Brooke Sweat

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat eliminated from beach volleyball worlds

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat were eliminated from the world beach volleyball championships in the round of 32 on Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany, hurting their chances of qualifying next June for the Tokyo Olympics.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and her new partner, Rio Olympian Sweat, were swept by formidable Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-18, 21-16 on the first day of elimination rounds.

It’s Walsh Jennings’ worst result in seven career world championships. They went 1-2 in pool play, the lone win a 21-2, 21-2 rout of an inexperienced team from Mauritius.

Walsh Jennings said it was the worst that she and Sweat have played since pairing in October.

“This is the most disappointing event I’ve ever had, and I think Brooke would probably feel the same,” Walsh Jennings told media in Hamburg in audio provided by NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit. “This is a horrific thing to say, but it’s almost a relief it’s over.”

Walsh Jennings and Sweat and Agatha and Duda split matches at the Americans’ last two international events in May and June.

Agatha and former partner Barbara handed Walsh Jennings her only Olympic beach defeat in the Rio semifinals, when Walsh Jennings played with April Ross.

The world championships carry the most points of any tournament in the two-year Olympic qualifying window.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat came to worlds ranked second among Americans in average points, behind Ross and Alix Klineman, and gained no ground in Hamburg.

Both Klineman and Ross and the other top U.S. pair, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross (no relation), won Wednesday matches to reach the round of 16.

The top two U.S. teams in qualifying points come next June are in line to go to Tokyo.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three, is in line to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, should she and Sweat hold off younger U.S. pairs over the next year.

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MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat author biggest blowout in world champs history

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat broke the record for largest margin of victory at a beach volleyball world championships, drubbing a pair from Mauritius 21-2, 21-2 in pool play on Sunday in Hamburg, Germany.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost Friday’s opener to a Dutch duo, took out the second-lowest-ranked pair in the 48-team field in 21 minutes.

“It’s an honor for us – not to lose 21-2, 21-2 – but to play Kerri, Brooke, [and Australians Mariafe] Artacho and [Taliqua] Clancy and the world-class, big professionals of the sport,” Mauritius’ Maita Cousin said, according to event organizers. “I am an admin manager and work in an office all day and go to training for two hours after. It’s a hobby for me, and I’m excited to be here at this big event and share the experience.”

Routs aren’t that unusual at the world championships because the field is twice the size of the Olympics, which brings more universality.

Walsh Jennings had never won a match by such a margin in nearly two decades and 250 pro tournaments, though she has played one 20-minute match, according to BVBInfo.com.

“They showed up and made us work,” Walsh Jennings, who is a mom like Cousin, said, according to the FIVB. “We had to scramble a few times but I love mothers – or anyone – who is chasing a dream. They showed courage.

“I don’t think they will look at the scoreline, but they should be proud.”

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who paired last fall and are in the mix halfway through Olympic qualifying, play their last pool match Monday against the Aussies.

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat reach beach volleyball worlds via the minors

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings‘ dedication to beach volleyball is being tested in her sixth and final Olympic cycle like never before. She and new partner Brooke Sweat have flown across continents with no guarantee that they’ll be in tournament main draws or receive full travel stipends.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who announced their partnership in October, became familiar with the term “country quota” en route to the world championships that began Friday in Germany (TV schedule here).

Country quota is “the bane of all U.S. and Brazilian players,” NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong said.

Top international events cap the number of teams per country, usually at three. If more than three pairs want to play, the lowest-ranked aspirants face an international qualifier, which also has a cap per nation. If that’s not enough to accommodate everybody, an even earlier qualifier is held just for teams from that nation — the country quota.

Since it usually happens at an event site days before the main draw, the venue is often still being set up. Crowds are scant: Sometimes just people associated with the two playing teams, and maybe some crew workers setting up for later in the week.

“It’s almost like you’re playing in the minor leagues,” NBC Sports analyst Dain Blanton said. “The match means a lot, but there’s not a lot of fanfare or hype around it. It’s interesting seeing maybe the most decorated female athlete of all time in the sport have to go through it.”

It mostly applies to the U.S. and Brazil, the sport’s longtime world powers with several relevant teams looking to play the tour’s elite events.

Walsh Jennings can’t remember ever playing country quota with Misty May-Treanor, with whom she won three Olympic gold medals, because they were always ranked so high. Nor with April Ross, her 2016 Olympic bronze-medal partner. Sweat, a Rio Olympian with former partner Lauren Fendrick, said she hadn’t played country quota since 2012.

But Walsh Jennings and Sweat were each low on individual ranking points from the start of their partnership. Both missed time since Rio with shoulder surgeries and multiple partner changes. When they teamed up, their combined points weren’t enough to ensure spots in main draws.

So they traveled early for tournaments in Brazil and the Czech Republic this spring to face other U.S. teams for the right to enter qualifiers. Walsh Jennings and Sweat won four matches in Ostrava, Czech Republic, last month just to reach the tournament’s main draw.

They played 11 matches total in Ostrava, finishing third overall. It marked the only time Walsh Jennings played double-digit matches at one event in more than 250 career tournaments dating to 2001, according to BVBinfo.com. Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three, is bidding to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history.

“We looked at it as a gift, an opportunity to get better under the gun,” Walsh Jennings said Saturday by phone from Huntington Beach, where she held a volleyball clinic for about 30 girls from Starlings Volleyball USA and surprised the club with a donation through the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation. “I would never want to be handed everything freely.”

Walsh Jennings said that any time she considered complaining about their situation, she thought of her husband. Casey Jennings played from 1999 through 2018, including more than 20 country quota matches with five different partners, according to BVBInfo.

“It made him really gnarly,” she said.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat’s country quota days may be over. They worked their way back toward the top of U.S. beach volleyball, reaching the semifinals of three of their last four events. In China, Walsh Jennings notched her first tournament win in nearly three years, and Sweat got the first international title of her career.

They still needed a wild card to get into the world championships, given the automatic entries were based on world rankings from nearly two months ago (and there is no country quota for worlds).

Four U.S. teams were ranked higher back then, led by Ross and Alix Klineman. But now Walsh Jennings and Sweat are second in the most important ranking, the one that will be used to determine the Olympic field in a year. That list will fluctuate the next few weeks with worlds and major events in Europe.

“We can beat anyone in the world when we’re playing our game,” Sweat said. “We’re definitely one of the top teams in the world.”

All those extra matches led to Walsh Jennings and Sweat withdrawing before their last pre-worlds event in Poland. Walsh Jennings said they needed “body maintenance.” Sweat called it precautionary before wearing several strips of black tape on the back of her neck in Friday’s opener of pool play.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat lost to a Dutch pair 21-15, 19-21, 15-9. They could still play nine matches in nine days, if they reach the medal round. They’re certainly prepared for it.

“We feel like we got through the hardest part of the season,” Walsh Jennings said last week.

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