Costa Mesa, California and New Braunfels, Texas, USA, May 20, 2020 - Kyndal Garza is a rising senior at John Paul II Catholic High School in New Braunfels, Texas. It’s a small college prep that, like every school in the country, public or private, big or small, was cut short on account of Covid-19. Which meant that, like every other athlete, Garza was looking for an outlet, any legal outlet, to play volleyball.
So was April Ross.
Ross knew, when she first filmed the video that almost immediately went viral, that it had potential. In her backyard in Costa Mesa, Calif., she had set up a net, and on the other side of the net, a board angled up. She’d pass, set to herself, jump and hit at the board, roughly the size of a board on which you’d play the popular yard game, cornhole. The ball would hit the board, bounce over the net like a free ball, and then Ross would repeat: pass, set, hit the board.
“I knew posting it that ‘Ok this is going to be a hit,’” she said. “I think people are going to enjoy this. But how big it got just blows my mind.”
On Instagram, the video would receive nearly 1,000 comments. On Twitter, it would spread across the globe – despite Ross never having posted it on Twitter. ESPN picked it up. Volleyball players around the world decided to try their hand at it, posting it on their own social media accounts, some even going so far as to ask Ross what size dimensions the board should be.
“I’m like ‘It’s just a board, it doesn’t matter, pick anything. Turn a chair upside down and hit against it,’” Ross said, laughing. “People are taking it so seriously and now there’s people making boards professionally and selling them for over $100 and selling them. I’m like ‘I wish I had thought of that and had the ability to produce and ship them.’
“I’m just stoked that people are outside and if they didn’t have the ability or anyone to play volleyball with they can get out and play volleyball on their own and keep a touch on the ball. I think that’s the best thing about it. It is crazy how big it got.”
When viewing it through the lens of someone like Garza, it makes perfect sense. She began playing volleyball in 2016, after watching Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings win bronze at the Rio Olympic Games. A year later, she met Ross, who took the time to chat, take a picture, and sign an autograph despite what Garza says was a mile-long line of people waiting to do the same. A little less than four years after that initial meeting, she saw how Ross invented her own, unique way to improve in spite of the quarantine. She figured she could do the same.
“This will sound silly, but her challenges allow me to keep one thing constant in my life while we are staying at home to help get rid of this virus,” Garza said. “I was missing my teammates and the court when we were first required to stay home but her first challenge with the piece of wood and just a simple pass, set and hit against it made it easy to bring actual volleyball drills back into the mix from my house.”
Garza sent the video to Ross and won a piece of apparel from the April Ross Collection.
“I even shared [the drills] with my coach and she shared them with others so we are all working on the same thing, just apart,” Garza said. “I’m so glad that April decided to share her challenge through Instagram because it allowed me to continue to grow my game even though I am off the court for a little while.”
It is, of course, not just Garza who is benefitting from Ross’ social media challenges and drills. Ross still gets videos daily. There is the lawyer in Los Angeles, who used actual cornhole boards featuring his Detroit Lions to practice. There is the medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. There is the high school volleyball player in Arkansas, and the outside hitter at Northwestern State. The list could go on, to the Tulane volleyball team which Ross spoke to via Zoom or the many podcasts on which Ross has been featured.
“It’s good to spread awareness for the sport,” Ross said.
The sport that, like so many others, remains on hold.
Ross was one of the last to hang on to the notion that the Olympics could still go on as scheduled this year. Her coach, Jen Kessy, figured it would be postponed, as did her partner, Alix Klineman. Still, the Olympics, of which Tokyo will be Ross’s third if her and Klineman qualify, are too big, Ross thought. Too big to postpone.
“As the postponement got closer it seemed inevitable, so I wasn’t shocked when they made the announcement but I was hanging onto it,” Ross said.
It put the volleyball world in limbo, though Ross has navigated it wonderfully thus far. She cleaned out her garage, turning it into a makeshift gym that she uses to lift weights in six days a week. She put a 3-foot deep swimming pool in her backyard to relax. She’s reading, getting her Vitamin D any way she can.
“I think it’s really important in these times to be able to go with the flow and use them for what we can,” she said. “I’m not panicked about not being able to train or anything, just doing what I can within the parameters that we’re at.”
So she’ll grab a ball, put up a net, throw a board somewhere, and play. There might not be any real volleyball, and the beaches may remain closed, but April Ross is still inspiring thousands.Quick links:
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour