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April Ross discusses playing without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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NEW YORK — Lauren Fendrick and April Ross had a chilly start to their new partnership.

They placed ninth last week at the FIVB World Tour stop in Moscow, where players wore long sleeves under their bathing suits while playing in snowy conditions.

The partnership heated up this week at the AVP tournament in New York City, winning Sunday as the temperature climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That’s beach volleyball—you have to be ready for crazy weather,” said Ross, who made time to meet with local students who helped raise $162,160 for the Side-Out Foundation to fund critical research and clinical trials in late stage metastatic breast cancer. Ross lost her mother, Margie, to breast cancer in 2001.

Ross decided to partner with Fendrick after splitting with Olympic bronze medal teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings in April. According to Ross, “the final nail in the coffin” for her partnership with Walsh Jennings was when Ross signed an exclusivity agreement with the AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, while Walsh Jennings decided not to.

Ross is still getting used to Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics. In Moscow, Fendrick made a joke on social media about figuring out their high-five routine.

But Ross is already excited about her compatibility on defense with the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, the 2014 and 2016 AVP Best Blocker who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“I think she is one of the best blockers in the world, if not the best blocker in the world,” Ross said. “I love playing behind her. She takes up so much space.”

Whereas Ross utilized two plays on defense with Walsh Jennings, she now rotates between seven different defensive plays with Fendrick.

“Lauren wants to push the boundaries and see what new stuff we can come up with and be more creative on the court,” Ross said. “Kerri is a little more traditional minded.”

Fendrick has been impressed by Ross’ toughness. Ross dislocated her right big toe in Sunday’s semifinal match in a collision that gave Fendrick’s foot a sizable bruise. Up until first serve of the final, Fendrick believed Ross’ injury would force them to withdraw.

“She’s a warrior,” Fendrick said about Ross, who planned on getting an X-ray after the match. “I am lucky to have her by my side.”

Walsh Jennings and new partner Nicole Branagh are set to make their FIVB World Tour season debut beginning June 26 in Porec, Croatia. Ross and Fendrick are also on the entries list.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have not been on opposite sides of the net in an international tournament since 2012, when Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor defeated Ross and Jennifer Kessy for the gold medal at the London Olympics.

“To be honest, for my entire career, I’ve focused on my side of the net,” Ross said. “That’s going to continue to be the case. If we do come up against her, it will be just like any other team out there on the international tour.”

Walsh Jennings congratulated Ross on winning the AVP Austin Open on May 21 with Whitney Pavlik, but they have not talked since.

“We are competitors now,” Ross said. “She is on a different team now, and I’m on a different team.”

Ross, 34, reiterated that she will figure out her long-term partner plans for the 2020 Olympics, as well as the timing of starting a family with husband Brad Keenan, after this season.

Until then, she is focused on the Beach Volleyball World Championships, which start July 28 in Vienna, Austria.

“Other than the Olympics, this is the biggest event beach volleyball has,” said Ross, the 2009 world champion. “It’s definitely the No. 1 priority for me this year.”

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MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings in world champs field with new partner

April Ross wins first tournament since splitting with Kerri Walsh Jennings

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April Ross and Whitney Pavlik defeated Kim Dicello and Emily Stockman 2-1 (14-21, 21-16, 15-11) to win the AVP Austin Open on Sunday. It was the first victory for Ross since splitting with 2016 Olympic bronze medal teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings in April.

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks partner-wise, but Whitney stepped in and did amazing,” said Ross, who served an ace on match point.

Ross had not won a tournament without Walsh Jennings since 2015, when she claimed the AVP Huntington Beach title with Lauren Fendrick.

Ross plans on playing with Fendrick, who partnered with Brooke Sweat at the Rio Olympics, for the rest of the AVP and international season, beginning at the FIVB World Tour event in Moscow in early June. Ross teamed with Pavlik in Austin because Fendrick was playing at the FIVB World Tour event in Rio, where she finished tied for 17th with Lane Carico. Longtime friends Ross and Pavlik placed third earlier this month at the Huntington Beach Open.

Ross told OlympicTalk that “the final nail in the coffin” for her partnership with Walsh Jennings was when Ross signed an exclusivity agreement with the AVP for domestic events leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, while Walsh Jennings decided not to. But Ross made it clear that the split was not a “negative thing,” and Walsh Jennings wrote that she has “so much love in my heart for April” in a Facebook post.

Walsh Jennings is expected to make her international debut with her new partner, who has not been announced, at the FIVB World Tour stop in Croatia the last week of June.

NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air Austin Open coverage Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.

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MORE: April Ross details future after split with Kerri Walsh Jennings

NBC Sports to broadcast every AVP tournament this year

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All eight AVP beach volleyball tournaments this season will air on NBC Sports, beginning in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday.

The AVP is beach volleyball’s domestic U.S. tour headlined by Olympians. They also play on the international FIVB World Tour, which includes the world championships in Vienna in July and August.

Rio Olympians April RossPhil DalhausserNick LucenaJake Gibb and Casey Patterson are among the players signed up for AVP this season.

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MORE: U.S. Olympians open beach season with new partners

DATE EVENT TIME NETWORK
Sunday, May 7 Huntington Beach 5 p.m. NBCSN
Sunday, May 21 Austin 5 p.m. NBCSN
Sunday, June 11 New York 4:30 p.m. NBC
Sunday, June 25 Seattle 6 p.m. NBCSN
Sunday, July 9 San Francisco 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Sunday, July 23 Hermosa Beach 4 p.m. NBCSN
Sunday, August 20 Manhattan Beach 2:30 p.m. NBC
Sunday, September 3 Chicago 12 a.m. NBCSN