For years, the sports world identified beach volleyball with its two leading stars, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, the three-time Olympic gold medal-winning duo from the United States who will be remembered as perhaps the greatest team in their sport’s history.
That partnership ended following the 2012 Summer Olympics
But now Jennings, the all-time winningest women’s pro beach player at 114 victories, has a new partner in April Ross, the 2012 Summer Olympic silver medalist whom she defeated with May-Treanor to win her third gold medal in London.
The two are preparing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, and enter this weekend’s AVP Tour-opening St. Petersburg Open as the second overall seed in the women’s bracket behind No. 1 Emily Day and Summer Ross.
Despite leaving two long-lasting and successful partnerships, Jennings and Ross have quickly formed a successful bond. Two weeks after the inaugural St. Petersburg Open in 2013, Jennings and Ross became a team and won their first tournament together at the AVP Santa Barbara Open.
“The energy between us is really high and really positive, and that’s made the transition very smooth,” Jennings said. “April and I want to be the best in the world and it’s been fun going to work every day with her.”
Since September, Jennings and Ross have won four of seven tournaments, three of which were on the FIVB international tour, including the Fuzhou Open in China in April.
“For me, it’s an amazing opportunity to play with one of the best players in history,” Ross said. “It was a no-brainer for me to get together with Kerri. It’s just been really smooth. I think we’re very like-minded when it comes to competing and our will to win is super high.”
Their experience speaks volumes of the potential they have yet to reach. Jennings has 66 first-place AVP finishes and, with May-Treanor, had one of the longest winning streaks in professional sports after winning 89 straight matches on the AVP Tour as well as the international circuit from 2003 to 2004.
Last year, Ross was named the 2013 AVP Most Valuable Player, Best Offensive Player and Best Server. With then-teammate Jennifer Kessy, she won the 2012 silver medal and formed the 2013 AVP Team of the Year.
Now, Walsh and Ross just need to fine tune their partnership.
“I think we kind of went through the honeymoon phase where we won some tournaments, and now we’re figuring out our weaknesses and what we need to work on,” Ross said. “And that’s a good spot to be in this early and I think we’re only going to get better.”
Ross and Kessy reached the final of the St. Petersburg Open last year, but the women’s championship was not played due to bad weather. Jennings and her previous partner, Whitney Pavlik, finished tied for third.
Ross has incorporated an entirely new strength and conditioning regimen implemented by her Olympic coaches, while Jennings has incorporated “a lot more of the sports psychology aspect and mental training.”
Neither would say their physical attributes are their best characteristic as a team.
“Our strongest asset is our heart and determination,” Jennings said.
Said Ross: “We’re both fighters. And when our backs are against the wall, we find another level. We always know that we can win.”