Virgen: Plenty of local flavor at Olympics

It seemed inevitable their paths would cross in a meaningful way.

After all Misty May-Treanor and April Ross went to the same high school, Newport Harbor, though they graduated at different times. They grew up in the same town, played at the same gyms and learned the sand game on the same beaches.

Of course they have a connection.

Five years ago, so the story goes, Ross was about to form a team with Jennifer Kessy. The new duo played in a secluded practice match against the best: Misty and her partner Kerri Walsh. It was a tryout of sorts to see if they could hang with the best.

"We did pretty well against Misty and Kerri so [Jennifer] agreed to play with me in our first tournament," Ross said. "We got to the finals of that tournament, which is crazy because I spent the whole year before that in the qualifier."

Ross and Kessy were supposed to go back to their usual respective partners after the runner-up finish, but they both sensed something special. So the USC alums stayed together.

Now, who knows? The paths of the famous Newport Harbor High stars could cross again in London.

May-Treanor is seeking her third straight gold medal and wants to close out her Olympic career in storybook fashion. Ross definitely wants a medal in her first Olympics. Ross and Kessy have been training to win the gold in a wide-open women's beach volleyball race.

May-Treanor and Ross are among a dozen Team USA athletes with ties to the Newport-Mesa area or UC Irvine, heading to the London Olympics, which begin Friday.

Ross has watched an impressive career unfold for May-Treanor, a legend in beach volleyball.

Ross said she is motivated by May-Treanor's success, but not so much because they attended the same school and played for the same coach, Dan Glenn.

"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," Ross said. "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."

Ross is headed to London to be excellent. She isn't the only one from Newport Harbor at the Olympics.

The Sailors have three on Team USA, as Newport Harbor alum Esther Lofgren (rowing) is also going to the Games. She had missed the 2008 Olympics by one spot, but now she will be rowing for the women's eight seeking its second straight gold medal.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District has four high schools. Three of those schools will be represented by athletes on Team USA at the Olympics.

Sharon Day, considered the greatest athlete in Costa Mesa High history, is competing in the women's heptathlon. She has a great chance to come home with a medal. After these Olympics she could be building herself toward becoming the nextJackie Joyner-Kersee.

The U.S. men's water polo team, which won the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics, has former UC Irvine All-Americans Ryan Bailey, Jeff Powers and Tim Hutten, as well as former Corona del Mar High standout John Mann.

Tumua Anae, also a former CdM standout, is a back-up goalie on the U.S. women's water polo team that won the silver medal at the Beijing Games.

Sam Mikulak, yet another CdM alum, is competing on the ever-popular U.S. men's gymnastics team.

Former UCI standouts Brian Thornton and David Smith are on the U.S. men's volleyball team, which won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.

The London Olympics will also have coaches and announcers who have a connection to our area.

UCI women's volleyball head coach Paula Weishoff and UCI assistant coach Jamie Morrison are coaches under U.S. women's volleyball team head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

UCI women's water polo head coach Dan Klatt is an assistant on the U.S. women's water polo team.

Newport Harbor boys' water polo head coach Robert Lynn is an assistant on the U.S. men's water polo team.

Tony Ciarelli, the throws coach for track and field and defensive coordinator for football at Newport Harbor, is the coach for Seema Antil, a thrower competing for India.

Ciarelli's daughter, Maryn Ciarelli, is the strength coach for May-Treanor and will also be in London.

Also, Keith Yonkers, a Newport Beach resident, will be the announcer for men's water polo matches at the Games.


Twitter: @SteveVirgen

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World