Kerri Walsh Jennings pain free after first tournaments back from surgery

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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NEW YORK (AP) — Kerri Walsh Jennings enjoyed two weeks of pain-free beach volleyball competition in Brazil, testing her surgically-repaired shoulder in the hopes of qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

The three-time Olympic gold medalist played her first matches after a six-month layoff following surgery on her torn right labrum and capsule.

“Amazing. Didn’t think about it once, which is shocking,” Walsh Jennings said Tuesday during a stopover on her way home to California. “There’s no pain and I just need to keep getting stronger. I feel very confident we’ll qualify and win.”

She’s teaming up with April Ross in an attempt to win her fourth gold medal. They recently won the Rio Grand Slam in Copacabana, the site of the Olympic venue this summer, before losing to the No. 1 Brazilian team at the Vitoria Open.

“My trainer said, ‘Let’s just take a moment and think about what just happened — 14 days of playing, there were 30-something sets and not one scare,’” she said.

There was reason for concern after Walsh Jennings dislocated her right shoulder twice in two months last summer, had surgery in September and returned to training in January.

“My labrum tore off the bone, the labrum itself didn’t tear,” she said. “So actually, oddly, it made recovery a little easier.”

So how did her shoulder feel after all that volleyball on the beaches of Brazil?

“Awesome. It felt really good, it would get tired, but that’s nothing abnormal,” she said. “I felt really strong. I didn’t want to come back at 80 percent. I didn’t want any setbacks.”

On Sunday, Walsh Jennings and Ross lost to Brazilians Larissa and Talita in what could be a preview of the final in Rio. They’ve been the toughest team so far, beating the Americans twice in the past year and snapping a 13-0 winning streak.

“The more we play them, the better for us,” Walsh Jennings said. “We played them when I was playing left handed [because of her injury]. This last time we were almost at full strength. We were up 16-11 and let that slip away in game one. They played out of their minds, which is what they’re going to have to do to beat us.”

The Americans have played nine Olympic qualifying events and need to compete in 12 before the June deadline. They must be ranked among the top 16 teams in the world and at least the No. 2 U.S. team to qualify for Rio. They’ve already reached that mark and their ranking will only improve after the results in Brazil.

Walsh Jennings last played at the Copacabana in September, three days before her surgery. This time, she had better memories.

“Every visual image, every sensory experience I put it in my pocket so I could take it home with me and create the vision and the masterpiece,” she said. “When we go back in August, we’re just going to be so ready.”

Walsh Jennings also had shoulder surgery several months before her last two Olympics and won gold with partner Misty May-Treanor. She was pregnant with her third child, Scout, while winning gold at the 2012 London Games.

Walsh Jennings said she’s not overly concerned about the outbreak in parts of Brazil of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which can cause birth defects. She said it wasn’t a topic of conversation in Rio.

“I understand it’s a health concern when the World Health Organization is involved and babies are involved,” she said. “I’ll educate myself about all the remedies and preventatives and cover up.”

Next she’ll team with her partner in two Olympic qualifying events in China in April, followed by another in Cincinnati in May. By then, the duo hopes to be one step closer to returning to the sands of Copacabana in August.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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