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LONDON — The U.S. beach volleyball team of April Ross and Jennifer Kessy shocked top-ranked Brazil in the Olympic semifinals 2-1 (15-21, 21-19, 15-12) on a rain-soaked Tuesday night to earn the chance to play for gold.
But Wednesday night's match will offer them another golden opportunity: To finally escape the shadow of two-time gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, their opponents in the London Olympic final at Horse Guards Parade.
[Photos: Beach volleyball's dress code]
"It's not just 'the other U.S. team' anymore," Kessy said after the win.
"Not after that. No way. If anyone saw that game and said, 'Who's that other U.S. team?' then they didn't watch the game. No way. We are our own team. Kerri and Misty deserve everything they get. We know why they're famous. We know why they have two gold medals. But April and I know why we're in the finals," she said.
Ross and Kessy had lost nine consecutive matches to Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva of Brazil, but smart net play and a slew of unforced errors from the top-ranked team led them to the finals. They're competing in their first Olympic Games, having played as a team since 2007.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings swept two sets from China in their semifinal to advance to their third straight gold-medal match, having won the women's beach volleyball championship in Athens and Beijing. Until the preliminaries of the London Games, the duo had never lost a set in Olympic play.
They've played together since 2001. They are legends in the sport, but their legend will end on Wednesday, win or lose: It will be May-Treanor's last match with Walsh Jennings, as she retires from competitive volleyball.
In that sense, it's something more than USA vs. USA for gold: It's the fairy tale May-Treanor envisions for her team — together one last time, on top of the podium with Olympic gold around their necks — against their countrywomen and rivals, looking to spoil it.
Only Kessy doesn't see them as spoilers.
"We're the underdogs. We're the lower-ranked team at this point. I think it's No. 3 vs. No. 4," she said. "You know, they do have two gold medals. I don't think we'd be a spoiler of anything. They've gotten their two gold medals. We're not spoiling anything.
"We're here to battle and make them earn it."
The May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings team took two of three intense matches against Kessy and Ross this year, all of them going into three sets.
Kessy said the teams train occasionally, and have each other's contact information. May-Treanor's husband, Los Angeles Dodger player Matt Treanor, recently gave her game tickets. She has played with Walsh Jennnings on junior national teams.
Kessy and May-Treanor, both 35, were born one day apart. They speak intensely of the other team, out of respect and with competitive fire; it's sometimes hard to tell if the teams are friends off the court.
"It's funny in our sport," said May-Treanor. "All U.S. teams are together, but we're also individual teams. We respect each other. We talk to each other. We don't train together, because it is each team cut out for itself. But we want our sport to grow, and the only way to do that is sticking together."
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The All-American final, with the end of May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings' run as the backdrop, will certainly generate the kind of interest the teams hope builds USA beach volleyball's popularity. But in the end, both teams know it's the end of an era -- and, potentially, the dawn of a new one.
Kessy said she gave May-Treanor a hug before their game and congratulated her.
May-Treanor's response, before the Brazil match: "Good luck. I want to see you tomorrow."
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