Imagine this scenario: Misty May-Treanor decides she wants to unretire and go for a fourth straight Olympic beach volleyball gold medal. The first person she calls is her old partner, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is currently playing with new partner April Ross.
A similar instance occurred before the 2011 season. May-Treanor decided in 2010 she would take the next year off and was uncertain about her future, so Walsh Jennings partnered with Nicole Branagh.
But May-Treanor had a change of heart and told Walsh Jennings she was coming back, either with Walsh Jennings or with a new partner if she had to.
Walsh Jennings made a friendly split with Branagh, teamed up with May-Treanor again, and they won a third Olympic gold a year later in London.
So, what would Walsh Jennings say if May-Treanor, retired since London, called her with comeback plans again?
“I would say, thank you for calling me, I really appreciate that and tell her good luck,” Walsh Jennings said.
She’d stick with Ross. The makings of their partnership were born at the London Olympics, where Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor beat Ross and Jennifer Kessy in an all-American gold-medal match. Walsh Jennings told Ross, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” when they shook hands after the final point.
Walsh Jennings and Ross didn’t make it official until later, after Walsh Jennings called May-Treanor one more time.
“[May-Treanor] left the door open for sure, even if it was a millimeter,” Walsh Jennings said.
“It will be what it will be; I’d have to figure out my own side,” May-Treanor essentially said, according to Walsh Jennings.
“I’m committed so much with April,” said Walsh Jennings, who has won four FIVB World Tour events in her first full season with Ross this year and six straight AVP tournaments, including this past week in Atlantic City, N.J. “It was such a unique situation last time around [four years ago with Branagh and May-Treanor].”
Likewise, Ross’ Olympic partner stepped away from beach volleyball after London. Kessy decided to start a family and then return to the sport. But she will not be coming back to play with Ross.
“I had such a great time playing with Jen, and I’m so happy with how we did, but this is my team now,” Ross said. “I’m 100 percent committed. There would be no thought in my head regarding changing teammates at this point.”
Walsh Jennings and Ross have twice as many international wins as any other team this year. Last week, Ross said they will play at the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., from Sept. 18-21, followed by the final FIVB Grand Slam in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the next week. Sao Paulo would likely be their last tournament of the year, Ross said.
Sao Paulo could provide a preview of the kind of atmosphere to expect at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has been the biggest rival to the U.S. since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996. Ross said the most heated environment she’s faced in her career wasn’t in Brazil but in Austria.
“In Brazil, they’re just fans of volleyball,” Ross said. “They want to get your picture and get your autograph. They’re just fans of the sport.”
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won their first World Championship together in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.
“We don’t speak their language, so if they’re heckling we have no idea what they’re saying,” Walsh Jennings said. “They’re loud and crazy, and it’s hot. Misty and I tried to quiet the crowd. That’s definitely the goal in Rio [in 2016], to quiet the Brazilians.”
Adding to the anticipation of Sao Paulo is the new Brazilian team of Talita and Larissa, which has won the last two FIVB World Tour events. Larissa, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist with Juliana, came out of retirement earlier this year. Walsh Jennings and Ross have yet to play Talita and Larissa.
“They’re probably No. 1 on our radar right now,” Ross said. “We have to play them to figure out what the matchup’s going to be like to figure out how to beat them.”