Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win first title since July 2014

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won their first international tournament title since July 2014, taking the Rio Grand Slam on Sunday in their first event together since Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery in September.

“It was such a challenging tournament in so many ways,” Walsh Jennings said on Brazil’s SporTV. “You have to get into a rhythm with the emotion and the energy, let alone the volleyball. … Next time we’ll be here, we’ll be here for the Olympics.”

Walsh Jennings, 37 and a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist, went 7-0 this past week at Copacabana Beach, which will be August’s Olympic venue as well.

They dropped one set each in the quarterfinals and semifinals before sweeping Poland’s Kinga Kołosińska and Monika Brzostek 21-15, 21-13 in Sunday’s final. They moved closer to Olympic qualification.

Walsh Jennings played with black tape covering her five-times surgically repaired right shoulder. The most recent operation was Sept. 10, just before the end of the 2015 season.

Walsh Jennings and Ross had gone nine international tournaments without a win between the July 2014 World Series of Beach Volleyball and Sunday.

That marked the longest drought of Walsh Jennings’ career, including her dominant run with Misty May-Treanor, who retired after the London Games but made a domestic comeback last year.

Walsh Jennings and Ross’ path to the Rio title was relatively clear. They avoided Brazil’s two pairs that will compete in the Olympics — Larissa and Talita and Agatha and Barbara — who were eliminated before the semifinals.

On the men’s side, World champions Alison and Bruno of Brazil lost in the quarterfinals, as did top U.S. pair Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.

MORE: How Karch Kiraly motivated Walsh Jennings’ return