FIVB

April Ross discusses playing without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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NEW YORK — Lauren Fendrick and April Ross had a chilly start to their new partnership.

They placed ninth last week at the FIVB World Tour stop in Moscow, where players wore long sleeves under their bathing suits while playing in snowy conditions.

The partnership heated up this week at the AVP tournament in New York City, winning Sunday as the temperature climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s beach volleyball—you have to be ready for crazy weather,” said Ross, who made time to meet with local students who helped raise $162,160 for the Side-Out Foundation to fund critical research and clinical trials in late stage metastatic breast cancer. Ross lost her mother, Margie, to breast cancer in 2001.

Ross decided to partner with Fendrick after splitting with Olympic bronze medal teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings in April. According to Ross, “the final nail in the coffin” for her partnership with Walsh Jennings was when Ross signed an exclusivity agreement with the AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, while Walsh Jennings decided not to.

Ross is still getting used to Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics. In Moscow, Fendrick made a joke on social media about figuring out their high-five routine.

But Ross is already excited about her compatibility on defense with the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, the 2014 and 2016 AVP Best Blocker who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“I think she is one of the best blockers in the world, if not the best blocker in the world,” Ross said. “I love playing behind her. She takes up so much space.”

Whereas Ross utilized two plays on defense with Walsh Jennings, she now rotates between seven different defensive plays with Fendrick.

“Lauren wants to push the boundaries and see what new stuff we can come up with and be more creative on the court,” Ross said. “Kerri is a little more traditional minded.”

Fendrick has been impressed by Ross’ toughness. Ross dislocated her right big toe in Sunday’s semifinal match in a collision that gave Fendrick’s foot a sizable bruise. Up until first serve of the final, Fendrick believed Ross’ injury would force them to withdraw.

“She’s a warrior,” Fendrick said about Ross, who planned on getting an X-ray after the match. “I am lucky to have her by my side.”

Walsh Jennings and new partner Nicole Branagh are set to make their FIVB World Tour season debut beginning June 26 in Porec, Croatia. Ross and Fendrick are also on the entries list.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have not been on opposite sides of the net in an international tournament since 2012, when Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor defeated Ross and Jennifer Kessy for the gold medal at the London Olympics.

“To be honest, for my entire career, I’ve focused on my side of the net,” Ross said. “That’s going to continue to be the case. If we do come up against her, it will be just like any other team out there on the international tour.”

Walsh Jennings congratulated Ross on winning the AVP Austin Open on May 21 with Whitney Pavlik, but they have not talked since.

“We are competitors now,” Ross said. “She is on a different team now, and I’m on a different team.”

Ross, 34, reiterated that she will figure out her long-term partner plans for the 2020 Olympics, as well as the timing of starting a family with husband Brad Keenan, after this season.

Until then, she is focused on the Beach Volleyball World Championships, which start July 28 in Vienna, Austria.

“Other than the Olympics, this is the biggest event beach volleyball has,” said Ross, the 2009 world champion. “It’s definitely the No. 1 priority for me this year.”

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MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings in world champs field with new partner

U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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Five women’s gymnasts to watch at P&G Championships

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As Rio gold medalists decide on their futures, this week’s P&G Championships mark the first showcase for a new class of U.S. women’s gymnasts.

For the first time since 2008, nobody in the nationals field in Anaheim has competed at an Olympics. Usually, a gymnast or two carries over into the post-Olympic year, like Bridget Sloan in 2009 and Kyla Ross in 2013.

But this year, the feeling is akin to 2005, when no woman (or man) from the 2004 Athens Games chalked up at nationals.

Back then, a 15-year-old Nastia Liukin, who had already starred in a commercial during the 2004 Olympics, made her senior nationals debut and won the all-around. Three years later, Liukin won the Olympic all-around in Beijing.

There will be talk this week of finding the next Liukin, or Gabby Douglas, or Simone Biles, who, like Liukin, won her senior nationals debut the year after the Olympics.

“Some of them [from Rio], hopefully Simone, will be coming back, but I think this is a great opportunity for some of these girls to go out there and prove that they’re just as ready to compete at a world championships,” said Liukin, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “They have to step up a little bit and kind of become the leaders.”

MORE: P&G Champs broadcast schedule

Gymnasts this week are vying to impress new U.S. national team coordinator Valeri Liukin (Nastia’s father). The four-woman roster for October’s worlds, where there is no team event, will be named after a selection camp later this summer.

Five gymnasts to watch at the P&G Championships:

Ragan Smith
Rio Olympic alternate
2017 AT&T American Cup champion

The Texan performed admirably in her first senior season in 2016, placing fifth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. Her best events are balance beam and floor exercise, but the U.S. needed uneven bars help in Rio. So she went to the Games as an alternate at age 15, making headlines for this photo with 6-foot-11 basketball player DeAndre Jordan.

Smith, coached by 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal, emerged this year as the U.S.’ most reliable all-arounder and clear favorite this week. She won the American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. A definite all-around medal favorite at October’s worlds.

Ashton Locklear
Rio Olympic alternate
2014 World team champion

Locklear was beaten for the Olympic team bars specialist spot by Madison Kocian after nearly matching Kocian in scores in four routines between last year’s P&G Championships and Olympic Trials. The 19-year-old is not considered an all-around threat this week but is favored to make the world team based on her bars ability. She was fourth in the event at 2014 Worlds.

Riley McCusker
2017 Jesolo Trophy all-around winner

McCusker, who has the same coach as Laurie Hernandez, struggled at the American Cup in her first senior competition, falling on bars and beam. She rebounded to win Jesolo a month later and remain in the mix as the No. 2 U.S. all-arounder (Smith wasn’t at Jesolo).

However, McCusker was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July and said she expected to be back to peak form in September, not August.

Morgan Hurd
2017 Stuttgart World Cup bronze medalist

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, was adopted from China as a toddler and now lives with her mom in Delaware.

Liukin, asked to name gymnasts to watch this week, started with Hurd, whom she says has the highest floor exercise start value in the world. “She could be capable of winning a world all-around medal and possibly become a world champion on floor,” Liukin said.

Jade Carey
2017 U.S. Classic vault winner

The U.S. has a tradition of sending a vault specialist to worlds, but neither of the top vaulters from the last Olympic cycle — Biles nor MyKayla Skinner — is competing this week. Enter Carey, a 17-year-old who wasn’t an elite gymnast before this season.

Carey performed the difficult Amanar vault at July’s U.S. Classic, where she was the only gymnast to perform two vaults, which is required to compete for medals on the event at worlds.

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