Torrance, Calif., USA, February 3, 2017 - With a modest flourish, USAVolleyball raised the banner commemorating the bronze medal captured by Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Walsh Jennings and Ross are ready to return to the sand along with their compatriots. But they are one of the few American teams who open the 2017 season intact.
The other USA Olympians, Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, will open the year with new partners amid a squad of players who have also rearranged their teams.Quick links - Beach volleyball:
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It’s much the same on the men’s side, with the country’s top men’s team of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena leading the way ahead of a large group of newly assorted teams.
Perhaps the most intriguing split on the men’s side is Olympians Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson going their separate ways. Gibb, who turns 41 on Feb. 6, will team with 25-year-old Taylor Crabb, who enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2016 with brother Trevor Crabb.
When all the teams gather next week at the Fort Lauderdale Major, the opening event on the 2017 FIVB World Tour schedule, there is one matchup of intrigue several players are anticipating – a potential duel across the net between Gibb, the three-time Olympian, and the emotive Patterson.
“I am very much looking forward to seeing Casey play against Jake because Jake can deal with Casey’s dialogue now,” Lucena said. “I want to make sure I watch that match start to finish.”
Trevor Crabb has joined forces with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and Patterson, 36, is joined by one of the premier blockers, Theo Brunner. Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, veterans of the Association of Volleyball Professionals on the American domestic tour, have also formed a new duo.
Another mainstay team, John Hyden and Tri Bourne, are sticking together to begin the year. After losing out in a close finish for Olympic qualifying, Hyden and Bourne captured the bronze medal at the year-ending SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto.At the 2017 Beach Olympic banner unveiling, Kerri Walsh Jennings (left) talks to the crowd about her Olympic experiences, teamwork and where she draws support from and four more years with April Ross.
Only one other participating team in Fort Lauderdale kept their partnership on the women’s side. Hastily thrown together in the middle of the 2016 season, Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar captured the prestigious AVP Manhattan Beach Open crown.
But not even university stars Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes are sticking together. Claes, the blocker from USC, has somehow joined forces with former UCLA star for Fort Lauderdale, while Hughes will take her electric defensive prowess behind Fendrick.
The Summer-Lane duo is also dust. Summer Ross will be the blocker for Sweat and Lane Carico has joined Irene Hester Pollock, who has turned her attention full-time to the beach after playing indoors in Switzerland.
The switches aren’t all Americans on the World Tour, however. Agatha Bendarczuk and Barbara Seixas split up shortly after capturing the Olympic silver medal on their home sand in Rio de Janeiro and the 33-year-old Agatha gained the country’s top prize by landing 18-year-old phenom Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa.
The left-handed Barbara will now play defense behind 6-foot-2 Fernanda Alves.
The retirements of three Olympians shook up three key European teams. Germany’s Karla Borger played in the Olympics with Britta Buthe, but Buthe has turned to the next chapter in her life and Borger will play alongside rookie Margareta Kozuch, who will be seeing her first time on the sand in her career.
Swiss Olympians Nadine Zumkehr and Isabelle Forrer also stepped aside and their partners, Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre, respectively, have joined forces. They’ll be challenged by compatriots Tanja Huberli and Nina Betschart, two rising stars on the circuit.
Gold medalist and FIVB World Player of the Year Laura Ludwig will be sidelined by shoulder surgery, so partner Kira Walkenhorst will team with veteran Julia Grossner in Florida before the gold medalists reunite.
On the men’s side, gold medalists Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti will be out to reclaim the form that has seen them dominate for the past two years but the rest of the Brazilian teams went through a lot of sorting out.
Olympian Pedro Solberg split with electrifying Evandro Goncalves but Pedro picked up his country’s top rising star, Gustavo “Guto” Carvalhaes. The 6-foot-11 Evandro, recognized as the top server in the world, is now with 22-year-old Andre Loyola.
In an intriguing switch in Russia, Olympian Viacheslav Krasilnikov will join with Russia’s fiery Nikita Liamin.