Kerri Walsh Jennings has a new partner for her 2020 Olympic run — Rio Olympian Brooke Sweat.
“The times I’ve enjoyed the most success, consistent success, that was when there was a true defender behind me, that made me a big blocker,” Walsh Jennings said. “Brooke really sits in the same vein as Misty . Brooke is her own athlete and has her own assets and strengths, but largely what Misty and Brooke share in common is their inherent knowledge in the game and the fact it’s in her blood. You can just tell she gets it.
“Brooke, literally, could be the best defender in the world.”
Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old with three Olympic titles and three children, and Sweat, who went winless in Rio with Lauren Fendrick, are entered in two early Olympic qualifying tournaments this month in Las Vegas and Mexico. The Las Vegas event doubles as a stop on Walsh Jennings’ new p1440 tour.
Walsh Jennings is entered in an event in China this week with 23-year-old Kelly Claes, but 32-year-old Sweat will be her full-time partner for a potential sixth Olympic run.
“She called me, I forget, maybe two months ago, just asked if I’d be interested ,” Sweat said, adding that Walsh Jennings was trying out one other player. “Eventually, she made her decision and asked me if I wanted to play and go for gold with her.
“It’s always nice to have one of the best players ever calling you. It was a good day.”
Olympic beach volleyball qualifying runs into 2020, with no more than two pairs per gender per nation earning Tokyo berths.
The best U.S. teams at the moment are Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, who won a top-level international event last month, and April Ross and Alix Klineman, the top team in the 2018 AVP season.
“The toughest thing about our journey right now with Brooke and I is we’re starting at the bottom,” Walsh Jennings said. “I respect all the teams on the American side. I’m not concerned about them. I always want to concern myself with my team and my team only.”
Earlier this year, Walsh Jennings played with fellow mom and 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh, while Sweat was with Summer Ross before Ross partnered with Hughes. Both Walsh Jennings and Sweat split from their Rio Olympic partners less than a year after the Games.
While Walsh Jennings has 55 career international titles (the last with April Ross in 2016 after their Olympic bronze medals), Sweat’s best finish in 58 starts was a runner-up in 2017.
Walsh Jennings and Branagh never found consistency in competition before breaking up in July, in part because Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery).
In 10 FIVB tournaments together, their best finish was fourth, and they had just one other quarterfinal. Walsh Jennings can become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history in Tokyo.
“I”m pretty sure that I would have retired had we won ,” Walsh Jennings said on the On Her Turf podcast. “For a year and a bit, I have lived in fear, in fear of regressing, in fear of being that player who showed up that semifinal night. … I had this night, and I dragged April down with it, which will always bug me, because she deserves that gold.”
Walsh Jennings said before her 2018 season that the 2020 Olympics would be her last, assuming she qualifies.
“I want to finish on top. I want to go out with a fairytale ending,” she said.
Sweat hasn’t played since the first week of May due to season-ending surgery on a right shoulder that’s bothered her for three years. Sweat had a previous shoulder surgery Sept. 10, 2015, the same day as Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.
Sweat first saw Walsh Jennings during her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University. Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor visited a Fort Myers Toyota dealership for an exhibition. FGCU players were invited to play against the Olympic champions, but Sweat sat out with a knee injury.
Sweat said she and Walsh Jennings had talked about playing together earlier in this Olympic cycle, but the timing was not right.
“It’s not about my shoulder or her shoulder,” Sweat said. “We’re in this for Tokyo gold. That’s my focus.”
MORE: New beach team nets biggest U.S. breakout in a decade
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- New Partnership Of Kerri Walsh Jennings And Brooke Sweat Score First Medal Together At FIVB Chetumal
- And Kerri Walsh Jennings’ new partner is …. beach star gets defensive
- After Change of Pregnancy Plan, April Ross Will Hit The Beach In 2017 Season
- Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings Gets Documentary Film Treatment
- Gabe Spitzer is directing the film for Tribeca Digital Studios and Dick’s Sporting Good Films.
New Partnership Of Kerri Walsh Jennings And Brooke Sweat Score First Medal Together At FIVB Chetumal
(L-R) Kerri Walsh Jennings watches the ball with teammate Brooke Sweat at the FIVB World Tour in Chetumal, Mexico.
Kerri Walsh Jennings’ new partnership with Brooke Sweat produced its first medal Sunday.
Walsh Jennings, a five-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist, teamed up with Sweat to win the bronze medal in an FIVB World Tour 3-star tournament in Chetumal, Mexico. They defeated twin sisters Megan and Nicole McNamara of Canada 16-21, 21-8, 15-10.
The medal was the first on the World Tour for Walsh Jennings and Sweat since forming their new team in early October, and it scored the duo Olympic rankings points toward the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Walsh Jennings, 40, is hoping to play in her sixth Olympic Games in Tokyo and go after her fifth medal. Sweat, 32, made her Olympic debut in 2016 in Rio with former partner Lauren Fendrick.
Walsh Jennings made her Olympic debut as an indoor player in 2000 before partnering with Misty May-Treanor to dominate the beach, winning Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012. With May-Treanor retired, Walsh Jennings partnered with April Ross to win a bronze medal in 2016 in Rio.
Seeded second in this week’s tournament, Walsh Jennings and Sweat were coming off a tie for 17th place in last week’s Las Vegas Open.
The McNamara twins, who play collegiately at UCLA, started out Sunday’s match strong, winning the first set by a 21-16 score. But Walsh Jennings and Sweat answered with a dominant 21-8 win in the second set. Then they pulled ahead quickly and won the third set 15-10.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat reached the medal round by defeating Brazil’s Maria Clara Salgado Solberg and Elize Secomandi Maia in three sets. However, a loss to top-seeded Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, of Canada, in the semifinals sent Walsh Jennings and Sweat to the bronze-medal match.
The American team of Caitlin Ledoux and Geena Urango met Bansley and Wilkerson in the gold-medal match.Bansley and Wilkerson beat the American team of Caitlin Ledoux and Geena Urang 21-12, 21-13 in the gold-medal match.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is sports editor of the Cape Cod Times and a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.</
And Kerri Walsh Jennings’ new partner is …. beach star gets defensive
Walsh Jennings, 40, announced Tuesday that she will partner with Florida Olympian Brooke Sweat, a four-time defensive player of the year on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour.
The pair will make its debut Oct. 18-21 at Walsh Jennings’ p1440 tournament in Las Vegas that is an Olympic qualifier. Qualifying continues until June 15, 2020.
“Brooke Sweat has been a consistent contender and a top defensive player in the world since she came on tour and I cannot wait to take the court with her for the first time,” Walsh Jennings said in a statement. “We are extremely excited, dedicated and passionate about the adventure ahead; we have some lofty, golden goals we plan to realize. Our styles complement each other and we have a fun, scrappy synergy on the court.”
Walsh Jennings, a former Archbishop Mitty and Stanford indoor star, is trying to reach her sixth — and final — Olympics. She has won three gold medals and a bronze in beach volleyball. The 6-foot-2 player who grew up in Saratoga also was a member of the 2000 U.S. indoor team that placed fourth.
Walsh Jennings has been without a partner since spring when she split with 6-3 Nicole Branagh of Orinda because of unsatisfactory results.
“If you’re playing defense consistently and scoring points, you’re going to win,” Walsh Jennings told this news organization in August. “The women’s game is all about defense.”
Walsh Jennings enjoyed the sport’s greatest pairing in the early 2000s with Misty May-Treanor. But May-Treanor retired after the pair won its third consecutive gold medal at the London Games.
Walsh Jennings then joined with April Ross of Orange County. The team finished third at the 2016 Olympics. The women suffered a falling out when Walsh Jennings broke with the AVP to launch her p1440 circuit, a volleyball tournament, music and wellness festival that she hopes brings more attention to her sport.
Sweat, 32, is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast. She and then-partner Lauren Fendrick lost all three of their matches at the Rio Games.
“I’m so excited to get back on the sand again and couldn’t be any happier to be doing it with Kerri by my side,” Sweat said in a statement. “She’s the best blocker in the world and one of the scrappiest players too, which makes playing with her so much fun.”
Walsh Jennings has returned to the sport after undergoing surgeries on her shoulder and an ankle that had bothered her for more than two years. Even before joining with Sweat she had a good feeling about the next two years.
“Even though today I don’t have a partner and all this stuff is going on I have no doubt that A, I will qualify and B, we will win,” Walsh Jennings said in August. “I couldn’t have said that to you before Rio. I think I hedged that bet in my mind a little bit. I had a little bit of hesitation leading into Rio, which manifested in the semifinal” defeat.
“I’m a poor loser. I never want to be a good loser. I don’t want to get comfortable with losing.”
After Change of Pregnancy Plan, April Ross Will Hit The Beach In 2017 Season
April Ross is hitting the beach volleyball trail this 2017 season with teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Ross had originally planned to take the year off in the hopes of getting pregnant in the offseason, but her plans have changed. Back in September, Ross has announced that if she didn’t get pregnant in this years offseason, she would try again next offseason. This would mean that she would miss 2018, the only season in the cycle without a world championship or Olympics.
Ross and Walsh-Jennings took bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, being upset by Brazil’s No. 2 pair Agatha and Barbara in the semifinals. They turned around to beat Brazi’s top squad, Larissa and Talita, in the bronze medal match.
Ross and Walsh Jennings look to compete in world championships in Vienna, Austria in July and August. The pair fell in the round of 16 in 2015, when Walsh Jennings was returning after dislocating her shoulder.
Walsh Jennings won three straight world championships with Misy May-Treanor (2003, 2005, 2007). Ross won in 2009 with Jennifer Kessy. No US men’s or women’s teams have taken the title since them.
April Ross said her decision to sign with the AVP last week, and Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ decision not to, was “the final nail in the coffin” for their partnership.
Walsh Jennings announced Thursday that she and Ross split up, nine months after they earned bronze at the Rio Olympics.
“It’s not like a negative thing, and I don’t think views it as a negative thing,” Ross said. “So I think we’re both excited for the future in our different ways.”
Walsh Jennings made her admiration for Ross clear in a Facebook post later Saturday night.
“I have so much love in my heart for April,” was posted on the three-time Olympic champion’s page. “We fall on different sides of this situation, but that does not change my high opinion of her nor can it change the amazing times we shared together. April has made my life better. Period. … April is on the top of my list of beautiful blessings in my life.”
The pair’s split became official nine days ago, Ross said in a phone interview Saturday following a match at the AVP season-opening Huntington Beach (Calif.) Open. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Huntington Beach Open coverage Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.
Before they split, Ross said she and Walsh Jennings discussed and considered for a while keeping their partnership for FIVB World Tour events. Under that plan, Ross would play with a different partner in AVP tournaments.
Walsh Jennings refused to sign an exclusivity agreement with AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, according to The Associated Press.
“Things got a little bit hairy at the end, and me deciding to play AVP just ended up being the nail in the coffin for us,” Ross said. “Our paths just took us in two very different directions. It was pretty clear towards the end that we weren’t going to play together, and a lot of it stemmed I think from me being so pro-AVP and wanting to support this tour and her having other ideas.”
Ross is playing with longtime friend Whitney Pavlik in Huntington Beach. She plans to play the rest of her AVP and international events this season with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics.
“The timing was a little rough because it was right before the season, but I’m really excited for the opportunities this summer with Lauren,” Ross said. “I feel like this is just the next step for me on my journey to being the best I can be and for growth. I just feel like the future is exciting for me.”
Ross said she and Fendrick will debut at the FIVB World Tour’s stop in Moscow in early June. Walsh Jennings said she will next play with a to-be-determined partner in an event in Porec, Croatia, in late June, according to volleyballmag.com.
The world championships are in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.
Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season. Ross, 34, has said she hopes to start a family with husband Brad Keenan, and that could still be in the cards.
While Walsh Jennings’ differences with the AVP have been reported (and some detailed in a lawsuit), Ross said it was a “no-brainer” to sign her AVP contract.
“Just being here this weekend completely validated that thought,” she said. “No. 1, it has the sentimental value. I grew up watching the AVP. Even when I hated to play beach volleyball, I loved coming to AVPs to watch. The AVP is just where I cut my teeth. AVP has always been really great to me and treated me really well. It’s an established brand, and they’re growing, and they’re doing really good things.”
Walsh Jennings and Ross last played on opposite sides of the net internationally at the 2012 Olympic final between Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor and Ross and Jennifer Kessy.
Walsh Jennings, after winning her third straight gold medal, told Ross at the net, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” both knowing May-Treanor was retiring.
Walsh Jennings and Ross debuted in July 2013 and played together for most of the Rio Olympic cycle. They won 11 of their 32 international tournaments.
They almost didn’t qualify for Rio. Walsh Jennings twice dislocated her then-four-times surgically repaired right shoulder in 2015 and even suggested Ross might want to find a new partner.
Ross chose to stick with Walsh Jennings, who underwent a fifth right shoulder surgery in September 2015 and returned to go into the Rio Games as a medal favorite with Ross.
“I’ll look back on it fondly,” Ross said of their four years together. “It was a period of a lot of growth for me. … I loved our journey through the Olympics, and I’m so proud of what we did there. I have good feelings about the last four years.”
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My husband just pointed out to me that all the quotes out there referring to @AprilRoss and I parting ways are… https://t.co/arLEsyQhJg
— Kerri Walsh Jennings (@kerrileewalsh) May 7, 2017
Since her debut on the pro beach volleyball scene In 2006, April Ross has cemented her role as a champion and one of the most universally loved and respected players In the sport. Lauded for her powerful serve, energy and competitive drive, April’s easy-going personality off the sand makes her one of today’s most authentic, engaging and accessible athletes. California born and raised, April began her volleyball career indoors where she was a three-sport athlete at Newport Harbor High and Gatorade National Player of the Year. April then led USC to back-to-back NCAA Championships, going on to play professionally indoors overseas.
April swapped her sneakers for sand in 2006 and quickly became AVP Rookie of the Year in 2006 and FIVB Rookie of the Year in 2007. After nabbing several FIVB championships, including the 2009 FIVB World Championship, April and her then partner, Jennifer Kessy won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. April partnered with Kerri Walsh-Jennings for the 2016 Rio Olympics, sweeping every AVP tour stop en route to an inspiring Olympic Bronze.
As one of the highest profile American athletes heading into Tokyo 2020, April has teamed with breakout star Alix Klineman, winning gold in their first international tournament together. Through the 2018 AVP season, the Alix and April (often referred to as #ATeam) dominated the AVP tour, nabbing back to back titles at the prestigious Manhattan Beach Open and again in Chicago. April trains and lives in Newport Beach, enjoys a weekly spin class, reading, documenting her world-adventures on social media and a newfound love of yoga.
Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings Gets Documentary Film Treatment
Gabe Spitzer is directing the film for Tribeca Digital Studios and Dick’s Sporting Good Films.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball, will be the subject of a new documentary, produced and directed by Gabe Spitzer for Tribeca Digital Studios and Dick’s Sporting Goods Films.
The project, which begins production this month, will follow Walsh Jennings and her new partner April Ross as Walsh Jennings prepares for an attempt at a fourth gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Earlier this year, Tribeca Digital Studios and The Dick’S Sporting Goods Foundation won an Outstanding Sports Documentary Emmy for We Could Be King, about a high school football team.
“When we first partnered with Dick’s Sporting Goods last year, we set out to tell inspiring stories through the lens of experienced filmmakers and redefine the relationship between corporate brands and content creation,” Paula Weinstein, executive vp Tribeca Enterprises, said. “It has proven to be a winning combination. We are looking forward to starting production on this new project and shining a light on an incredible athlete as she works towards making Olympic history.”