Beach teams take short break before 2016 training begins again

Photos: Best of 2015 FIVB World Tour

By Corinne Calabro | Nov. 26, 2015, 3 a.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The 2015 season has come to a close and U.S. beach teams will take a one month break before picking up training again in December. The FIVB World Tour and the Olympic qualification will resume with the first event beginning on January 26 in Brazil.

The United States has three teams in both genders among the top duking it out for one of the Top 17 spots in the FIVB Olympic Rankings. Countries are able to qualify two teams in each gender for the Games, the qualification through rankings pathway closes on June 13, 2016.

U.S. BEACH NEWS | 2016 TOP 25 FINISHES | ABOUT OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION

The FIVB released this week the addition of a Grand Slam during the qualification window to be played in Hamburg, Germany, from June 7-12. In the current FIVB World Tour schedule, there will be 14 events before the June 13 rankings cutoff, three of which are Grand Slams.

Since beach volleyball’s inception into the Olympic Games in 1996, the United States has won a gold in either men’s or women’s in each of the Games. The 2016 Olympics hold unique significance to the sport, since the first ever FIVB World Tour event was played there in 1987 in Rio de Janerio, which Americans Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith won. Once the 2016 Games roll around, it will be 29 years since then and in that time the U.S. has won 18 FIVB World Tour medals in the city (14 men, 4 women). Prior to the Games, there will be four World Tour events held in Brazil, including the Rio Grand Slam and a possibility of another USA vs Brazil dual the week before the Grand Slam.

Following her fifth shoulder surgery, Kerri Walsh Jennings and partner April Ross will be chasing yet another medal for their trophy cases. Walsh Jennings is going for her fourth gold medal, which would make her just the third American ever to win four golds in one event for a team sport. If she picks up any color of medal, she will be the most decorated beach athlete, male or female, in the sport.

Also competing for repeat medals are Phil Dalhausser (2008 gold) and Jennifer Kessy (2012 silver with Ross). Dalhausser and partner Nick Lucena have quickly earned points to make them contenders for the Games, they still need five more events to hit the minimum requirement. Point leaders Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are vying for Patterson’s first trip to the big show and Gibb’s third. John Hyden is hoping to make the Games with partner Tri Bourne, neither have played in the Olympics for beach, but Hyden was a two-time Olympian with the indoor Men’s National Team (2000, 1996). Kessy is paired with hopeful Emily Day, and the women’s point leaders Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat also are hunting for their first Olympic appearance.

The U.S. will have a steep road in 2016 competing not only to be one of the top two American teams, but to stay in the Top 17 among the world rankings. Once that hurdle is reached, qualified teams will be facing the home country Brazil, which has 11 beach Olympic medals, to the USA’s nine (U.S. has the most gold out of every country with six).

USA IN PROVISIONAL OLYMPIC RANKINGS
Final 2015 provisional Olympic rankings were set for Americans following the NORCECA Continental Tour Finals last week. U.S. men stayed in the same order, while the women saw movement among the U.S. rankings.

Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson finish the calendar year ranked sixth with 4,620 points in 11 events. John Hyden and Tri Bourne follow, ranking 11th in 11 events with 4,060 points. Edging their way closer to the Top 17 in qualification, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena have 3,600 points in seven events and are just one slot shy of the qualification window.

Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat jumped back into the lead among American women, ranking 12th in provisional rankings with 3,970 points in 11 events. Not far behind are Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day who have 3,840 points and the required 12 events needed. Moving forward, Kessy and Day will drop their lowest finishes, keeping their top 12 to jockey their position in Olympic rankings. With only seven events on their board, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross are well within range to make movement, with 3,140 points, they’re only 640 behind the 17th-place team.

Athletes use their 12 best performances as a team for their Olympic Ranking, between Jan. 1, 2015 and June 12, 2016. Should teams not qualify in the rankings, they’ll need a minimum of 12 events to compete in the Continental Cup and if necessary, the FIVB Continental Cup Olympic Qualification.

OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION MEDALS IN REVIEW
Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena (3 gold, 3 silver) Gold at NORCECA Finals, Xiamen Open, Puerto Vallarta Open; Silver at Long Beach Grand Slam, Sochi Open, Qatar Open
Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson (1 gold, 1 silver) Gold at St. Petersburg Grand Slam; Silver at Olsztyn Grand Slam
John Hyden/Tri Bourne (1 bronze) Bronze at Qatar Open
Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross (1 silver, 1 bronze) Silver at Long Beach Grand Slam; Bronze at Fuzhou Open
Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat (1 silver) Silver at NORCECA Finals
Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day (1 bronze) Bronze at Antalya Open

UPCOMING EVENTS | Add to your schedule | BEACH ON TV
Jan. 26-31 Vitoria, Brazil
Feb. 14-19 Kish Island, Iran (Men only)
Feb. 23-28 Maceio, Brazil
March 8-13 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil