Kerri Walsh Jennings, Nicole Branagh end beach volleyball partnership

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh ended the longest-standing partnership at the top level of U.S. women’s beach volleyball after a little more than one year.

“Nicole and I have decided to end our beach volleyball partnership,” Walsh Jennings said, via her agent. “We had a really wonderful year plus together, and yet our finishes and our trajectory were unsatisfactory. We are both excited to figure out next steps with regard to our next partnerships. I know we both have big plans and dreams for ourselves in the sport and so the journeying will continue!”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, has not announced a new partner with the lengthy Olympic qualifying window starting in September.

The pair withdrew from next week’s FIVB World Tour event in Vienna, Austria. Branagh is still entered in this week’s AVP event in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Walsh no longer plays AVP after a contract dispute.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-olds with a combined five children, were bidding to together become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball players in history in Tokyo.

They partnered last year after Walsh Jennings and April Ross split less than a year after their bronze in Rio as Ross signed her AVP contract. Branagh was not Walsh Jennings’ first choice. The three-time gold medalist with the now-retired Misty May-Treanor appealed to the younger Sara Hughes, who declined.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh never found consistency in competition, in part because Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery).

In 10 FIVB tournaments together, their best finish was fourth, and they had just one other quarterfinal appearance.

Every other top-level U.S. beach volleyball player changed partners since Walsh Jennings and Branagh teamed up. Ross is now with Alix Klineman. The U.S. can qualify no more than two pairs for the Tokyo Games in two years.

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