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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

U.S. beach volleyball stars painfully exit in season’s first Grand Slam

Sean Rosenthal, Phil Dalhausser
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U.S. Olympic beach volleyball champions Kerri Walsh Jennings and Phil Dalhausser suffered injuries in the biggest tournament of the season to date last week, less than a month before the World Championships.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time gold medalist and 36-year-old mother of three, injured her right shoulder in pool play at the Moscow Grand Slam on Wednesday and flew home before the elimination rounds.

Her partner, 2012 Olympic silver medalist April Ross, said the pair hopes to return to competition at an FIVB World Tour event in Stavanger, Norway, next week, two weeks before Worlds in the Netherlands.

After the top U.S. pair’s exit, top Brazilian pair Larissa and Talita went on to take the title in Moscow while dropping one set in seven matches. Larissa and Talita and Walsh Jennings and Ross both won four FIVB World Tour events last season, twice as many as any other pair.

Larissa and Talita, who first partnered during the 2014 season, beat Walsh Jennings and Ross in their only meeting, a one-set exhibition in Rio de Janeiro in February.

On the men’s side, 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser said he tore his left oblique a little bit during the first set of his last pool-play match in Moscow. Dalhausser said he probably made the injury worse by playing through it with partner and two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and underwent an MRI, according to an FIVB press release.

Rosenthal said he would play with a different partner this week and next week in Europe, while Dalhausser, 35, said on Twitter he would go home for a few weeks.

Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira were the surprise champions in Moscow, the first Spanish pair to prevail in an FIVB World Tour event since 2008. They lost in the round of 16 at the 2012 Olympics and the quarterfinals of the 2013 World Championships.

Also of note, Brazilian legends Ricardo and Emanuel were eliminated in the quarterfinals in Moscow. Emanuel, 42, and Ricardo, 40, earned medals at each of the last four Olympics, together or separately.

A nation may enter no more than two men’s and two women’s pairs in an Olympic beach volleyball tournament. Two other Brazilian pairs advanced further than Ricardo and Emanuel in Moscow, a tournament whose results play into Brazil’s Olympic qualification system.

The men’s elite international field is widespread. Pairs from 10 different nations won tournaments in 2014, and the first three winners of 2015 were from three different nations.

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