LONDON – U.S. women's beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings is a New England Patriots fan and admitted that she likes to watch a good win streak take shape from time to time.
Her long-time partner in the sand, Misty May-Treanor, said she did not even know the pair's consecutive win streak at the Olympic Games was up to 32 straight sets until the media asked her about it.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, close friends and supportive teammates, are linked together like Olympic rings. But each one's take on dropping their first set – not a match, just a mere set – at the Olympics was almost the opposite.
“I am a Patriots fan, I love Tom Brady and I admire their dynasty,” Walsh Jennings said after the pair rallied back to beat the Austrian sister duo of Stefanie and Doris Schwaiger, 2-1, in its final preliminary match at Horse Guards Parade on Wednesday.
“I think teams like the Patriots are amazing. Winning streaks sound great but for us, we're just more concerned about the overall result.”
A vocal crowd stayed up until the wee hours Thursday morning to watch the two-time Olympic champions absorb their first set loss in three straight appearances at the Olympics and then storm right back with another dominant performance.
It was their 17th consecutive win at this level. But in this match, however, it just took a little longer to bring the hammer down.
“We came out very flat and they came out very aggressive – that's their M.O.,” said May-Treanor, who celebrated her 35th birthday on Monday. “We got knocked back with the first serve, we kept falling back and did not get our feet under us. Starting out down 5-1 was a big hole.”
After Walsh Jennings hit a drop shot long to give Austria the first set, 25-17, the U.S. pair retired to its bench for a brief moment to collect its thoughts and alter the strategy.
But even during that abbreviated lull and while unassuming fans sang along to American pop songs blaring from the loud speaker, Walsh Jennings looked within.
Did finally dropping a set in Olympic competition serve as a wake-up call?
“Absolutely,” she later admitted. “We don't want to lose. That did not feel good. Thinking of it still makes my tummy hurt.”
Instead of popping a Tums, Walsh Jennings attacked the net in the second set and it was the perfect remedy for her upset stomach.
The Austrians tried their best to elude the out-stretched arms of the 6-foot-2 Walsh Jennings, so May-Treanor was put to the test.
During their commanding 21-8 win in the second set, the U.S. tallied 14 digs and the pair combined for three serving aces.
“I think you could feel the momentum shift in that second set and we got back to what we like to do,” said May-Treanor, who still had sand on her face when she spoke with reporters after the match. "I gave zero thoughts about the streak during the game. I take no stock in it. It's something the media really plays up. We just go out there and perform."
The dominance continued for the Americans as the third set appeared to be a formality. Doris Schwaiger couldn't handle a May-Treanor serve and hit into the net to lift the U.S. to a 15-10 third-set victory.
Despite the very small blemish on their almost impeccable team record, the U.S. won its pool and will move on to the knockout round as a top seed. The women will find out their next opponent after Thursday night's matches.
“I feel like we got it out of our system,” Walsh Jennings said. “Every time you lose, you always learn something. So we lost a set, we learned what we did wrong and now we're ready to move on.”
Despite what they were feeling inside, both women were smiling after the match and optimistic for the rest of the tournament.
"Now it's a whole new tournament," May-Treanor said. “We have four more matches to go until a gold medal. That is our goal.”
And along the way, they expect to run into more challenges.
On paper, the U.S. seemed to cruise to the gold medal in Athens and in Beijing. But while they were dominating, the rest of the world was taking notes and if Wednesday's match is any sort of proof, the talent gap is starting to get smaller.
“The level of play here at Olympics is so rad,” Walsh Jennings, a California native, said with a smile. “That's why I was disappointed. We shouldn’t come out flat, we know better.”
Something else the U.S. women know about is winning. Just ask them or Tom Brady. The consecutive sets streak may be over but the dynasty is still well intact.