Huntington Beach, Calif., USA, May 7, 2017 - Two-time Olympic medallist April Ross admits she was stung by Kerri Walsh Jennings’ decision to not play on the United States’ Beach Volleyball domestic tour, but vowed to look forward to reaching a third consecutive Olympiad.
Ross and Walsh Jennings, who captured the bronze medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics, have dominated the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour the past three seasons with 14 championships in 16 events. And while Ross has signed a contract to play on the US-based AVP Tour, Walsh Jennings has so far refused.
Ross, who reached the AVP Huntington Beach Open semifinals with veteran Whitney Pavlik this weekend, acknowledged the split was tough to take but remains positive.
“It sucks for sure,” Ross, 34, said. “Obviously, I love playing with Kerri and we had a great run and I respect her a lot, but it’s definitely not in the cards for this season.
“Kerri thinks really big and she has a vision for her future and beach volleyball. She’s very determined to make that happen. I don’t think we could have come to a compromise over this. I knew I wanted to play AVP and she knew she wanted to try something else.”
Walsh Jennings, who won three Olympic gold medals with Misty May-Treanor, told The Associated Press this week that she will still seeks to reach the Olympics for a sixth time when Tokyo 2020 qualifications begin.
Ross will play one more AVP tournament in Austin, Texas, then will join forces with fellow 2016 Olympian with Lauren Fendrick, who also reached the semifinals in Huntington Beach with Lane Carico. Fendrick and Carico will play in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Rio de Janeiro event later this month.
Fendrick and Ross have played together at two different points of their careers, first at the junior level and then in two tournaments in 2015 when Walsh Jennings was nursing a shoulder injury. They captured the AVP Huntington title and then placed fifth in the inaugural SWATCH World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
April Ross became a world champion with Jen Kessy in 2009
“April’s one of the best players in the world,” Fendrick said. “We played junior nationals together but other than that and those two tournaments in 2015, it’s been on opposite sides of the net through our collegiate careers, through club, through our beach careers. I’m excited for what’s ahead.”
Ross and Fendrick said their commitment as a team doesn’t extend past the 2017 season, but both are taking aims at Tokyo 2020.
“I don’t like to burn bridges so for me nothing is necessarily permanent,” Ross said. “I’m excited about the future and possibly playing with somebody different and I think that’s going to provide a lot of growth and I feel like this is the next step in my career. You can view change and chaos in different ways and I’m completely seeing the upside to it and the opportunity out there to get better and have a new partnership.”
What Walsh Jennings’ departure means for the AVP remains to be seen. At the tour’s season-opening event in Huntington, players were tight-lipped on the situation, with responses most often being “No comment” or “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross with their bronze medals in Rio
For certain, the split elevates Ross to becoming the face of the American domestic tour, where she has won 32 career titles to go with an Olympic silver with Jen Kessy in the London 2012 Games and the bronze in Rio with Walsh Jennings.
“I feel a little bit of responsibility,” Ross said. “I don’t even know what that means - making people feel appreciated, the volunteers and the refs. I tried to do that before but now I think it’s even more important to take time and take pictures with fans and give autographs. I guess there’s a little bit more spotlight on me.
“It’s so much fun out here. It’s not like there’s more pressure. If anything, it’s just more fun.”
If there was one aspect that Ross found difficult to understand, it was Walsh Jennings’ quote that she wanted to play with a “true partner.”
“I heard that and I don’t understand it so I don’t think it bothers me because it was kind of confusing,” Ross said. “I know that I was a great partner. I’ve been told over and over and over again that I’m a great partner. I know she has her own feelings and reasons for feeling that way, but it doesn’t bother me because I know I’m a great partner.
“You know, Kerri and I had real high expectations and I still have high expectations for myself but at the same time it’s fun to be out here just groveling and being stoked to make it to Sunday. There’s nothing that says you have to win every time. It’s always in you, but if you don’t win every single time, you don’t need to beat yourself up over it. It’s just fun to be out here working and competing for it.”