TORONTO – Kerri Walsh Jennings paused when asked about her plans for the 2017 beach volleyball season.
“For the first time in my career,” she said, “there are so many unknowns.”
Walsh Jennings won three Olympic gold medals with longtime partner Misty May-Treanor. When May Treanor was set to retire after the 2012 Olympics, Walsh Jennings wasted no time finding a new partner, approaching silver medalist April Ross at the net after the gold-medal match and telling her, “Let’s go win gold in Rio.”
Now Walsh Jennings, who won a bronze medal with Ross in Rio, heads into the offseason needing a partner for the 2017 season, with Ross planning on starting a family.
Walsh Jennings has “no idea” who she will play with next season. She is familiar with some of the top young players from the AVP Tour, but plans on doing more research this offseason. She hopes to get input from Ross.
Once Walsh Jennings identifies a couple of potential partners, she would like to host them for training sessions to see how they mesh. She does not have a definitive timeline, but she would like to have a partner in place for the start of the international beach volleyball season, which is expected to begin in early February.
“I don’t want to be hasty and just find an answer to have an answer,” Walsh Jennings said last week in an interview at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Finals in Toronto. “I want to do it right and take some time.”
Walsh Jennings, 38 and the mother of three, does not plan on having any more children. But she has encouraged Ross to start a family of her own.
“Having kids made me appreciate my job, my body and myself a lot more,” Walsh Jennings said.
Ross, 34, is married to Brad Keenan, a former beach volleyball player who is now the head coach of the Arizona State University beach volleyball team. Ross is hoping to get pregnant this offseason, but if not, she would play the 2017 season and try again next offseason.
“I don’t want to have to miss two seasons ideally,” she said.
Ross has asked Walsh Jennings many questions about returning to the sand after giving birth.
“She gives me a lot of confidence,” Ross said. “I tell her all the time, ‘I’m not going to be like you. You’re crazy, it was so easy for you.’ She said, ‘No, you’re going to be fine. It’s going to be easier than you think it is.’”
Walsh Jennings has not committed to trying to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She plans on evaluating how she feels at the end of each year.
“The way I work, I would like to know right now,” she said. “But that’s not the reality of the situation.”
Even if Walsh Jennings does try to compete at her sixth Olympics, there is no guarantee that she would reunite with Ross.
“If I keep playing and go to the next Olympics, there is nobody I’d rather play with,” Walsh Jennings said. “But there are no assumptions there. We would have to talk about it and figure it out.”
Walsh Jennings was in a similar situation prior to the 2011 season. After May-Treanor decided in 2010 that she would take the next year off, Walsh Jennings partnered with Nicole Branagh. But when May-Treanor had a change of heart, Walsh Jennings had a friendly split with Branagh and teamed up with May-Treanor again.
But Ross understands that she could be replaced if Walsh Jennings develops chemistry with her new partner.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s no part of me that doesn’t worry about it,” Ross said. “If at the end of the day that’s what happens, that’s what happens, and I’ll be OK with that. “
The 2016 season came to an end for Ross and Walsh Jennings last Friday when they lost to Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany in three sets in Toronto. Afterwards, they did their post-match interviews arm in arm.
When the pair was asked about their partnership, Walsh Jennings appeared to be holding back tears, and Ross stepped up to answer the question.
“We’re not done yet,” Ross said. “We’ll be back.”Follow @srubinroit