Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ 56th international tournament title was among the most special. It marked her first in nearly three years (her longest drought), and the first ever for her new partner, Brooke Sweat. At 40, she became the oldest woman to win an FIVB World Tour event.
“It’s been so long,” Walsh Jennings said after the Americans doused Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy 21-17, 21-19 in Sunday’s final of a four-star event in Jinjiang, China.
For Walsh Jennings, who has the same number of kids as Olympic golds, and the Rio Olympian Sweat, it means they are closer to, if not in the driver’s seat for one of two U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo. Walsh Jennings is bidding to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history in 2020.
The U.S. Olympic qualifying standings, which will count each pair’s 12 best results together, with still more than a year to go:
1. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,900 (8 events played)
2. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,500 (6 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,240 (5 events)
5. Sponcil/Claes — 2,080 (4 events, have a higher per-event average than Walsh Jennings/Sweat)
6. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
Walsh Jennings and Sweat’s breakthrough win came earlier Sunday, when they dispatched Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-19, 19-21, 15-13 in the semifinals. Agatha and her previous partner, Barbara, handed Walsh Jennings her lone Olympic beach volleyball defeat in the semifinals in Rio. Duda, 20, is a world champion at the U19, U21 and Youth Olympic level.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat announced their partnership Oct. 9, after a tumultuous two years for Walsh Jennings and nearly 15 years after Sweat first saw Walsh Jennings at a Toyota dealership exhibition in her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Walsh Jennings’ 2017 season, after she and Rio Olympic bronze-medal partner April Ross split, ended prematurely with her sixth right shoulder surgery (followed by an ankle surgery). She said before the 2018 season that the 2020 Olympics would be her last, assuming she qualifies.
Walsh Jennings paired with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh. They had a best 2018 finish of fifth in six FIVB World Tour events before splitting.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who went winless in Rio with Lauren Fendrick and then had her second shoulder surgery, have a pair of thirds, a runner-up and now a win in eight events together.
“Looking forward to more,” Sweat, after her first career gold in more than 60 international events, said Sunday.
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