Since joining forces in 2007, Jen Kessy and April Ross have won at least one international beach volleyball tournament together each year.
In 2012, they waited until the last possible minute to keep the streak alive.
“This was our last shot this year,” said Kessy, referring to the Thailand Open, the final event on the women’s 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour in late October.
Earlier in the season, Kessy and Ross had come up short in tourneys in Russia, Italy and Poland, among other nations. In August, they just missed out on the ultimate prize — an Olympic gold medal — when they fell to compatriots Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the gold-medal match in London. So the streak was definitely on their mind going into the tournament in Bangsaen, Thailand.
“Obviously the highlight of the year was the Olympics, winning the silver medal,” Ross said. “That was really all we cared about, medaling in the Olympics. But each year in our partnership, we had at least won one world tournament together. And I did not want to let the year go by and ruin our record as far as that goes.
"So in terms of that, maybe it made us a little more focused than some of those other teams.”
In Thailand, Kessy and Ross took a challenging path to the title. They lost to American duo Nicole Branagh and Lauren Fendrick in the third round, sending them into the loser’s bracket. From there, Kessy and Ross did not lose again, posting a win on Oct. 26, three more victories on Oct. 27 and a straight-sets win over a Russian duo in the final on Oct. 28.
“We just dug really deep,” Ross said. “It was a long tournament, but it was really nice to end the year on a gold medal.”
Part of what made the championship special, particularly for Ross, was that she found out that her grandfather had died the night before the gold-medal match.
“I wanted to play for him,” said Ross, who at times felt like her team was playing 3-on-2 in the final. “It’s just weird when stuff like that happens and you feel like they might be helping you from the other side.”
While Ross and Kessy were in Thailand, they did more than just play in the tournament. They also visited SOS Children’s Village and promised to build a new volleyball court for the girls, all of whom were orphaned by the tsunami in late 2004. In the past, Ross and Kessy had donated uniforms and volleyballs to the girls, thanks in part to their sponsor, 4POINT4 sports apparel.
“At this point, I’ve done so much in volleyball that it would be selfish of me not to give back,” Kessy said. “April and I had talked about it for years, but we hadn’t found something that interested us too much, something that we could get really involved in instead of just donating money — something where we could see kids’ lives actually changing.”
Added Ross: “We have so many advantages. And in terms of developing countries, especially women and girls, they don’t have the same opportunities to play sports. And I think sports help you develop that strong character. So if we can go in there and create a level court for them and a level soccer field, we just hope that being competitive will give them a little advantage in life.”
The gold medal in Thailand (along with the charity work) capped a roller-coaster season for Kessy and Ross.
“It was such an up and down year,” Ross said. “I think overall it was completely successful because we achieved our goal of getting a medal at the Olympics. If we had won the gold, it would have been extremely successful, but it definitely was completely successful in my eyes.”
That said, Ross and Kessy admitted that they have rehashed the Olympic Games nonstop since losing the gold-medal match.
“I talk about it," Kessy said. "People at the grocery store want to talk about it. And friends and family — they all like to rehash it."
In terms of the future, 2013 could be the final year that Kessy and Ross play together. Kessy is 35 and interested in starting a family, among other non-volleyball ventures. Ross is 30 and still hoping to participate in two more Olympic Games. But will they join forces once again for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games?
They do not know the answer yet.
“I’m really looking forward to playing together for another year,” Kessy said. “I don’t know if I’m retiring. I don’t know what’s going on. But I will definitely appreciate each place that we’re going to and think ‘Maybe this is my last time being here’ so I can really soak everything in.”
Kessy said it is a "small possibility" she and Ross will be playing together in Rio. Kessy said she does not want to travel as much anymore. But if the qualifying process changes for the Games and she could try to qualify in the United States, that could sway her decision.
"As it is now, I think I’d need to leave that for the younger girls," Kessy said. "And I’ll be 39 for the next Olympics, which is not impossible, but I’d have to see how good I am.
"But I’m never going to rule it out, because I don’t want to retire and come back," she said. "So I’m never going to say never right now.”
However, don’t expect Ross to talk her partner out of retirement.
“I’m going to let her make her own decision,” Ross said, “because it is so intense trying to make an Olympics that if it’s not your decision and it’s not something you’re extremely passionate about, it’s not going to be possible."