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Walsh Jennings, Sweat advance

FIVB Xiamen: Walsh Jennings, Sweat Move on to Play Sara Hughes, Summer Ross

Kerri Walsh Jennings-Brooke Sweat-p1440

Sixteen years ago, Sara Hughes would spend her day, between practice and playing and pepper and playing, sitting on the wall at Huntington Beach. She’d plop down and watch Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May Treanor preparing for another Olympics, another run at the top of the world.

It’s more than a decade later. Hughes is no longer sitting on the wall at Huntington Beach — though her days are still spent practicing and playing and peppering and playing — but Walsh Jennings is still preparing for another Olympics, another run at the top of the world.

Now, Hughes, one of the most talented of her generation, is making that same push, against the greatest the sport has seen.

Fate has aligned itself just so in Xiamen. Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, after dropping their second pool play match, recovered with a win over the young German team of Cinja Tillmann and Kim Behrens. Hughes and partner Summer Ross, meanwhile, have made an excellent season debut thus far, sweeping Italians Viktoria Orsi Toth and Marta Menegatti before rallying to beat China’s Fan Wang and Xinyi Xia, 17-21, 26-24, 15-12.

The two wins awarded Hughes and Ross a bye, and, now, a match against the same blocker Hughes would watch from the wall in Huntington Beach so many years ago.

It’s not the first time Hughes and Walsh Jennings have played against one another. Meeting No. 1 came in 2016, in the semifinals of AVP Chicago. They’ve matched up six times since, with Walsh winning five of the seven matches.

It’s a fun dynamic to watch, a good storyline to follow, akin to the young generation of golfers competing against Tiger Woods. And, just as how Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are no longer too awestruck to legitimately compete against Woods, Hughes and Ross are vying for the same Olympic spot Walsh Jennings and Sweat are.

Also vying for that same Olympic spot are April Ross and Alix Klineman, whose consecutive wins over a pair of German teams have landed them in a position to play Brazil’s Agatha and Duda in the second round of elimination.

Kelley Larsen’s and Emily Stockman’s tournament came to an end in the first round, knocked out by Austria in three, 17-21, 21-17, 15-12.

The only Americans remaining on the men’s side are Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb, who beat Latvians Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, 22-20, 21-17. They’ll play Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira in the second round.