Kerri Walsh

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross clicking ahead of World Series of Beach Volleyball

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It’s been nearly two years since Kerri Walsh Jennings won her third straight Olympic gold with Misty May-Treanor and about one year since she began playing internationally with new partner April Ross.

Based on early results, Walsh Jennings and Ross could very well be playing for gold two years from now in Rio de Janeiro.

Walsh Jennings, 35, paired with Ross, 32, following May-Treanor’s retirement and the birth of Walsh Jennings’ third child. Ross is a star in her own right, winning the 2009 World Championship and 2012 Olympic silver with Jennifer Kessy.

Not too surprisingly, Walsh Jennings and Ross have performed quite well in their first 10 FIVB World Tour events together. They’ve won half of them, which, as the Wall Street Journal noted, is better than Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor’s record in their final 10 events together in 2012.

This week, they’re the star pair at the biggest beach volleyball tournament in the U.S. this year — the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif., which will air on NBC, NBCSN, Universal Sports and NBC Sports Live Extra from Friday through Sunday.

Long Beach marks the seventh FIVB World Tour Grand Slam event this season. Walsh Jennings and Ross are the only women’s team to win multiple Grand Slams this year and are the world’s No. 1 team in the FIVB’s technical rankings.

Walsh Jennings’ biggest competition during the May-Treanor years usually came from Brazil. Of course, the Brazilians will be pumped at their home Olympics in 2016, but their top players are still in a transition phase since London 2012.

The London Olympic bronze medalists, Juliana and Larissa, broke up with Larissa’s retirement in 2012. Larissa recently unretired, but she is now paired with a different Brazilian partner.

Last year’s World Championships final did not include a Brazilian pair for only the second time in its nine-edition history (Walsh Jennings and Ross missed the tournament). However, the best women’s pair on the World Tour was Brazilian, Talita and Taiana, who are now no longer a pair.

In Long Beach, the top-seeded Walsh Jennings and Ross won their first two pool matches Wednesday and will look to advance through elimination rounds to Sunday’s final.

A U.S. Olympic champion is also a top seed on the men’s side. Beijing gold medalist Phil Dalhausser and two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal won their first two matches Wednesday, too. The men’s final is also Sunday.

Here’s the broadcast schedule:

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Maia, Alex Shibutani repeat as U.S. champions, just miss record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani proved again they are the best in the U.S. The task will be much tougher in two months at the world championships.

The siblings totaled 200.05 points to repeat as national champions on Saturday.

They missed the U.S. Championships overall record score, set by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, by .14 of a point, after setting the short dance record Friday.

“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani told Andrea Joyce on NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. champions, were second, 1.01 points behind the Shibutanis. Chock and Bates actually outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third after Hubbell shockingly fell during their free dance.

Full results are here.

The Shibutanis are riding a tidal wave of momentum. They earned their first U.S. title in 2016, then took silver at the world championships last March and bronze at the Grand Prix Final last month.

“The past year and a half, we’ve built so much momentum,” Alex Shibutani said. “We’re really coming into our own.”

The world’s two best couples are two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir took Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, then took two seasons off and returned this year to post the highest scores under the current system implemented in 2010.

The U.S., though, is unquestionably the deepest ice dance nation. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue made up half of the top six at the 2016 World Championships. All three couples qualified for each of the last two Grand Prix Finals, which take only six couples.

Meanwhile, Davis and White have watched the ascension while taking a three-year break from competition. They are running out of time to decide if they will attempt to defend their Olympic title in PyeongChang. A nation can send no more than three couples to the Olympics.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 200.05

SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 199.04
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 191.42
4. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 170.29
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 160.06

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90