ST. PETERSBURG — Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and the all-time winningest female in American and international beach volleyball, already has secured her spot as perhaps the sport's greatest female player.
On Sunday at Spa Beach Park, she added another milestone to her illustrious career.
With an estimated 1,500 fans in attendance, Walsh Jennings earned her 67th win to become the winningest female player in Association of Volleyball Professionals history, breaking a tie with longtime teammate Misty May-Treanor, with whom she won three gold medals, by capturing the AVP St. Petersburg Open championship with new teammate April Ross.
Walsh Jennings and Ross, the second seeds, defeated fourth-seeded Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat in a three-set tiebreaker, 19-21, 21-15, 15-11, for the open's first women's title. Last year's final was canceled because of weather.
“It's really special,” said Walsh Jennings, who finished with a match-high 20 kills and 11 digs in earning her 115th title worldwide. “I didn't know that record existed and I was fighting or chasing it. Every single win of my 67 wins came alongside an amazing partner, a vast, vast majority with Misty May-Treanor, who I love and adore.”
Ross, the 2013 AVP MVP, won the match on a service ace, her fifth of the match and 12th of the tournament. She finished with 17 kills and 10 digs. Fendrick finished with 19 kills, while Sweat had 11 with eight digs.
Ross served three straight services aces in Game 2 for a 14-12 lead, enough momentum for a 21-15 win to force a Game 3 tiebreaker.
“That was a big topic in our box going through the first game and the early second game, and (our coach) kept wanting us to serve tougher and move them more so we started to serve them more,” Ross said. “That's the first time I (used) my jump serve all tournament and I'm glad I did that and I think it made a difference.”
Walsh Jennings and Ross defeated No. 1 seeds Summer Ross and Emily Day in the semifinals, while Fendrick and Sweat advanced due to a medical forfeit from Lane Carico and Brittany Hochevar.
“Our goal this year is to dominate and to have people feel us every single match regardless of who we are playing,” Walsh Jennings said. “I think this whole weekend was a statement.”
The men's final provided another tiebreaker, with sixth seeds Brad Keenan and John Mayer taking down top-seeded Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb, 16-21, 21-19, 18-16, for their first AVP title as a team. Keenan and Mayer held match point four times in the tiebreaking set until Mayer ended the match on a service ace.
“When we were younger, we would have gotten frustrated, because we did have a couple of chances and we would have let it affect our side out, but we said, 'All right, let's just take care of the next ball.' And we did, so we were able to keep the (advantage) and that was huge,” Mayer said.
Keenan finished with a match-high 24 kills and six blocks, while Mayer had 12 with three aces and a match-high 14 digs.
Patterson had 17 kills and 12 digs, and Gibbs had 13 kills and nine digs.
In addition to Walsh Jennings' milestone, Keenan and Ross became the third husband-wife duo to win on the same weekend.
Patterson and Gibb won the St. Petersburg event last year, though the final half of the championship had to be played in Santa Barbara, Calif., two weeks later because of weather.