three tournaments so far, you haven’t finished worse than fourth. What do you make of that?
SR - “I’m really surprised. I’m just stoked and I want to keep getting better with each rep. I also just want to focus on each tournament, and not [think] so far out in advance. Like, this is the tournament of my life right now. This one. This is it. Then I want to go to the next tournament, put everything in to that tournament, and just keep building.”
QUESTION - What should we look for in your game in The Hague? Anything you want to try?
SR - “We want to work on looking like we’re coming in hard to bring the heater every time. We don’t want to give away that we’re shooting. Then, overall, we want to work on consistency and after a bad play, not getting down and not letting a giant rut of points string you along into the loss.”
QUESTION - Any concerns about Brooke’s right shoulder?
Brooke Sweat diving for Mikasa with a "taped" right shoulder
SR - “I think it’s going to be good because she’s super-tough and she’s doing all her rehab. She’s getting massage, she’s eating healthy, she’s on the right track to overall good shoulder stability.”
QUESTION - You’ve had an interesting career. You won several youth titles, played indoors for the University of Washington, and won a college beach title for Pepperdine. Did you graduate?
SR - “I have two years under my belt. I’m just loving volleyball right now! I can’t find the time to sit down and study when I just want to play, rest, and focus on volleyball.”
QUESTION - By turning pro, you gave up your college eligibility, right?
SR - “Yeah. Once I found the FIVB and I saw the Euro kids going right onto tour. I was like, ‘I want to be like them.’ I went pro full-time when I was 19, right after my freshman year of college. I’m 24 now. So this is like my fifth year.”
QUESTION - So far, what has been the high point of your career?
SR - “I think Moscow was the high point of my life. We got second, and we kept pulling these three-set wins out of nowhere. We started off the tournament rocky, but in our first round of playoffs, against Austria, westepped it up and kept improving with each game. Our touch got better, our ball control was there, and we kept finding a good rhythm and consistency with each other. I’ve gotten a silver in an FIVB Open before, but it wasn’t a stacked tournament like that one.”
A Moscow silver medal for Brooke Sweat (left) and Summer Ross
QUESTION - I know you’ve faced some recent challenges. How did you cope?
SR - “My mom, Kathy, died in 2014. That was hard. I was 21 and I was at an FIVB tournament when she died. That was the all-time low; it’s hard to go on from there, but I like to think of volleyball as my way to remember her. She was so into it that I feel like it’s where I’m meant to be. She was the one who got me into volleyball. She signed me up for USA Juniors. I was begging her: I don’t want to go – and she made me go. (laugh) She also played a little, in the WPVA back in the day.”
QUESTION - Did you and your mom have a similar game?
SR - “I don’t think so. She wasn’t that great (laugh). She only found out she was sick six weeks before she died of colon cancer. So it was pretty quick, and I just feel bad for every time I was a brat to her. I wish I hadn’t been so mean to her at times (laugh). But it makes me want to treat others better, be nicer to my dad. Now it’s just me, him, and my older brother, Chase. He’s 28 and played at Pepperdine. He’s an accountant now. He’s awesome and sometimes we play co-ed. The other week we were out playing from like 5 at night when he got off work, till 8, with his buddies.”
QUESTION - Back to the present: How would you describe the on-court dynamic with Brooke?
SR - “I’m quiet – more for a resting purpose, to get ready for the next point and not waste energy on celebrating or being mad. Brooke’s kind of the same way. She keeps it chill. She gives me more advice than I give her – which is always helpful. I wish I had more advice for her, but I’m focusing on myself. (laugh) She’s a legend. She knows what she’s talking about. I can count on her for some solid cues.”
QUESTION - Did you watch the Rio Olympics?
SR - “I watched it all, when I could, at home in Manhattan Beach.”
QUESTION - Were you surprised that Brooke and Lauren didn’t get any wins?
SR - “I know! I was pulling for them. I wish I’d been playing with Brooke then (laugh).”