Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat’s team nickname is “The Dog and Pony show.”
It was coined by their coach, Fendrick’s husband Andrew Fuller, himself a former pro beach volleyball player. The 6-foot-1.5 Fendrick is the “big dog” patrolling the net, while the 5-8 Sweat speeds around the backcourt, ponytail flying.
It’s a cute nickname, but make no mistake about it, this team is tough. Sweat has battled through a rotator-cuff injury for much of the qualification period and chose to arthroscopically clean it rather than repair it, avoiding a lengthy and potentially risky rehabilitation.
Sweat has had to resort to cortisone shots to deal with the pain, and has been forced to underhand serve at times.
“Everyone has aches and pains,” Fendrick said, “and we’re doing our best to be as prepared as possible.”
Fendrick/Sweat battled for nearly two years and 19 tournaments to qualify, which they did in 15th place with 4,470 points to earn the second American spot over Jennifer Kessy/Emily Day by a mere 490 points. They also finished 320 points over the 17th place and last qualifiers Fan Wang/Yuan Yue of China. The battle came down to the very last grand-slam qualification tournament.
“It was a very very successful moment,” said Fendrick, a UCLA graduate with a USC law degree. “It was heartfelt excitement and my whole family, Andrew, and my mom were there and Brooke’s whole family was there, and we all got to celebrate together. It was really special.”
“It was a kind of a weird moment, because it’s not like you had to win a match to qualify, or if you lose this match you’re out,” said Sweat, a Florida Gulf Coast graduate with a resort and hospitality management degree. “We put a lot of work in last year to put us in this position. When we’re in Germany and it became official, it was in the middle of the tournament so it wasn’t really a big celebration, and nobody said anything to us, we kind of had to ask in order to confirm it.”
What’s more, the two live on opposite coasts.
Fendrick from Carlsbad, Calif., lives in Hermosa Beach. Sweat, a native Floridian, lives in Estero, Fla., with husband Nick Sweat, a pro beach volleyball player.
Sweat moved out to California to train with Fendrick and reflected on the sacrifices she made in order to qualify.
“It’s been a long three years, but once you get to this point I can look back and everything is so worth it, the time away from family, being cross country from everything, it’s all worth it, now we’re ready to go down there and finish it off strong.”
Fendrick/Sweat have played well on the world tour, garnering six fifth-place finishes in the past two years, but their medal chances are limited, because, simply put, they have not broken into the medal round.
“On paper, Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick should be a strong team but most of the two-year Olympic process they were injured and never managed to get on a podium on the FIVB tour,” said Three time Olympian and Pac-12 analyst Holly McPeak. “Brooke Sweat is an athletic defender, and Lauren Fendrick has length at the net.”
There are some indications that they may be peaking at the right time as witnessed by a fifth-place finish in their last international event in Gstaad, including a 15-21, 21-19, 15-13 win over the USA’s April Ross and Kerri Walsh-Jennings.
“Lauren and Brooke have had a tough year. They played pretty well in Gstaad, I think they’re starting to play better,” said 2000 gold medalist and NBC analyst Dain Blanton. “The race for the second spot with Jen Kessy/Emily Day was tight, but no one was able to step up and take it. No one performed extraordinarily well. I think they have a long way to go. I don’t think they will pull off a medal appearance. It’s certainly possible, but they would have to really elevate their game, a lot more than what we’ve seen this season. I hope they do really well, but their record indicates that they will have to put it together at the last moment, which great athletes do, but it’s not probable.”
The Olympic field is deeper and more competitive than it has ever been. Nearly all of the teams in the field are capable of pulling off upsets. Fendrick/Sweat will benefit more than most from the three-week break to rest and rehab. If Fendrick/Sweat get hot at the right time, they are capable of reaching the medal round and challenging for an Olympic medal.
“We’re definitely capable of medaling if we play well,” Fendrick said. “We’re 100-percent confident of that.”