April Ross
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April Ross details future after split with Kerri Walsh Jennings

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April Ross said her decision to sign with the AVP last week, and Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ decision not to, was “the final nail in the coffin” for their partnership.

Walsh Jennings announced Thursday that she and Ross split up, nine months after they earned bronze at the Rio Olympics.

“It’s not like a negative thing, and I don’t think [Walsh Jennings] views it as a negative thing,” Ross said. “So I think we’re both excited for the future in our different ways.”

Walsh Jennings made her admiration for Ross clear in a Facebook post later Saturday night.

“I have so much love in my heart for April,” was posted on the three-time Olympic champion’s page. “We fall on different sides of this situation, but that does not change my high opinion of her nor can it change the amazing times we shared together. April has made my life better. Period. … April is on the top of my list of beautiful blessings in my life.”

The pair’s split became official nine days ago, Ross said in a phone interview Saturday following a match at the AVP season-opening Huntington Beach (Calif.) Open. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Huntington Beach Open coverage Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.

Before they split, Ross said she and Walsh Jennings discussed and considered for a while keeping their partnership for FIVB World Tour events. Under that plan, Ross would play with a different partner in AVP tournaments.

Walsh Jennings refused to sign an exclusivity agreement with AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

“Things got a little bit hairy at the end, and me deciding to play AVP just ended up being the nail in the coffin for us,” Ross said. “Our paths just took us in two very different directions. It was pretty clear towards the end that we weren’t going to play together, and a lot of it stemmed I think from me being so pro-AVP and wanting to support this tour and her having other ideas.”

Ross is playing with longtime friend Whitney Pavlik in Huntington Beach. She plans to play the rest of her AVP and international events this season with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics.

“The timing [of splitting with Walsh Jennings] was a little rough because it was right before the season, but I’m really excited for the opportunities this summer with Lauren,” Ross said. “I feel like this is just the next step for me on my journey to being the best I can be and for growth. I just feel like the future is exciting for me.”

Ross said she and Fendrick will debut at the FIVB World Tour’s stop in Moscow in early June. Walsh Jennings said she will next play with a to-be-determined partner in an event in Porec, Croatia, in late June, according to volleyballmag.com.

The world championships are in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2011 World champion, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season. Ross, 34, has said she hopes to start a family with husband Brad Keenan, and that could still be in the cards.

While Walsh Jennings’ differences with the AVP have been reported (and some detailed in a lawsuit), Ross said it was a “no-brainer” to sign her AVP contract.

“Just being here this weekend completely validated that thought,” she said. “No. 1, it has the sentimental value. I grew up watching the AVP. Even when I hated to play beach volleyball, I loved coming to AVPs to watch. The AVP is just where I cut my teeth. AVP has always been really great to me and treated me really well. It’s an established brand, and they’re growing, and they’re doing really good things.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross last played on opposite sides of the net internationally at the 2012 Olympic final between Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor and Ross and Jennifer Kessy.

Walsh Jennings, after winning her third straight gold medal, told Ross at the net, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” both knowing May-Treanor was retiring.

Walsh Jennings and Ross debuted in July 2013 and played together for most of the Rio Olympic cycle. They won 11 of their 32 international tournaments.

They almost didn’t qualify for Rio. Walsh Jennings twice dislocated her then-four-times surgically repaired right shoulder in 2015 and even suggested Ross might want to find a new partner.

Ross chose to stick with Walsh Jennings, who underwent a fifth right shoulder surgery in September 2015 and returned to go into the Rio Games as a medal favorite with Ross.

“I’ll look back on it fondly,” Ross said of their four years together. “It was a period of a lot of growth for me. … I loved our journey through the Olympics, and I’m so proud of what we did there. I have good feelings about the last four years.”

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Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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