Ross and Kessy gracious during visit at Macy's SCP

COSTA MESA — April Ross revealed her character after taking a question during a visit to Macy's at South Coast Plaza Saturday afternoon.

The former Newport Harbor High star sat next to her Olympic beach volleyball teammate Jennifer Kessy. Ross was asked what it was like training as a high school athlete while growing up in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

"I just wanted to be the best," Ross said. "Whoever it was next to me at the time, I wanted to be better and wanted to be the best."

Ross and Kessy share the same mentality. They have become a strong team since forming five years ago. Back then they sensed something special when they played together for the first time.

They displayed their teamwork in a different way for fans at the promotional event for Ralph Lauren. While a DJ set dance music and top 40 tunes, Ross and Kessy smiled for the camera as they posed with children, elderly men and even babies. A woman asked the Olympic duo to sign their autograph on a baby's hat.

One man asked Ross and Kessy to hold up an American flag for a photo that did not include him.

Ross and Kessy appeared happy to oblige all requests and sign mostly everything in front of them. The Ralph Lauren staff provided complimentary photos for the fans, a treat that left several fans excited.

The tandem also expressed their thrill to be part of Team USA.

"It's amazing," Ross, 29, who lives in Costa Mesa, said before appearing in front of fans. "It's been a long time coming. I didn't know if the day was ever going to get here that I could consider myself an Olympian. But just knowing going forward that we're always going to be part of this super-elite club, that's so rad."

Ross and Kessy locked up the second of two American berths to the Olympics earlier this month. They finished fifth in the Beijing Grand Slam to earn enough points to qualify for the Olympics.

"It's really exciting to talk about it right now, that we can say that we are going to the Olympics," said Kessy, 34, who lives in Laguna Beach. "But I think once we walk out of the tunnel and into the opening ceremonies I think that's when it's really going to hit us and it's really going to be real. We have so much work to do before we get there. We're really excited to say that we're going. But we want to end up saying we are gold medalists."

Kessy and Ross, both former USC standouts, began the year with rigorous training. From January to April their practices were intense, Ross said. They drove to Marina del Rey at least twice a week to train. And at times they went to work at Hermosa Beach.

Lately, they've toned down the training. Ross has been dealing with a sore neck and they have tapered their training for the past few weeks, Ross said.

"I'm really positive that this week, I'll be able to go 100%," Ross said. "I just feel like everything happens for a reason and maybe we needed to slow down a bit just so that we can rest and be ready for the tournaments coming up."

While they expressed excitement for the Olympics, both women said they want to be safe so that they are healthy for London.

A few of the Olympians in beach volleyball, including two-time gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, have said the women's tournament in London will be wide open and there are no favorites to win the gold medal.

That also excites Ross and Kessy, yet challenges them.

"If we show up on our game and playing the best we can play I think our chances are really good to win the gold," Ross said. "It's wide open. But that makes it sound like it could be easier to win the gold, but I think it makes it tougher to win the gold because there are so many competitors."

More motivation can come from May-Treanor, who also starred at Newport Harbor, and her teammate Kerri Walsh. Ross graduated after May-Treanor and never played in high school with her.

Ross said she's not necessarily inspired to play better because she went to the same school as May-Treanor.

"I really don't consider it that much because we didn't go there together and we don't have a history there together," Ross said. "I just think Kerri and Misty's success over the years as a beach volleyball team has driven everyone else in the United States, in the world. They set the bar so high. You win a tournament that's really cool. But it's not good enough because Misty and Kerri won like 90 in a row. Misty is inspiring for that reason. You can't just be OK. If you want to be recognized in the United States you have to be excellent."

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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