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USA’s Walsh & Jennings make World Tour history
While the storybook ending didn’t quite happen, Casey Jennings and his wife Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States still made international history last Sunday. They became the first married couple to play in their respective gold medal matches in the 27-year history of the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in the same tournament when they both made the finals in Brazil at the FIVB São Paulo Grand Slam.
In the men’s gold medal match, USA’s Jennings and Phil Dalhausser, playing for their first time as a team, lost in three rugged sets to Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Pedro Salgado, earning the silver medal 2-1 (21-23, 21-19, 13-15) in 67 minutes. In the final match of the tournament, Walsh Jennings and April Ross, playing in just their second FIVB event as a team, won the gold medal in three equally-exciting and dramatic sets over Germany’s Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst 2-1 (19-21, 31-29, 15-12) in 65 minutes. Almost as if written in some mythological script in the sand, both matches were the longest of the entire tournament in their respective genders.
“We have actually done it (win the gold medal in the same tournament) three times in domestic tournaments in the United States, but it was really, really special to at least be in the gold medal match at the same event on the FIVB World Tour, especially when you consider Casey and I are both playing with new partners,” commented Kerri, the legendary beach volleyball player who won three consecutive Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008, 2012) with now-retired Misty May Treanor. “April and I were in just our second FIVB tournament as I have been at home with Scout (daughter born in April) and Casey was a substitute who wasn’t even coming down to São Paulo at all if Sean Rosenthal (Dalhausser’s teammate this season) hadn’t withdrawn with an injury the Saturday before the tournament started.”
Elaborating on what happened, Kerri said, “I think watching Casey so intently during the semifinals and his gold medal match might have even helped me relax more before April and I went to war with Laura and Kira. It was a friendly war, but we played a long time and I didn’t get near as worn out as I could have if I was all tensed up before our match. The way I see it, this might not have been the exact fairy tale ending, but it was an amazing dream come true to both in the gold medal matches of an FIVB World Tour event. It’s remarkable and I will never forget it.”
Casey Jennings, 38, who is between partners on the FIVB World Tour at present, was equally enthused after his week in Brazil, saying, “Somebody should pinch me because I still find it hard to believe what happened to me this past week in Brazil. I was mentally prepared to watch Kerri on live streaming on the internet and then I ended up going to São Paulo. I am honoured to be able to play with one of our sport’s greatest players in Phil Dalhausser. I just don’t want the bubble to burst, but it would have been a little sweeter had Kerri and I both won gold in Brazil. It’s still remarkable that we will always be remembered as the first couple to be in the finals in the same FIVB World Tour event.”
For Kerri Walsh Jennings, 35, who grew up in San Jose, California, and has one older brother and two younger sisters, she earned her 45th career FIVB gold medal last Sunday to go along with 67 additional gold medals she has won in domestic competition in the United States, since she began her beach career after two years as a member of the United States National Team (1999-2000). Walsh Jennings graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Arts in American States. At Stanford, she became only the second player in NCAA history to receive first team All-America honours in all four seasons (1996-1999).
Always gregarious and outgoing, she is commonly referred to as ‘Six-feet of Sunshine” who still hasn’t learned how to say ‘not now’ to an autograph seeker. Winning over $1 million each on both the FIVB World Tour and in U.S. domestic events, she has received numerous honours on the FIVB sand. In voting among her peers, Kerri has six times been voted the FIVB Best Blocker, five times the FIVB Sportsperson of the year, four times the FIVB Best Hitter and the last two years she has been selected as the FIVB Most Inspirational player.
Casey Jennings, who grew up in Las Vegas, graduated from Brigham Young University in 2000 with a degree in Sociology and is the youngest of five brothers. He played volleyball at BYU and was a key member of the Cougars’ 1999 NCAA Championship team. In his beach career, Casey has earned one career FIVB gold medal (2010 with Kevin Wong), eight domestic tour gold medals, and one gold on the NORCECA tour. Casey has earned over $600,000 in his career.
For the record, Casey and Kerri have won the gold medal in the same domestic tour event three times, most recently this summer at the legendary Manhattan Beach Open in Southern California where Casey reunited with former long-time teammate Matt Fuerbringer to etch their names in history while Kerri won Manhattan gold for the sixth time in her career and the first time with Whitney Pavlik, who had two previous gold medals in Manhattan with Jenny Kropp. Casey and Kerri also won gold in the same tournament in 2006 (Seaside Heights, N.J.) and 2007 (San Francisco).
One other American couple, Mike and Patty Dodd, were the first couple to win on the same weekend and they did it four times in U.S. domestic events.
Casey and Kerri make their home in Hermosa Beach, California. The two were married on Dec. 4, 2005. The have two boys, Joey, born in May 2009, and Sundance, born in May 2010, and one daughter, Scout, born in April of this year. Amazingly, Kerri was actually pregnant during both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics when she won her second and third gold medals.
The 2013 FIVB World Tour Grand Slams finishes its schedule next week in Xiamen, China (October 22 to 27). While the FIVB World Tour will be done, there will be one double-gender FIVB Open event in Durban, South Africa (Dec. 11-15) as well as a women’s only FIVB Open event in Phuket, Thailand (Oct. 29-Nov. 3).
And while Kerri Walsh Jennings knows she will be teamed with April Ross (silver medallist with Jennifer Kessy in London), Casey Jennings will still be playing the pinch-hitter as he continues, as the affable American says, “to have the time of my life.”
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS
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FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS