Four years after facing off as opponents for the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross have been named the 2016 USA Volleyball Beach Team of the Year.
"Winning the team award, in many ways, signifies MISSION ACCOMPLISHED," Walsh Jennings told USA Volleyball. "Our team (April, Marcio Sicoli, Jon Daze, Gustavo Rocha) worked so hard every step of the way and it was an honor to chase big dreams with them. They made it all so very worth it and special."
After a grueling 2015 season that saw Walsh Jennings have her fifth shoulder surgery in September, the two were back in competition in March, winning gold at the Rio Grand Slam. That kicked off a year of dominance: the duo finished the FIVB World Tour with a No. 2 ranking, a 65-9 record on the tour, and nine podium finishes, including five golds. Three of those gold medals came in the final three events of Olympic qualification.
In Rio, Walsh Jennings and Ross swept their pool and advanced through to the semifinals, earning their 150th team victory in the process. They ultimately fell to Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas and had to compete for bronze less than 24 hours later against the top-seeded Brazilian duo of Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca. Despite dropping the first set, they rebounded to win in three, 17-21, 21-17, 15-9. With the bronze, Walsh Jennings became the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian in history and continued the streak of U.S. women medaling in beach volleyball at every Olympics since its inception in 1996.
"I am so glad Kerri and I got this award this year,” Ross told USA Volleyball. “It has been a long great, even though sometimes bumpy, road and I'm so proud of how we handled it all and were able to bring home the bronze medal at the Olympics.”
After the Olympics, Walsh Jennings and Ross went on to win gold at the FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam and take fifth at the World Tour Finals. The duo plans to continue competing together in 2017.
This marks the second time Walsh Jennings has won the award and the third for Ross, each earning the honor with previous partners. Walsh Jennings won with Misty May-Treanor in 2007 while Ross won with Jennifer Kessy in 2009 and 2012.