Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross
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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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Kerri Walsh Jennings eyes 2020 Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States celebrates a point during the Beach Volleyball Women's Bronze medal match against Larissa Franca Maestrini and Talita Rocha of Brazil on day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Beach Volleyball Arena on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If Kerri Walsh Jennings had to decide now, she’s in for Tokyo 2020.

In recent weeks, Walsh Jennings has warmed more and more to trying for a sixth Olympics at age 41, after taking bronze with April Ross in Rio. In 2020, the three-time Olympic champion will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

In December, Walsh Jennings told an NCAA women’s indoor volleyball championship crowd that her kids’ first words to her after she came home from Rio were, “You didn’t win gold,” according to Flovolleyball. Her response? “Tokyo 2020, kids.”

On Jan. 10, a tweet from Walsh Jennings’ account tagged “TokyoGold2020” and “AllIn.” Her Twitter bio now includes, “aspiring to be MY best #Tokyo2020.”

Then in an interview with Seth Davis published Wednesday, she reaffirmed it.

“You’re asking me right this moment. I’m in to go win a gold medal [in 2020],” she said. “That’s like, period, end of statement with regard to me. I’m a family of five, and this journey requires total commitment from not just myself but my kids and my husband and so many other people. So I need to get on the same page with my hubby because it’s a lonely life when I’m traveling the world. He’s an athlete as well [beach volleyball player Casey Jennings], but he’s retired from the international scene, so he’s home. If I go four more years, which I want to, I need to consider lots of things, but, yes, I’m in.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross are set to make their 2017 season debut in Fort Lauderdale next month. Previously, Ross was planning to take 2017 off to have a child.

MORE: U.S. beach volleyball Olympians open season with new partners

U.S. beach volleyball Olympians open season with new partners

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11: 
Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat of United States react playing against Ekaterina Birlova and Evgenia Ukolova of Russia during the Beach Volleyball - Women's Preliminary - Pool A, Match 25 on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympics at the Beach Volleyball Arena on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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All of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball players from Rio are signed up for the 2017 season opener next month, but half of the pairs have split up.

Following Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson‘s partingLauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat are also with new partners for an FIVB World Tour event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The full entry lists are here.

Fendrick signed up with Sara Hughes, a USC senior who has played in four career FIVB World Tour events. Sweat is with veteran Summer Ross.

In Rio, Fendrick and Sweat became the first U.S. women to go winless at an Olympics, dropping all three of their group-play matches. In three seasons together from 2014-16, they reached nine quarterfinals on the FIVB World Tour, plus at the 2015 World Championships, but never a semifinal.

The top U.S. beach teams — Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena — are among the favorites in Fort Lauderdale.

The men’s field is led by Olympic gold and silver medalists Alison and Bruno of Brazil and Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai of Italy.

Missing are Olympic bronze medalists Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands. Brazil’s No. 2 team of Pedro and Evandro split and are entered with new partners.

On the women’s side, Walsh Jennings and Ross are the only Olympic medalists slated to play together in Fort Lauderdale. Rio gold medalist Laura Ludwig of Germany is out due to shoulder surgery, so Kira Walkenhorst is with a substitute partner.

The Brazilian silver medalists Agatha and Barbara split after Rio and are entered in Fort Lauderdale with new partners.

MORE: Change of plans for April Ross in 2017