HUNTINGTON BEACH — April Ross didn’t want to leave the winners’ podium.
The former Newport Harbor High standout wanted to relish the moment, her moment, the one that, finally, belonged to her and teammate Jennifer Kessy.
“I’m tearing up,” Ross, a Costa Mesa resident, told a crowd of approximately 3,000 at center court Sunday, site of the Assn. Volleyball Professionals Nivea Tour Huntington Beach Open presented by Bud Light Lime. “I don’t want to get down. I don’t want the moment to end.”
What Ross and Kessy did end Sunday was futility in the Southland. The two have four AVP tournament titles to their credit, but none had come in Southern California.
That, was put to rest against the women’s top-seeded team.
Ross and Kessy, who lives in San Clemente, rallied from a game down in the women’s final against Misty May-Treanor, another former Newport Harbor star, and Nicole Branagh (Torrance) to tie the match at a win apiece. The tournament favorites appeared on their way to yet another tour victory as they appeared to be in control of the third game.
Ross and Kessy, however, had the final say: they scored the last five points of the game to win the match, 14-21, 21-12, 15-11, at the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
“I can’t even put into words how I feel,” Ross said. “We wanted so badly to win this. It’s super-tough to win in Southern California. Everyone is from here, everyone trains here and everyone has family here. So, everyone wants to win here.
“This is what I call the “Grand Slam” of the AVP, here, Manhattan and Hermosa. I’m just so happy right now.”
The women’s finale pitted Ross, who is in her fifth season on the AVP, against fellow Sailors alum May-Treanor who had won five of the previous six times she played in Huntington Beach.
May-Treanor and Branagh, who were playing for just the sixth time together, gave props to their opponents.
“We had our chances but they made some big plays,” May-Treanor said. “We had tough matches throughout the entire tournament and we know how tough they (Ross and Kessy) are. In the short time that Nicole and I have been together, I felt that we played well throughout this tournament. We were playing better and the chemistry was there. I think we’ve done well.”
“They’re a great team,” Branagh said of Ross and Kessy, the No. 2-seed. “We knew that they’d make an adjustment after that first game, and they did. They started pulling a lot more and they served really well.”
May-Treanor and Branagh had little trouble in the first game. The teams were tied once, 6-6, but May Treanor and Branagh began to pull away when May-Treanor stuffed Ross at the net to give her team a 16-10 edge. They ended up winning the match when Ross hit just out of bounds on game point.
Ross and Kessy contested the call, saying they felt the ball was in, but the call stood.
“We got super fired-up after that,” Kessy said. “It was a judgment call but it really got us going.”
The teams switched roles in the second game. Ross and Kessy steadily pulled away after the teams were tied at 6-6. Holding a 12-9 lead, Kessy delivered a kill and Ross followed on next serve with a diving dig, got up and ended up scoring on a soft drop, to extend the lead to 14-9. Consecutive kills by Ross and Kessy and a block of Branagh at the net by Ross, pushed the lead to 20-11.
In the deciding game, May-Treanor and Branagh led much of the way. They were up, 10-8, when Ross and Kessy began their match-turning rally.
Ross came up with a kill to put her team within a point. Kessy then made a huge stand when she got the angle on a May-Treanor shot and eventually dropped the tying point just inside the back line. Despite the comeback, they still fell behind one more time, 11-10, when Kessy served into the net.
Then came the duo’s potent finish.
A Kessy kill tied the score at 11-11. A serve by Ross trickled over the top of the next, fell low and went of Branagh’s upper body for the go-ahead point. It was the first lead of the game for the pair. With Ross still at the serve, Kessy scored on a shot that fell just inside the left-side line, another Ross serve ricocheted off Branagh and then Ross served up an ace on match point.
“We’re two Orange County girls who have dreamed of winning in Huntington,” Kessy said. “Our wish came true.”
Top-seeds Todd Rogers (Solvang) and Phil Dalhausser (Ventura) won the men’s final that followed. They needed three games to dispose of No. 2-seeds Sean Scott (Redondo Beach) and John Hyden (Sherman Oaks), 21-16, 18-21, 15-9. Dalhausser had four aces in the match.
Rogers and Dalhausser have won the Huntington Beach Open four of the last five years.
Sunday marked the 39th AVP victory for the 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medalists.