Reid Priddy

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour

Kerri Walsh Jennings boosts Olympic hopes with best finish in three years

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Kerri Walsh Jennings made her first tournament final since 2016 this week. She likely must reach more in what’s looking like her toughest road to an Olympic beach volleyball berth.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old, triple Olympic champion, and new partner Brooke Sweat took runner-up at a mid-level FIVB World Tour event in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

Accomplished Czechs Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova rallied past the Americans 24-26, 22-20, 15-12. But Walsh Jennings and Sweat still earned enough points to jump to the top of the very early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings.

1. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 2,620 (6 events played)
2. Klineman/Ross – 2,440 (4 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Larsen/Stockman — 1,680 (4 events)
5. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)
5. Hughes/Ross — 1,600 (3 events)

The key is that Walsh Jennings and Sweat have played the most events of the contending teams. The top two pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Each team’s 12 best results go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. Alix Klineman and April Ross are in a stronger current position than Walsh Jennings and Sweat because they’re averaging more points per tournament having played two fewer events.

The Kuala Lumpur field lacked any teams from powerhouse Brazil. Also absent were Ross and Klineman and Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, the two U.S. teams to win top-level events last season.

Kuala Lumpur marked the sixth international event for Walsh Jennings since splitting from 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh and partnering with Sweat last fall.

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 and Branagh had a best 2018 finish of fifth in six FIVB events before splitting. She and Sweat, who partnered with Lauren Fendrick in Rio, have a pair of thirds and now a runner-up in six events together.

Another veteran Olympian, 41-year-old Reid Priddy, had his best career finish by making the Kuala Lumpur final with Theo Brunner. Brazilians Alison and Alvaro Filho swept them 24-22, 21-18.

Priddy switched to the sand after competing in his fourth Olympic indoor tournament in Rio. Priddy and Brunner are one of several U.S. men’s teams jockeying for two potential Olympic berths.

The top U.S. men’s team in this Olympic cycle has clearly been 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who were absent from Kuala Lumpur and have played just two events in the Olympic qualifying window, finishing second in one of them.

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VIDEO: Beach volleyball Olympian surprises her team with baby announcement

U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team named; Reid Priddy sets age record

Reid Priddy
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The U.S. Olympic men’s indoor volleyball team is headlined by Reid Priddy, who at 38 will become the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s indoor player ever, according to sports-reference.com.

Priddy joined the retired Lloy Ball as the only U.S. men’s indoor volleyball players to make four Olympic teams.

“It would be the most significant of them all because of the mountains that had to be climbed,” Priddy said recently, according to Flovolleyball.

Priddy came back from suffering a torn ACL during a match in June 2014, his right knee buckling on a landing from a kill attempt. Priddy fell to the court and writhed, causing a mid-point play stoppage (video here). He got injured again in 2015 and didn’t return in full to the national team until this spring.

Priddy will be joined in Rio by a squad including four-time reigning U.S. Player of the Year Matt Anderson, who goes to his second Olympics after being the youngest member of the London 2012 team that lost in the quarterfinals.

Plus 2014 and 2015 collegiate Players of the Year Taylor Sander and Thomas Jaeschke. Jaeschke, 22, is the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s indoor player since 2000.

Priddy and David Lee are the only returning members from the 2008 Beijing Olympic team that took gold.

The U.S. men were ranked No. 5 in the world as of last October. They were seventh at the 2014 World Championship, took bronze in the 2015 World League and won the 2015 World Cup against a field that did not include world No. 1 Brazil.

MORE: U.S. women’s volleyball team takes risk with peer reviews

2016 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team
Matt Anderson — 2012
Micah Christenson
Max Holt
Tom Jaeschke
David Lee — 2008, 2012
Reid Priddy — 2004, 2008, 2012
Aaron Russell
Taylor Sander
Erik Shoji
Kawika Shoji
David Smith — 2012
Murphy Troy

U.S. men’s volleyball team qualifies for Rio Olympics

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The U.S. men’s volleyball team will compete in its ninth straight Olympics, qualifying for Rio by winning the FIVB World Cup in Japan on Wednesday.

The U.S. went 10-1 in the tournament where the top two nations earned Olympic spots. Italy and 2014 World champion Poland also went 10-1, with the U.S. and Italy bettering Poland via tiebreakers. It marked the U.S.’ first World Cup title since 1985.

Brazil, the U.S. and Italy are the first three nations in the 12-team Olympic tournament. The other nine will be determined via later qualifying events.

The U.S. men earned gold at the 2008 Olympics and were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics (won by Russia) and the 2014 World Championship (won by Poland). Brazil is ranked No. 1 in the world and will of course benefit from home-court advantage in volleyball-mad Rio.

The U.S., ranked No. 5, could feature a roster in Rio that’s very different than four years ago. Stalwarts Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy, both three-time Olympians, face younger competition for roster spots (and Priddy is trying to come back from major injury).

Neither Stanley nor Priddy was on the FIVB World Cup roster of 14 players. The Olympic roster size is 12.

Matt Anderson, 28 and a 2012 Olympian, is the three-time reigning U.S. men’s indoor Player of the Year. Taylor Sander, 23, leads the wave of players eyeing their first Olympics.

The last three U.S. Olympic men’s teams have included zero players younger than 25.

The U.S. women’s volleyball team, the 2014 World champion, will get its next shot at qualifying for Rio at a North American tournament in January.

MORE: Brazil leaves beach volleyball legends off Olympic team