Team of the Week: Kerry & Brooke 

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, November 17, 2020 – Partnerships in beach volleyball are often formed because two players realize they have the same goals and decide they want to pursue them together. Sometimes, however, players get together out of necessity, trying to get strength from a new partner in order to overcome a difficult moment in their careers. 

With Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat it was a little bit of each.

When the veteran Americans joined forces in the final months of 2018, both of them, of course, had the Tokyo Olympics in their sights. Neither, however, was in a privileged position. Three-time Olympic champion Walsh Jennings had just ended a partnership with Nicole Branagh that had failed to generate a medal, while Rio 2016 Olympian Sweat was in the final stages of recovering from a tricky should surgery that had sidelined her for most of the season. 

Their union made complete sense as it united arguably the best blocker of all-time with a defensive specialist with Olympic experience. 

“The times I’ve enjoyed the most success, consistent success, that was when there was a true defender behind me, that made me a big blocker,” Walsh Jennings said when the team was announced. “Brooke is her own athlete and has her own assets and strengths, but largely what Misty (May-Treanor, her former partner) and Brooke share in common is their inherent knowledge of the game and the fact it’s in her blood. You can just tell she gets it. Brooke, literally, could be the best defender in the world.” 

And it didn’t take long for the world to realize that, once again, Walsh Jennings had made the right call and that she would soon be back among the best teams in the world with Sweat. The 17th-place earned in their first FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event together, in Las Vegas, was the only time they finished outside of the top-ten in their first nine international tournaments. 

Their strong initial run gave the team their first four medals – a gold in China, a silver in Malaysia and bronzes in Mexico and Australia, some of them after starting from the qualifiers – and a lot of mileage. It also, most importantly, helped them make up for their late start in the Olympic qualification process. 

“We’re crawling our way up the ranks, not just with the world, but the American teams too,” Sweat said after their victory in Jinjiang. “We just want to keep going and as long as we keep getting better and better, we’re not going to be worried about points. But it’s awesome now and we will get back to work again soon.” 

The summer of 2019 had more ups and downs, with 17th-place finishes at both the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship and the World Tour Finals in Rome, but three-straight fifths, including one at the Olympic test event in Tokyo, two other World Tour medals – silver in China and bronze in Russia – and a victory at the NORCECA Championships have put the team back on track. 

Walsh Jennings, now 42, and Sweat, 36, entered 2020 ranking fifth in the provisional Olympic ranking – second among the Americans - and ready for a final push that would secure them a place at the Tokyo Games later in the year.  

The Olympics, of course, ended up being postponed, but for the experienced Walsh Jennings and Sweat, the prolonged qualification period didn’t bring any additional anxiety, but instead an opportunity to approach the process in a different manner.  

“I'm more excited to play than ever before,” the three-time world champion remarked. “This time has given me a chance to be revitalized and remember how much I love the game of beach volleyball. You know when you've been playing as long as I have, the shininess of it all can wear off. We've realized that we both take things seriously and that we need to relax more because that's when we play free, and when we play free we play our best. We both want to be better and actually the Olympics moving to 2021 is great for us because we have more time to improve.”