QINZHOU, China – It can be one of the most difficult things to do after a setback: to reflect back without emotion clouding the memories of a remarkably successful season. But that was the case Sunday after the sting of a 16-21, 19-21 loss to Germany’s Karla Borger and Julia Sude in the final of the FIVB Qinzhou three-star.
Yet Kerri Walsh Jennings, in those moments after — when it’s all still so fresh — was able to look back to where she and Brooke Sweat were a little more than a year ago, when making a final would have been the best possible scenario, if not borderline unrealistic.
They were in Las Vegas last October, not Qinzhou, China. They were playing in their first tournament together, not their 18th. They were seeded No. 18, not No. 3. They were considered by many to be Olympic underdogs, not favorites to claim the second American spot, a lead that they opened a bit further here in China.
“Time in the saddle together is vital,” Walsh Jennings said. “I was thinking about it last night. We’ve come so far. We’ve had so many amazing experiences.”
Experiences are something that have not come in short supply for these two. Eighteen tournaments in a calendar year is a blinding clip at which to compete on this globetrotting world tour. Now seven times they’ve come home with a medal, two gold, though one, it is important to note, was at the NORCECA Continental Championships in Boca Chica, and not on the FIVB. Not that it was any less valuable to win.
Winning in Boca Chica was the equivalent of winning a three-star. With that gold medal, supplemented by the silver in Qinzhou, Sweat’s and Walsh Jennings’ hold on the second spot, behind April Ross and Alix Klineman, for the U.S. Olympic team, tightened a bit more.
“This whole time together, we’ve been very big-picture thinking,” Walsh Jennings said. “We want to be very in the moment but always working toward and always focusing on what we want. We’re very proud of it. We’re bummed, but we’re proud, taking a second, getting us closer to Tokyo.”
One more event remains before the blessed off-season will be upon them. They’ll touch down in California on Monday and be back to practice on Tuesday, preparing for the season finale in Chetumal, Mexico, a four-star event beginning November 12.
Again, they’ll compete against the world’s best. Again, they’ll have an opportunity to push their lead.
One more tournament. One more experience to be had.
“We got another chance to play on a big stage, with big stakes, in the final, and that’s a big deal,” Walsh Jennings said. “So we just take away more experience. When you leave with second place it makes you hungrier. It gives you clarity on what you have to work on. That’s exciting and we can just sharpen the rest of it.”
China’s Jingzhe Wang and Shuhui Wen won bronze 23-21, 22-24, 15-12 over Australia’s Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy.
Men’s gold went to Switzerland’s Adrian Heidrich and Mirco Gerson, defeating Austria’s Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz-Telsnigg 21-13, 21-16, while Russia’s Valeriy Samoday and Igor Velichko defeated country Ruslan Bykanov and Alexander Likholetov 16-21, 222-20, 15-8.