Kerri Walsh Jennings
FIVB World Tour

Kerri Walsh Jennings pleased by result after longest break in five years

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Kerri Walsh Jennings returned from her longest competition break since 2013 and, with partner Nicole Branagh, nearly beat the world’s top-ranked team.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh ultimately were eliminated in the round of 16 at the Xiamen Open in China.

“We WILL do better,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ social media. “We actually had a great showing and learned and battled and improved – sometimes the stats don’t show everything.”

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-old moms, played together for the first time since July 22, when Walsh Jennings’ five-times surgically repaired right shoulder popped out mid-match.

Walsh Jennings, eyeing her sixth and final Olympics in 2020, underwent a sixth shoulder surgery and an ankle surgery and did not return to training on the beach until March (her longest break between hitting a ball on sand since switching from indoor following the 2000 Olympics).

The duo won their opening Xiamen match in three sets last week, then lost a three-setter to the world’s No. 1 team in group play. Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes prevailed 21-15, 22-24, 18-16 en route to the tournament title.

After Walsh Jennings and Branagh swept American qualifiers Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in the first elimination round, they squandered a one-set lead in the round of 16. Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy eliminated them 19-21, 21-16, 20-18.

Walsh Jennings said before flying to Xiamen that she and Branagh would next play on the FIVB World Tour at the Itapema Open in Brazil in mid-May. In four FIVB World Tour events since partnering last year, they were eliminated in qualifying once, bounced in the round of 16 twice and forfeited a bronze-medal match due to that shoulder dislocation.

Early season partner changes defined the U.S. women’s landscape. In Xiamen, one of those new teams, Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar, reached the final, losing to the Canadians.

It marked the first final four appearance on the senior FIVB World Tour for the 22-year-old Claes, an NCAA champion at USC with former partner Sara Hughes, and for the 36-year-old Hochevar, the older sister of former Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar.

MORE: Walsh Jennings documents comeback from surgeries

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Misty May-Treanor not ruling out competing again after AVP Championships

Misty May-Treanor
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Misty May-Treanor came out of a three-year competitive retirement to play domestic AVP tournaments as a favor to a friend seeking a partner each of the last two months, and she might not be done.

The three-time Olympic beach volleyball champion, who had a baby and eclipsed 38 years old in her break since London 2012, lost in the semifinals with Brittany Hochevar at the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday.

She was asked in an on-court interview after the loss in the season-ending AVP tournament if she would play again.

“We’ll see,” said May-Treanor, who also made the semifinals with Hochevar at the AVP Seattle Open in August. “I’ve got to get in shape.”

May-Treanor is not believed to harbor dreams of making the Rio 2016 Olympics, which would be her fifth Games.

Qualification requires playing in international tournaments, which May-Treanor has not signed up for as she keeps her return to competition domestic and low-key.

Even if May-Treanor began playing international tournaments this month, there might not be enough of them for her to enter to reach the minimum of 12 events before the Olympic qualification deadline in June.

May-Treanor would not be the first U.S. Olympic beach volleyball star to play domestically long after the end of an Olympic career.

Karch Kiraly, who won Olympic indoor gold in 1984 and 1988 and beach gold in his last Games appearance in 1996, played on the AVP tour into 2007.

Holly McPeak, arguably the greatest women’s player of all time outside May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, played on the AVP tour into 2009. McPeak won bronze at the Athens 2004 Olympics but did not make an effort to play enough internationally to qualify for Beijing 2008.

Todd Rogers, who is 41 and won 2008 Olympic gold, continued to compete this season domestically and, sporadically, internationally but has said the Rio Olympics weren’t his target.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Kerri Walsh Jennings out until March

Misty May-Treanor to play at AVP Championships

Misty May-Treanor
AP
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Misty May-Treanor will play more AVP tournaments than Kerri Walsh Jennings this year.

The three-time Olympic beach volleyball champion May-Treanor, who retired after her last gold at the London 2012 Games, is entered in her second domestic tournament in as many months at the AVP Championships in Huntington Beach, Calif., this week (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra coverage of finals Sunday, 3-4:30 p.m. ET).

May-Treanor, 38, is partnered with Brittany Hochevar, the same woman she teamed with to reach the Seattle Open semifinals in August in her first tournament in three years.

The full fields are here.

May-Treanor said her initial return to competition in August should not be labeled a comeback. Rather, she was helping her friend Hochevar, who needed a partner for the event. May-Treanor’s agent said this week’s return is along the same lines.

Walsh Jennings played one AVP tournament this season due to her shoulder injuries, cutting it short following last week’s Rio Open on the FIVB World Tour.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Walsh Jennings out until March