THE 2013 SANTA BARBARA OPEN was Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross’ first AVP tournament together and they won it without dropping a set. Since that day more than a year ago, the duo has won all but one domestic tournament they’ve competed in, including all seven AVP events in the 2014 season, and their 2014 international record at press time included three grand slam victories and one open title. In the partnership of Walsh Jennings and Ross, we’ve got a team poised to break records and keep Team USA at the top of the beach volleyball ranking as Rio 2016 quickly approaches.

Nipping at the heels of the dynamic duo were Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick who established themselves early on as the clear No. 2 seed on the domestic women’s scene, making the final in each of the first five AVP events this year. However, a nagging back injury impeded Sweat’s performance in Salt Lake City, forced a forfeit in Manhattan Beach, and plagued her in Cincinnati as well. Ultimately, she and Fendrick chose to sit out the Atlantic City event before returning to play in Huntington Beach where they took third.

One of the only women’s teams competing in their second season together, Emily Day and Summer Ross, who won the 2013 Cincinnati Open, caught a break in Atlantic City thanks to the absence of Sweat and Fendrick, finally landing a spot in the bracket opposite April Ross and Walsh Jennings. The young duo had lost to the No. 1 team in the semifinals in St. Petersburg, Salt Lake City, and Manhattan Beach, but in Atlantic City, they saw them instead in the final, a match which Summer Ross and Day lost 21-19, 21-12.

Outside of these top three teams, the women’s partnerships have been fluid, especially following Jen Fopma’s season-ending injury before the Salt Lake City event that put defensive dynamo Whitney Pavlik back on the market and caused a ripple effect through the ranks. Pavlik chose to hook up with Heather Hughes who last year competed with Lane Carico and started the 2014 season partnered with Kaitlin Nielsen. The duo experienced mixed success, taking third in Salt Lake, ninth in Manhattan Beach, 13th in Cincinnati, and fifth in Atlantic City before breaking through to the final in Huntington Beach. The 22-20, 21-17 loss to Walsh Jennings and Ross in that match marked the closest game the No. 1 seed had played all tournament, and Ross credited the two athletes following the match. “They played so well,” she said. “Best defense I’ve seen in a really long time.” The second-place finish marked a career best for Hughes.


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