The U.S. has two women's beach volleyball teams left in the competition. Will legendary duo Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor face compatriots April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the gold medal match?
What drew you to the sport of beach volleyball? To be honest, my soccer team kind of folded. The girls didn’t come back, so I didn’t have a soccer team to play on. And I needed a new sport, a new team, and my dad suggested volleyball. I didn’t think I would like it, but I went, and a lot of my friends were playing, and I just fell in love with the sport. I had a lot of fun doing it, so that’s why I stuck with it. You led USC to the national championship twice. How did that help shape your career? It was a big confidence boost. We were the best team in college. And we worked very hard. So I saw how much hard work went into winning. We worked really long and hard every day to win those national championships, so I think that work ethic is now ingrained in me. You’ve been to the Olympics twice, in 2012 and 2016. What is the Olympic experience like? For me, it’s the ultimate in sport. And it’s the ultimate in beach volleyball to get to go. It’s the highest level you can achieve as a beach volleyball player, so it’s a huge honor to qualify, and then to go for the United States. It’s the closest I’m going to get to serving my country, in a way. And so you feel that obligation to go out there and leave your heart on the court. It’s a very emotional experience. You lost to Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in the finals in 2012. Did that add to the pressure of trying to replace May-Treanor when you partnered with Walsh-Jennings? I never felt any pressure to replace Misty. When I got together with Kerri we were just a completely new team. Just like I would have been a completely new team with anybody else I would have partnered with. What was your favorite part of the Olympics that wasn’t in the public eye? You know, I really didn’t do much in Rio. It was just like kind of like sleep, eat, compete. I trained a little bit. There were all the different houses, like the sponsors have different houses where all the athletes can go and hang out. So I got to hang out with my family at the Team USA house or the Oakley house, and that was cool. Tell me about your new partnership with Lauren Fendrick. What do you think are some of your strengths and weaknesses as a team? Lauren and I have been really good friends for a long time. She came to my wedding; I was in her wedding. And I really respect her as a blocker. So for me, it was a no-brainer to pair with her. And I think our strength is definitely our defense. She’s a great blocker, and I can run around behind her and dig balls. I think our serving is really good. Our weakness might only be that we’re a new team, and we need to get in a rhythm Going back a little bit, what was it like to play with your longtime friend Whitney Pavlik and win the Austin Open with her? It was amazing. I think Whitney might be taking the rest of the summer off, so I knew that might be her last tournament. I was really happy that we got to go play together and especially win. So, you’re in Manhattan. It’s not exactly known for its beach volleyball—it’s more urban. What’s it like to play here? I love it. You know we play on the natural beaches in California, and that’s amazing. But for me, other than that, New York is the best place to play. We’re surrounded by water, and New York is one of my favorite places to be anyway. So many great places to eat, and walk around and see, and all that stuff. How many more Olympics would you like to play? Definitely one. And if Los Angeles gets the Olympics in 2024, then possibly two. And just a few questions about the match. You did have the incident when you dislocated your toe, unfortunately. How much do you think that affected the championship match? And how’s it feeling now? It still feels pretty bad. So because I hurt my toe, Lauren and I switched sides of the court. So I think people didn't know what to expect from us. And I think we had to play a little bit differently. So I think that was hard for the other team to adjust and figure out what we were going to do. But Lauren had to do a lot more than she usually does. You were really vocal throughout the match. You could be heard by the fans, firing your team up. What kind of effect do you think that had on the match, especially coming back in the first set? Well, I think Lauren was looking to me, like: How do I feel? Was my toe hurting too much? So for me to be vocal and energetic, I think that encouraged her that I was feeling O.K. and kind of kept our team spirits up. What are your thoughts on the new rule that you have to be serving to win? At first I didn’t like it too much. But I think the more that I play with it, I think it makes me better, and I think it makes the teams better. We have to fight for that last point. You have to dig in deep and play really well to get that last point. So it’s growing on me, for sure.
Photograph by Henry Mode