Summer Ross, a former Washington Huskies indoor-volleyball player, won the Seattle Open for the second straight year. Stafford Slick and Billy Allen took the men’s title at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah.
Summer Ross once had to leave Seattle to find beach volleyball. Ross played indoor volleyball at the University of Washington for two quarters in 2011 before transferring to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., so she could play beach volleyball, a program UW didn’t have at the time.
Even though the city couldn’t accommodate her collegiate goals, the Seattle area has given Ross a pair of victories on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour.
After prevailing in the 2017 AVP Seattle Open, Ross has won the tournament in back-to-back years. On Sunday, Ross and her partner, Brooke Sweat, defeated Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen 21-17, 24-22 in 90-plus-degree heat at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah.
On the other side of the net, Ross faced a familiar competitor — her roommate. At an apartment in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Ross lives with Larsen.
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“I know she’s a stud,” Ross said. “She’s been working so hard and playing amazing, so we knew we had to come in and beast it up.”
In the second set, the one that sealed the tournament title, Flint and Larsen nearly forced a third set. At one point, Flint and Larsen led 22-21, but Ross and Sweat scored three unanswered points to win.
This was the fifth tournament Ross — who won the 2016 title with Lane Carico — and Sweat have played together. But they have been training with each other since late last year and have built a rapport that can help during close games.
“We see the game the same,” said Sweat, who represented the United States at the 2016 Olympics. “That is huge because as a blocker, a lot of times I see things way different than defenders. Defenders see things way different than blockers. We’re seeing things the same. It helps us to be on the same page.”
While Sweat, who had a shoulder injury in 2015, said she’s taking her beach-volleyball career on a day-by-day basis, Ross doesn’t shy away from looking down the road.
Ross wants to play at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. And she wants to do it with Sweat.
A Slick men’s final
Before 2017, Stafford Slick had posted five third-place finishes on the AVP tour.
At the Austin Open in May, he again found himself in that spot. But two weeks ago in New York City, Slick inched up to second, and on Sunday, he finally earned his first AVP title.
Slick and his partner, Billy Allen, defeated Trevor Crabb and Sean Rosenthal 21-13, 13-21, 15-11. Crabb, whose younger brother, Taylor, earned his first AVP victory two weeks earlier, has finished second five times on the AVP tour.
With a loss in the tournament’s second round, Slick and Allen had to climb into the final by way of the contenders’ bracket. After the loss, Slick said he and his partner were “basically a wrecking ball” throughout the rest of the weekend.
“We always seem to play better when it’s elimination time (with) our backs against the wall,” Allen said.
Slick and Allen opened their match against Crabb and Rosenthal in dominating fashion. After a 11-11 tie at one point in the first set, Slick and Allen went on a 10-2 run for the win.
“Stafford just turned into The Incredible Hulk and started blocking every ball and serving really tough,” Allen said. “I don’t know what he did different, but it was awesome.”
Slightly more than a year ago, Slick, who briefly dropped to his knees on the sand after Sunday’s victory, was unsure how and if his volleyball career would continue to unfold.
At the New Orleans stop on the AVP tour in 2016, Stafford had taken off his sunglasses because it was a night match. A ball hit him in the face, which he later found out tore his retina. In the next set, he started to lose vision in his left eye. Stafford was playing with Allen, and they had to forfeit the rest of the tournament.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Stafford said. “My wife was seven-months pregnant at the time, and my first thought was her and my baby.”
Stafford had an emergency procedure at Tulane University. He had to drive from New Orleans to Austin, Texas, because the pressure from an airplane could have led to a full retinal detachment. After seeing a specialist in Austin, he flew to Los Angeles and had eye surgery.
The Seattle Open last year was his first tournament back after the surgery, and Slick, who now wears custom goggles, returned to the spot again in 2017, this time leaving with a victory.
“One my goals this year was to get Stafford a win,” Allen said. “I’m just so happy to be a part of it. He works so hard. He earned it.”