Lausanne, Switzerland, Aug. 13, 2015 - Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross have carried the standard for women’s beach volleyball in the United States since they joined forces two years ago.
Rising star Emily Day teamed with veteran Jen Kessy this year and immediately became a contending team in the chase for the USA’s two Olympic spots for Rio de Janeiro 2016.
Yet as the FIVB tour heads to Long Beach for the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball next week, the American standard bearer in the points race is the team of Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat.
And they don’t even mind if you respond to that with “Who?”
“We are genuinely happy for anyone in the volleyball community who gets press,” Fendrick said. “All of these players are deserving of attention - we see how hard all of the other teams are working. We don't measure our success based on what the media or critics say.
“Both Brooke and I are internally driven to maximize our potential and we continually strive for greatness as a team. We're united in our goals. We have the uncomfortable conversations. And we are committed to working hard.”
Fendrick is the 6-foot-1 blocking star. Sweat is a 5-foot-8 defensive dynamo and together they’ve combined for three fifth-place finishes on the FIVB 2015 calendar. They may still be waiting for that breakthrough victory on the international tour but to them, it’s the progress they’ve made throughout the process that fires their Olympic dream.
“Brooke and I are focused on improvement,” Fendrick, 33, said. “We are pleased with our progress as a team, but we know we can keep getting better. It's easy to get wrapped up in finishes, but we try to place our focus on the things we can control like effort, attitude and preparation.
“We've had some major breakthroughs this season that have shown that we can compete with anyone on tour - our sideout game has improved the longer we’ve played together, and we have a greater understanding of our roles on defense. Now we want to consistently execute in order to break through.”
Like the rest of the Americans who are pumped when the FIVB is played on their home sand, Fendrick and Sweat have embraced the event on the TrueCar Court on Alamitos Beach in Long Beach, Calif.
“Having an FIVB in Southern California is such a treat for the players, their families and for the fans,” Fendrick said. “The opportunity to play in front of our families and fans is such a thrill. We spend half the year training in the South Bay, only to compete overseas, so it’s nice to get to show the hometown fan base what we’ve been working on. It’s also a huge treat for the fans to see all of the incredible foreign teams competing in Long Beach.”
It won’t be easy, though. The Brazilian juggernaut brings three of the top four seeded teams. And Walsh Jennings and Ross, the defending event champion, are back together after Walsh Jennings spent time sidelined with an injured shoulder.
“April and I are focused upon having a great showing at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball,” Walsh Jennings said. “The event is extremely important as the final Olympic qualifier in the USA, broadcast live on NBC Sports, and will be our first competition back since I suffered my injury.
“We anticipate a stiff challenge from the best teams in the world and we need to be at the top of our game. We look forward to going into battle on our home soil and defending our championship title from last year.”