April Ross
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April Ross details future after split with Kerri Walsh Jennings

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April Ross said her decision to sign with the AVP last week, and Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ decision not to, was “the final nail in the coffin” for their partnership.

Walsh Jennings announced Thursday that she and Ross split up, nine months after they earned bronze at the Rio Olympics.

“It’s not like a negative thing, and I don’t think [Walsh Jennings] views it as a negative thing,” Ross said. “So I think we’re both excited for the future in our different ways.”

Walsh Jennings made her admiration for Ross clear in a Facebook post later Saturday night.

“I have so much love in my heart for April,” was posted on the three-time Olympic champion’s page. “We fall on different sides of this situation, but that does not change my high opinion of her nor can it change the amazing times we shared together. April has made my life better. Period. … April is on the top of my list of beautiful blessings in my life.”

The pair’s split became official nine days ago, Ross said in a phone interview Saturday following a match at the AVP season-opening Huntington Beach (Calif.) Open. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Huntington Beach Open coverage Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.

Before they split, Ross said she and Walsh Jennings discussed and considered for a while keeping their partnership for FIVB World Tour events. Under that plan, Ross would play with a different partner in AVP tournaments.

Walsh Jennings refused to sign an exclusivity agreement with AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

“Things got a little bit hairy at the end, and me deciding to play AVP just ended up being the nail in the coffin for us,” Ross said. “Our paths just took us in two very different directions. It was pretty clear towards the end that we weren’t going to play together, and a lot of it stemmed I think from me being so pro-AVP and wanting to support this tour and her having other ideas.”

Ross is playing with longtime friend Whitney Pavlik in Huntington Beach. She plans to play the rest of her AVP and international events this season with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics.

“The timing [of splitting with Walsh Jennings] was a little rough because it was right before the season, but I’m really excited for the opportunities this summer with Lauren,” Ross said. “I feel like this is just the next step for me on my journey to being the best I can be and for growth. I just feel like the future is exciting for me.”

Ross said she and Fendrick will debut at the FIVB World Tour’s stop in Moscow in early June. Walsh Jennings said she will next play with a to-be-determined partner in an event in Porec, Croatia, in late June, according to volleyballmag.com.

The world championships are in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season. Ross, 34, has said she hopes to start a family with husband Brad Keenan, and that could still be in the cards.

While Walsh Jennings’ differences with the AVP have been reported (and some detailed in a lawsuit), Ross said it was a “no-brainer” to sign her AVP contract.

“Just being here this weekend completely validated that thought,” she said. “No. 1, it has the sentimental value. I grew up watching the AVP. Even when I hated to play beach volleyball, I loved coming to AVPs to watch. The AVP is just where I cut my teeth. AVP has always been really great to me and treated me really well. It’s an established brand, and they’re growing, and they’re doing really good things.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross last played on opposite sides of the net internationally at the 2012 Olympic final between Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor and Ross and Jennifer Kessy.

Walsh Jennings, after winning her third straight gold medal, told Ross at the net, “Let’s go win gold in Rio,” both knowing May-Treanor was retiring.

Walsh Jennings and Ross debuted in July 2013 and played together for most of the Rio Olympic cycle. They won 11 of their 32 international tournaments.

They almost didn’t qualify for Rio. Walsh Jennings twice dislocated her then-four-times surgically repaired right shoulder in 2015 and even suggested Ross might want to find a new partner.

Ross chose to stick with Walsh Jennings, who underwent a fifth right shoulder surgery in September 2015 and returned to go into the Rio Games as a medal favorite with Ross.

“I’ll look back on it fondly,” Ross said of their four years together. “It was a period of a lot of growth for me. … I loved our journey through the Olympics, and I’m so proud of what we did there. I have good feelings about the last four years.”

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MORE: AVP season broadcast schedule on NBC Sports

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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