U.S. Olympic Women’s Beach Volleyball Team Includes Pair Of Olympic Medalists, Team Of Newcomers

By Craig Bohnert | June 12, 2016, 2:19 p.m. (ET)


A pair of Olympic veterans and a duo of newcomers comprise the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Beach Volleyball Team. The teams of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, and Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by virtue of their top-15 placements in the FIVB provisional Olympic rankings.

U.S. women have won the last three Olympic gold medals and five of the nine medals awarded at the past three Olympic Games, and these two teams are eager to add to that count when the beach volleyball tournament is held Aug. 6-18.

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross

Walsh Jennings will make her fifth Olympic appearance in Rio, but her first with Ross after winning the past three Olympic gold medals with Misty May-Treanor.  Widely considered the greatest beach volleyball team ever, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won 21 consecutive Olympic matches and lost only one set during their 11 years in tandem. They also won three consecutive FIVB world titles. Walsh Jennings placed fourth at her first Olympic Games as a member of the indoor volleyball team in 2000. Only the second player in history to earn first-team All-American honors all four years, she led Stanford to two NCAA titles. She will turn 38 during the Olympic tournament in Rio.

Walsh Jennings will be the first U.S. player to compete in four Olympic beach volleyball tournaments.

Ross, 36, enters her second Olympic Games as a reigning silver medalist. She and then-partner Jennifer Kessy finished second at the London 2012 Olympic Games, falling to Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor in the gold-medal match. In 2007 she was the first U.S. woman to win FIVB Rookie of the Year honors and has since been named USA Volleyball’s Female Beach Athlete of the Year four times. She and Kessy were tabbed USAV’s Beach Team of the Year twice.

Since joining forces toward the end of the 2013 season the pairing of Walsh Jennings and Ross has been golden during this Olympic cycle. In the final portion of the 2013 season they won FIVB grand slam events in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Xiamen, China. They were untouchable on the AVP circuit in 2014, winning all seven tournaments they entered while going 36-0 in matches and losing only three of 73 sets played.

They won a total of eight international medals during the Olympic qualification period, including four golds, placing them third in the Olympic qualification rankings. Having started the calendar year with a win March 13 at the grand slam event in Rio de Janeiro, they gained another April 24 at the Fuzhou Open and two more in back-to-back starts at the Cincinnati Open and the Moscow grand slam event, earning United States Olympic Committee Team of the Month honors for May. They also have won two silvers and a pair of bronzes during Olympic qualifying.

Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat

The pair of Fendrick and Sweat first teamed up in 2014, picking up a pair of fifth-place finishes in eight international tournaments and five silver medals in six AVP tournaments. Since then they have played in a total of 26 international tournaments together, scoring a best finish of second at the 2015 continental championships in Trinidad and Tobago. They have 15 top-10 and eight top-five finishes, including a fifth-place finish at the 2015 world championships. They concluded the Olympic qualification cycle ranked 13th to earn their berth at their first Olympic Games.

Last year Fendrick, 34, teamed with Ross for the first time at the 2015 AVP Championships, and the result was golden as they went undefeated through their five matches to win the title. Named the AVP’s best blocker during the 2014 season, Fendrick played both volleyball and softball as a freshman at UCLA, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2003 with a communications degree. She also holds a law degree from USC.

Sweat, 30, has twice been recognized as the AVP’s best defensive player, in 2013 and 2014. Her top FIVB world tour finish came in 2013, when she and Jennifer Fopma won bronze in Berlin. An NCAA Division II All-American, she was a founding member of the Florida Gulf Coast University’s volleyball program and graduated as its career kills leader.

Since its introduction to the Olympic program at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, the United States has won a total of five medals in women’s beach volleyball: the three golds won by Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor, Ross and Kessy’s silver in 2012 and a bronze in 2004 won by Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs.