Kerri Walsh Jennings is headed to her fifth Olympics — this time with a new partner.
The three-time beach volleyball gold medalist was named to the U.S. Olympic team on Sunday with her partner April Ross. Walsh Jennings, who also played for the U.S. indoor team in Sydney in 2000, was with Misty May-Treanor the last three Olympics — including 2012, when they beat Ross and Jen Kessy in the gold medal match.
“The face of this journey is different, considering I have a new partner by my side, but the spirit of it is just as beautiful and humbling and as wonderful as ever,” said Walsh Jennings, who teamed up with Ross after May-Treanor retired. “It’s been full of its own magic. I am proud, I am grateful and we are very happily in it to win it.”
The announcement by USA Volleyball was a formality — players qualify for the Olympic beach volleyball field by accumulating points on the international FIVB tour. Walsh Jennings and Ross were comfortably in third when the two-year qualification period ended Sunday.
Also returning to the Olympics with new partners are two-time Olympians Jake Gibb and Phil Dalhausser. Dalhausser, who with Todd Rogers won gold in Beijing but finished ninth in London, is now teamed with first-time Olympian Nick Lucena; they were third in the men’s rankings.
“It is a huge honor to be playing in the Olympics and representing the U.S.,” Lucena said. “(Dalhausser has) been, in my opinion, the best player in the world for a long time. Having the opportunity to play with Phil has been special.”
Also representing the United States in Rio de Janeiro will be Olympic rookie Casey Patterson and Gibb, who finished fifth at the last two Olympics with Sean Rosenthal.
“We feel like (qualifying) is a step in what we want to accomplish, and what we want to accomplish is getting a medal at the Olympics,” Gibb said. “Our end goal is to get a medal, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, both first-time Olympians, will be the other U.S. women’s team.
“Competing with USA on my back is always an honor, but to do it at the Olympics on the biggest stage and in a city with such a rich beach volleyball tradition is truly a dream come true,” Fendrick added. “I feel honored and privileged to get to compete for my country.”
To fill the men’s and women’s fields at the Olympics, one spot goes to the world champion and another to the host country. The next 15 teams go to the leaders in the FIVB standings, with quotas limiting each country to a maximum of two teams for each gender.