The heart of a champion is revealed when tragedy arises. For April Ross and Lauren Fendrick, a collision in the waning moments of their semi-final match of the 2017 AVP New York City Open—that left Ross on the ground writhing in pain for five minutes—put both their bodies and a potential championship on the line. In true warrior spirit, Ross hobbled through the remainder of their semi-final victory with what appeared to be a dislocated right big toe to persist in three sets over Brittany Hochevar and Emily Day.
“After what happened in the semis, I know how hard she hit me … I didn’t think we were going to play,” Fendrick said during the post-match press conference.
The newly formed pair of Olympians advanced to the finals to square off against the formidable team of Summer Ross (no relation) and Fendrick’s 2016 Olympic teammate Brooke Sweat. After April Ross returned to the court following a break between matches, she gingerly ambled around the court, trying to see if her heavily taped toe would be able to withstand the intensity of the tournament finals. After going through their pre-match routine, Fendrick doubted the pair’s ability to continue.
“If you saw warmups, she couldn’t even take a step without it hurting her,” she said. “A lot of it was figuring out what she could do, and then seeing that she couldn’t do much, the question was, ‘Do we stop now?’ She made the decision to go out there and to just try and see what happens. I don’t know what happened, but [she] was all over the place digging and hitting. [She] was so mentally tough and found a different level; it was pretty cool.”
Ross, battling through immense pain, would not quit so close to a tournament championship. Taking a page from her former teammate Kerri Walsh-Jennings, who played with a separated shoulder, she charged forward, determined to make the necessary adjustments to bring home the hardware.
“It’s not the first time she’s done something like that,” Fendrick said. “I’ve seen her barfing her face off in Thailand and going out there and playing and winning matches. She couldn’t turn her neck in Beijing and somehow her and Jen [Kessy] won. I’ve been watching her do stuff like this her whole career. To have her on my side now, she’s an incredible partner and I’m so lucky to have her by my side.”
Fendrick, the former UCLA two-sport standout, showed off her athleticism by dominating the net on both offense and defense to compensate for Ross’ impaired mobility. Ross gushed with pride about Fendrick’s masterful performance in their 24-22, 21-15 finals victory.
“We gave Lauren total freedom to do what she thought on the block,” Ross said. “She was really in their face and I think caused them to do some things they weren’t comfortable doing. … That was kind of the game plan, I was like ‘Lauren, you do everything you can.’”