Ross and Walsh Jennings had an extraordinary year which saw the duo win bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team finished the year with a 65-9 record and a final No. 2 ranking on the FIVB World Tour.
It marks the third time Ross has earned the designation and second for Walsh Jennings, each earned the accolade with previous partners. Ross was last named Team of the Year in 2012 with Jennifer Kessy, and in 2009. Walsh Jennings won with Misty May-Treanor in the inaugural year of the award, in 2007.
"Combine the 2016 Olympic Games bronze medal won by Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross with the multiple medals they won on the FIVB World Tour leading up to the Games and it’s easy to see why USAV named them the 2016 Beach Team of the Year," USAV Beach National Programs Director Sean Scott said.
The duo's 2016 season was largely influenced by the grind from 2015, which ended at the Rio Open on Sept. 5. Walsh Jennings received her fifth shoulder surgery shortly after that and in the short months to follow both were back on the sand together again at the Rio Grand Slam where they earned gold on March 13, 2016.
"I am so glad Kerri and I got this award this year, 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," said Ross.
The Olympic qualification season began in February of 2015 and closed in Moscow on May 29, 2016. During the 2016 schedule, Ross and Walsh Jennings kicked into high gear and won four gold, a silver and a bronze to finish the Olympic qualification period. In their final three events of qualification, the team won gold and during that time they eclipsed their 100th team victory in Rio de Janeiro, foreshadowing yet another benchmark that came later at the Olympics.
"Winning the team award, in many ways, signifies MISSION ACCOMPLISHED," Walsh Jennings said. "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."
Following their qualification to the Olympics, Ross and Walsh Jennings played in two final FIVB World Tour tournaments before heading back to Rio de Janeiro for the second time in 2016.
"Kerri and April had a remarkable quad. They both changed partners, and for them to also change sides (of the court), was incredible," said USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal. "Certainly for Kerri to qualify and play in her fifth Olympics is an iconic achievement. To win a fourth medal is unprecedented in beach volleyball."
The Olympics showed the electricity and willpower of both athletes as they swept their pool and shut down their first and second-round opponents in quick fashion and in doing so earned their 150th team victory.
"The grit and determination of the team showed most dramatically in their performance winning the bronze medal after an enormously, and hard for most of us to imagine, loss in an incredibly close semifinal," added Beal. "Where the dream of Kerri to win a fourth-consecutive gold medal was lost. It's not the physical recovery but the emotional recovery. Her taking the time and messaging to our women's indoor team about the value of the bronze medal and finishing with a medal after an equally disappointing loss for them in the semifinal match, speaks volumes about the character and the person that Kerri Walsh Jennings is."
After the semifinal loss to Brazil's Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas, Ross and Walsh Jennings battled for bronze hours later against Brazil's top seeded Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca, taking it in three sets 17-21, 21-17, 15-9. With the bronze, the American ladies continued the historic run of the U.S. medaling in each of the Olympics since beach volleyball's inception in the Games. With it, Walsh Jennings became the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian in history and Ross added her name to the short list of multiple Olympic medalists.
The season wasn't over quite yet for the pair though. Eleven days after bronze at the Olympics, the team went on to win gold at the FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam and concluded the season with fifth at the World Tour Finals; ending their 2016 year with five gold medals, nine podium finishes that included bronze at the Olympics. Thankfully for fans of the sport and the U.S., the duo will be back together in 2017.
"The team behind our team is truly amazing too and we for sure all share this honor," added Ross. "So excited to get back with all of them for 2017!"
USA Volleyball Beach Teams of the Year
2016: April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings
2015: Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser
2014: Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal
2013: Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson
2012: Jennifer Kessy and April Ross
2011: Emily Day and Heather Hughes
2010: Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers
2009: Jennifer Kessy and April Ross
2008: Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers
2007: Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings