For the past 12 years, American women have dominated beach volleyball, thanks to the duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won back-to-back-to-back Olympic gold starting in 2004. But at last year’s London Games, fellow Americans Jen Kessy, 36, and April Ross, 31, took home a surprise silver, giving the U.S. an impressive one-two finish. With May-Treanor now retired, and Kessy and Ross competing on a revamped Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour, all eyes will be on the pair.
ASCENDANCY: The two aren’t exactly rookies. They’ve competed together for seven years, and before London, they took gold at the 2009 World Championships. But as the new faces of American volleyball, they are suddenly grappling with the expectation to win consistently. “We’re still getting used to it,” says Ross. “We’re trying to break it down so we can play with nothing to lose, because that’s the best way to play.”
ROSS ON KESSY: “Before matches I’m pretty quiet, and she likes to be social. But she’s very intense, very emotional. She’s a fighter.”
KESSY ON ROSS: “Sometimes she lets me be crazy, and sometimes I let her go off. It’s just like a normal relationship.”
SECRET WEAPON: “Ross’s jump serve is the best in the world,” says Kessy. “She’s won us a bunch of tournaments with it. And she just goes for it. I love that about her.”
FIRST OFF: In July, Kessy and Ross attempt to reclaim their title at the World Championships in Poland.
UP NEXT: The AVP kicks off its first full season in two years this August in Salt Lake City. When the tour culminates at Huntington Beach in October, the Southern California natives hope to hoist the trophy in front of friends and family. “I cannot wait until we can play at home,” says Kessy. Adds Ross, “There’s a lot to uphold, and it’s fallen on our shoulders.”