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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