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Walsh Jennings, Sweat in Qualifier

Walsh Jennings, Sweat Set to Take on Four-Star Qualifier in Xiamen

Kerri Walsh Jennings

If, two weeks ago, you’d have asked Kerri Walsh Jennings how she’d like to spend her Easter Monday, she’d have given, to most, an unusual answer: She’d like to be thousands of miles away, in Xiamen, China.

To be clear, Walsh Jennings would also have loved to be home. Such is the difficult dynamic of being a professional athlete in a globalized sport. But the fact that she’s currently in Xiamen, on a two-week Asia swing, means that she took care of business on April 8, when her and Brooke Sweat had to battle through a country quota just to get into the four-star FIVB this week.

“We qualified to qualify,” she said after her and Sweat beat Kelly Reeves and Brittany Howard and then Betsi Flint and Emily Day. “We gave ourselves a shot to enter the tournament.”

At the time of this writing, Walsh Jennings and Sweat are the fifth seed in a stacked qualifier, which also includes the torrid Brazilian team of Ana Patricia Silva and Rebecca Cavalcanti, Spain’s Liliana Fernandez and Elsa Baquerizo, Germany’s Cinja Tillmann and Kim Behrens, the Netherlands’ Jolien Sinnema and Laura Bloem and, among notable others, Sydney three-star champs Becchara Palmer and Nicole Laird.

If everything remains as it is, Walsh Jennings and Sweat will play China’s Li Jiang and Huimin Zhao. With a win, they would see the winner of Brazil’s Taiana Lima and Talita Da Rocha Antunes for a main draw berth.

It’s not easy, no. But this is exactly what Walsh Jennings says a new team – as her and Sweat are – needs: competition.

“There’s no substitute for that,” she said. So she’s in China this week, and Malaysia the next, for a three-star in which they should safely be main draw. No country quota. No qualifier. No qualifying to qualify.

“It’s going to be just gangbusters starting mid-May,” she said. “The plan is to play all the four and five stars and do all the country quotas that we have to do. Hopefully that’ll be temporary. That’s the plan.”

Along with Walsh Jennings and Sweat, American fans will be treated to the season debuts of April Ross and Alix Klineman, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, and Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman. Also making the trip to China is Canada’s top team of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, who finished the 2018 season with three golds and a silver.