Jennifer Kessy

Lauren Fendrick, Brooke Sweat
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U.S. Olympic beach volleyball teams appear set as silver medalist bows out

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Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat appeared to clinch the last U.S. Olympic beach volleyball spot this week.

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and the men’s pairs of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson previously mathematically clinched berths.

The four Olympic pairs are expected to be officially announced next week.

Fendrick and Sweat mathematically clinched a spot after 2012 Olympic silver medalist Jennifer Kessy and Emily Day were eliminated in pool play at the final Olympic qualifying event in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday.

That combined with the eliminations of other international pairs assured Fendrick and Sweat will finish the Hamburg event in Olympic qualifying position. Fendrick and Sweat were also eliminated from the Hamburg event on Friday but didn’t need to advance any farther for Rio qualifying purposes.

Fendrick and Sweat, who have no Olympic experience, partnered in 2014 and have reached seven quarterfinals in top-level international tournaments, but never a semifinal.

The beginning of Fendrick’s and Sweat’s Olympic careers means the end of Kessy’s, since nations can send no more than two pairs per gender to the Olympics.

Kessy, 38 and a London silver medalist with Ross, returned to the sport in 2015 after a one-year break to have a daughter.

She and Day made the quarterfinals of their first event together last year but only once more did they advance that far in their next 20 top-level international tournaments. Kessy said she plans to retire after this season, according to the International Beach Volleyball Federation.

The average age of Walsh Jennings, Ross, Fendrick, Sweat, Dalhausser, Lucena, Gibb and Patterson is 35, making it the oldest U.S. Olympic beach volleyball contingent of all time. Beach volleyball debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

NBC Olympics producer Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report.

MORE: Walsh Jennings, Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross meet Olympic qualification

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross mathematically qualified for the Rio Olympics with their first serve Wednesday, capping an obstacle-filled year that at one point included doubts about Walsh Jennings’ availability for a fifth Olympic run.

All six U.S. beach volleyball pairs still in Olympic qualifying contention (for four total spots) are entered in the Cincinnati Open this week (results here). The finals will air on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

Walsh Jennings and Ross met the minimum number of tournaments played for Olympic qualifying by competing in Cincinnati.

That also gave them a qualifying point total that only one other U.S. team — Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat — could possibly pass by the June 13 deadline.

And with the U.S. set to send two pairs per gender to the Olympics, that means Walsh Jennings and Ross will go to Rio. The U.S. Olympic beach volleyball teams are expected to be officially named after the June 13 deadline.

Walsh Jennings and Ross’ Olympic qualification was clouded last spring and summer.

Walsh Jennings, a 37-year-old mother of three, dislocated her right shoulder during matches May 27 and July 10 and required a fifth career right shoulder surgery.

Not knowing immediately when she would have surgery — and the uncertainty of how it would impact their Olympic qualifying — Walsh Jennings told Ross to pick a substitute partner “you picture yourself winning a gold medal with” while the three-time Olympic champion was sidelined.

But Walsh Jennings endured through the injury to play three tournaments with Ross in August and September, with minimal right arm use, before surgery. Those results ensured they would meet the minimum number of tournaments after Walsh Jennings returned this season.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have two titles in four FIVB tournaments this year, including semifinal appearances in every event. They are Olympic medal favorites along with Brazilian pairs Larissa and Talita and Agatha and Barbara.

Ross said their coach, Brazil native Marcio Sicoli, has a three-block plan. The second block concluded with qualification Wednesday.

“We don’t know what that consists of, but he’s got a plan,” Ross said, according to USA Volleyball. “The first block was preseason, the second block was qualifying through the tournaments and block three will be after qualification, preparing for and through the Olympics.”

Fendrick and Sweat are likely to qualify for their first Olympic team, unless 2012 Olympic silver medalist Jennifer Kessy and Emily Day perform extremely well in the final three qualifying tournaments.

The picture is similar on the U.S. men’s side. Beijing Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena will likely clinch an Olympic berth once they achieve the minimum tournaments played.

They are two events short with three events remaining, including Cincinnati, where they are entered.

Two-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson hold a comfortable edge over John Hyden and Tri Bourne for the likely No. 2 spot.

MORE: ‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician’ lead Brazil’s climb back to top of beach volleyball

‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician’ lead Brazil’s climb back to top of beach volleyball

Alison, Bruno
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — No other beach volleyball player looks quite like Alison Cerutti.

The bearded Brazilian is 6-foot-8 with muscles that make him look like “a football tight end playing beach volleyball,” as U.S. Olympic silver medalist Jennifer Kessy said. He is simply known as “Mammoth,” and he has a large tattoo of the animal on his side to prove it.

“He is the strongest guy on the [FIVB] World Tour,” said his teammate, Bruno Schmidt.

Bruno, on the other hand, is soft-spoken and one of the shortest players on the FIVB World Tour at 6-foot-1, despite being the nephew of 6-foot-9 Oscar Schmidt, the emotive, five-time Olympic basketball player who holds the Olympic record for career points.

Bruno is known as the “Magician” for his ability to dig balls that seem destined to hit the sand beyond his reach.

Together, the duo has won more FIVB World Tour titles in 2015 than any other pair, and they are the top-seeded team in this week’s FIVB World Tour Finals. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will broadcast the finals live Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

“They are the best team in the world,” Canadian player Chaim Schalk said. “No doubt about it.”

Their strength is defense.

When an opponent rises to spike the ball, Alison meets him at the net. The 2011 FIVB World Tour’s best blocker uses his height and reach to stuff the ball back onto the other side of the court.

But even when Alison does not make direct contact, he often intimidates attackers into lobbing the ball at a slower speed over his outstretched arms, like a tall basketball defender who causes a driving player to change the trajectory of a lay-up.

This gives Bruno, the FIVB World Tour’s best defensive player in 2013 and 2014, more time to adjust and dig the attack. Not that he needs a lot of time.

Phil Dalhausser, a 2008 U.S. Olympic champion and the World Tour’s reigning best blocker, best setter and most outstanding player, called Bruno the world’s best defender, by far.

“He’s explosive,” Dalhausser said. “After two steps, he is at full speed.”

Alison, 29, and Bruno, 28, played together in their island hometown of Vitoria in their early 20s but had teamed with separate partners at the international level since 2008. They rejoined in spring 2014 after Alison returned home to be closer to his sick father and reached out to Bruno.

Chemistry came quickly.

They won every international tournament they entered this July and August, including the World Championship. They became the first pair since 1999 to win five straight international events.

The “Mammoth” and the “Magician” clinched their Olympic berth this summer and will likely be favorites on home sand at Copacabana Beach at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

But there will be pressure.

Volleyball, beach or indoor, is arguably the most popular sport in Brazil save soccer. A Brazil pair hasn’t won an Olympic title since Athens 2004. Teams lost in the 2008 and 2012 finals, including Alison with the legendary Emanuel in 2012.

“They expect us to win every single tournament,” said Bruno, who with Alison lost to Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in World Tour Finals group play Wednesday but are still expected to advance to the weekend’s elimination rounds.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross forge ahead after notable phone conversation