Walsh Jennings, Sweat win country quota

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat Qualify via Country Quota for Four-Star in China

Kerri Walsh Jennings-Brooke Sweat-p1440

Kerri Walsh Jennings wanted to make it clear that nobody – nobody – enjoys playing country quotas.

“Definitely a tough situation,” agreed her partner, Brooke Sweat.

“Not something we plan on doing long-term,” Walsh Jennings said, laughing.

Yet of the many theories on how to expedite the development of a new partnership, especially one with Olympic aspirations, there is one tried and true solution: competition. A team can practice all it wants, get all the reps Marcio Sicoli and his coaching staff has to give, yet the only way to know how that team will perform, if all those reps are paying off, is to compete with a lot on the line.

And on Monday for a country quota – a qualifier just to get into the qualifier for a four-star FIVB in Xiamen, China later this month – that’s exactly what Sweat and Walsh Jennings were able to do.

They opened against the young, promising team of Brittany Howard and Kelly Reeves, a pair of AVP Rookies of the Year, in 2018 and 2016, respectively. Though Walsh Jennings and Sweat won in two, 21-18, 21-19, it didn’t come without being tested, without a little something that only competition can provide.

With Sweat and Walsh Jennings sitting on a big lead in the second set, Howard served her and Reeves all the way back to being up at the technical timeout.

“It was stressful,” Walsh Jennings said. “Those matches are gnarly whether they happen here at home or the day before the qualifier starts. It was really stressful. Not the prettiest volleyball because it’s nerve wracking, there’s a lot on the line.”

The next would prove to be more stressful than the first. Matched up against one of the hottest teams – if not the hottest team – in the country in Emily Day and Betsi Flint, who won a silver medal at a three-star in Sydney last month, Walsh Jennings and Sweat dropped the first set, 16-21, before rallying to win the final two, 21-16, 15-12.

“We’re figuring each other out,” Walsh Jennings said. “It’s really a lot of fun. We’re trending upward, we’re trending in the direction we want in really every area of the game.”

The results are speaking for themselves. A 17th in their first event together, at p1440 Las Vegas, was followed by a pair of bronze medals, in Mexico and Australia, and a top-10 at The Hague. Now, beginning April 24 for the qualifier in Xiamen followed by a three-star in Malaysia, they’ll have two tournaments to continue that upward trend, two bits of competition to test their mettle as a partnership.

“We’re so excited,” Walsh Jennings said. “It was a big day. We want to go to Tokyo so bad and playing in a four-star in China is huge. We gave ourselves a shot. We just need to compete. New teams need to compete. There’s no substitute for that.”