One of the perks of being a former Gatorade National Player of the Year and beach superstar is that you get to influence the next generation of volleyball, but it also means you get to do some pretty cool things to honor them as well.
Olympian and current USA Volleyball Beach Player of the Year April Ross, the 2000 Gatorade Player of the Year, made the trek to South Carolina to be a part of surprising this year’s honoree, Thayer Hall.
Monday morning, VolleyMob caught up with Ross to talk about the surprise as well as her own memories of receiving the award and current partner Alix Klineman, also a former Gatorade Player of the Year.
Last year, you surprised Lexi Sun dressed as an ice cream vendor. This year you just had to pop up in Thayer’s living room. How did it feel to be able to carry on the Gatorade Player of the Year legacy and surprise her like that in front of her family and friends?
It was really unique. I have never surprised anyone like that. It is funny because the last couple of years have been so elaborate, but this year it felt like there was even more pressure because it was so intimate with her family and friends. It was like, don’t screw this up, all of the people she really cares about are right here. But I think it was really special to see her family’s reaction and stuff so up close.
Obviously some of her family was in on this, were you surprised it was still a surprise?
Not really. I think to know that Thayer was getting this award is different from actually seeing it happen and seeing her reaction. I think all of that is a surprise and kind of a bigger deal than you would expect than just knowing that she was going to receive it.
What was her reaction like from your side of things as someone in the know?
Obviously she was slightly confused at first and then shocked and surprised at first, but then really just grateful and excited to get it.
Did it bring back memories from when you won the award in 2000? What are your memories of your experience of being named Gatorade Player of the Year?
It always brings back memories. Everybody wants to know what it was like when I won it. It was such a blur for me and I can imagine it being the same for the winners that I am presenting the award to. I just remember being completely caught off guard because my coach never petitioned for individual awards ever and for me to get an individual award at my high school was a huge deal. I couldn’t believe that he did it. I actually don’t remember how they did it, I just remember being in disbelief. I think that part … and I could see it on Thayer’s face, even if she was the state award winner several times, just to get the actual award is such a huge deal that I don’t think you can really expect it.
You’ve come a long way since then, with your sights set on Tokyo 2020. Do you hope to inspire her and others to keep pushing to that level and grow the game?
When I won the award, I still had a ton of work to do. It was a really encouraging moment for me to be recognized like that and it gave me a lot of confidence going into college. Even if you are a really good volleyball player coming out of high school, you still need that encouragement going into college since it is a whole different game. I am hoping this award does for Thayer what it did for me. And now that I am very well on in my career and I have experienced a lot of things, a huge goal of mine is to inspire players like Thayer and encourage young girls to chase their dreams, realize their potential and create lives that are really, really awesome and exciting through volleyball and through sports. If I can do that now for girls like Thayer then that is a huge part of my success.
Your new beach partner, Alix Klineman, also is a Gatorade Player of the Year award winner. That is coincidence maybe, but have you seen that growth in Alex as well as she has transitioned from indoor to beach and also that confidence growing in her?
There are really common themes among the Gatorade National Player of the Year winners I have found in kind of an intensity and an intelligence and down to earth humbleness. It is there in Thayer and it is definitely there in Alix. I didn’t know Alix before we got together and started training, but just kind of the intangibles that I like to think I possess, I find that she possesses. It makes it really smooth out on the court. I know her work ethic. I never have to doubt her work ethic and how much she wants to win, her competitiveness. All of that just makes things a lot easier.
Alix had only played a little bit over the summer and so going into our very first international tournament a couple of weeks ago, we weren’t sure how things were going to go, just because of her lack of experience. But the way that she prepared for it was really unique and I think that she had the baseline confidence just from everything she has done, indoor and with volleyball in general. That paid off a ton throughout the tournament, and obviously we made it all the way through the tournament and ended up winning. I could see her confidence get locked in for sure through that experience, but you know, everything that came before it definitely helped.