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Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross return to action, map out next years

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Kerri Walsh Jennings went into the post-Rio offseason thinking she needed a new partner, with April Ross hoping to get pregnant.

So when Ross reached out to say that she had changed her mind and would return for 2017, Walsh Jennings struggled to contain her excitement.

“I was prepared for anything, but I really love playing with April,” Walsh Jennings said Tuesday.

After claiming bronze in Rio, Ross planned on taking time to decompress from the 2016 season and then try to get pregnant. She took a trip to Las Vegas to see The Chainsmokers, and snowboarded with her family in Montana.

But after a couple of weeks away from training, her first true break in years, Ross started itching to return to the sand.

“I thought I was going to be ready to stop and work on having a family, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t ready to stop,” Ross said.

Starting a family is still very much a priority for Ross, 34. She is now hoping to get pregnant after the 2017 season, and sit out in 2018.

2018 is the only year in the upcoming quadrennial without a major global championship. World championships will take place in 2017 and 2019, and 2020 is an Olympic year.

“It aligns perfectly that way,” Ross said.

Ross and Walsh Jennings are competing at the season-opening Fort Lauderdale Major on the FIVB World Tour this week. The most notable difference is that they switched sides, with Walsh Jennings now playing on the left.

“If you keep doing the same thing, you are going to keep getting the same results,” Walsh Jennings said. “We had an amazing year last year, but we always want more and better from ourselves.”

Their short-term focus is on the world championships, which begin July 28 in Vienna, Austria. Ross was the world champion in 2009 with Jennifer Kessy; Walsh Jennings won the 2003, 2005 and 2007 titles with Misty May-Treanor. But they’ve been shut out, separately and then together, since.

“It’s the biggest event of the year,” Walsh Jennings said. “That is goal for the year, but we want to win a lot before that, and a lot after that.”

Their long-term focus is on the 2020 Olympics. Both reiterated that they are committed to attempting to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Walsh Jennings, who is trying for a sixth Olympics at age 41, believes 2020 will be her final season.

“In my head, I’m thinking I’ve got four years, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it,” Walsh Jennings said. “And if that changes, it changes, and if it doesn’t, yay.”

Besides Ross and Walsh Jennings, none of the other U.S. teams are established. Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, the other U.S. pair at the Rio Games, split this offseason. Of the eight other U.S. women in the Fort Lauderdale Major main draw, half are 24 years old or younger.

But Walsh Jennings will not spend this season scouting potential partners for 2018.

“If I start doing that, I’ll be in trouble with April, because I need to focus on us,” Walsh Jennings said. “And things change. Things obviously changed for her this year, and she decided to come back.

“I’m going to take things as they come. I know that whatever happens, I’ll make the best of it, and I’ll have great options.”

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USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.