Walsh Jennings, Sweat win Jinjiang

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat Win First Gold Medal as Team

Brooke Sweat-Kerri Walsh Jennings-p1440

Photo credit: FIVB

For just more than 1,000 days, the beach volleyball world had been devoid of what it had become so accustomed to for so long: A Kerri Walsh Jennings win. From 2001 through 2016, 55 times had she stood atop an FIVB podium, gold medal in hand. At one point, in 2007 and 2008, 12 of the 13 tournaments in which she played finished in such fashion.

“Man,” she said on Sunday morning in Jinjiang, China, next to her partner, Brooke Sweat, “it’s been so long!”

The wait is now over. Moments before, Walsh Jennings hit a short poke line over Taliqua Clancy, an excellent Australian blocker whom Walsh Jennings will likely see frequently in medal matches moving forward, that fell for the final point in the final match of one heck of an arduous road in China. It was a road that began weeks before the tournament, on an overcast and breezy day in Hermosa Beach. A country quota win over Kelly Reeves and Brittany Howard.

It was a road that took them through a qualifier, then through a tough pool that included Walsh Jennings’ partner in p1440 San Jose, Anouk Verge-Depre, as well as those Aussies in Clancy and Mariafe Artacho. It was a road that included 2016 gold medalist Laura Ludwig, Hague finalists and fellow Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, and one of the most consistently excellent teams in the world in Brazilians Agatha and Duda.

It was a road that fended off one of the most single impressive performances from an individual, as Duda optioned and aced and dug the Brazilians back into it, grinding from a 9-5 deficit in the second set to push it to three, where Walsh Jennings and Sweat would win, 15-13. It was a phenomenal display of beach volleyball, one that would only continue hours later, in the long-awaited gold medal match.

Yes, it had been long, relatively speaking, for Walsh Jennings. But it had been a lifetime in the waiting for Sweat. In spite of a brilliant career, she had never won an FIVB. She had been in two finals, the most recent, prior to Jinjiang, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the beginning of May. Had it not been for a dubious lift call in the second set, it’s possible Sweat’s wait would have been over then.

“Still stings,” Walsh Jennings said of the eventual loss to Czechs Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova, 26-24, 20-22, 12-15, after the country quota win over Reeves and Howard.

It’s funny, what gold medals can do. Though there are no medicinal properties in gold, they seem to salve wounds quite nicely. And so it was, tied 15-15 in the second set, that Walsh Jennings and Sweat do what they do best: They grinded points out. Sweat dug. Walsh Jennings optioned. Sweat dug and transitioned, opening up an 18-15 lead that would provide just enough cushion to finish the 21-17, 21-19 win, Walsh Jennings’ first in nearly three years, Sweat’s first ever.

“It’s my first one so to get it with Kerri in such a great tournament with such great teams, I’m so excited and looking forward to more,” Sweat said.

And, soon, they will get more. They’ll be on the road to Ostrava. Another four-star. Another tough road. Another shot at a medal.

“It feels good to play well as a team,” Walsh Jennings said. “It feels good to improve. It feels good to finish on top. The world is so good at volleyball so you have to be the best on that day to win.”

For Walsh Jennings and Sweat, those days are becoming more frequent. If the world hadn’t taken notice yet, it must now.

“We’re crawling our way up the ranks not just with the world but in the U.S. too,” Sweat said. “We just want to keep going because as we keep getting better and better we’re not going to need to worry about points anymore.”