You wouldn’t think Kerri Walsh Jennings is being serious when she says things like “every challenge in my life has led to something great,” as she did on Wednesday afternoon in Rome at the FIVB World Tour Finals.
She said this after playing in hers and Brooke Sweat’s first country-quota and qualifier prior to a main draw since the FIVB four-star event in Ostrava in May.
But when taking inventory of how she and Sweat have done in the face of adversity this season, it’s difficult to say she’s wrong. In Ostrava, they finished fourth. In the preceding tournament, in Jinjiang, they had come out of the qualifier to win gold. In Itapema, the week before that? Out of the qualifier to finish fifth.
Country quotas and qualifiers, have, oddly, been the preceding ingredient to successful tournaments all season long.
Thus far, the World Tour Finals has been no different.
On Tuesday, Walsh Jennings and Sweat beat AVP Chicago finalists Emily Day and Betsi Flint 21-15, 21-10 in the country quota. On Wednesday, they handled Australians Nadine Strauss and Teresa Strauss 21-8, 21-11 in just 28 minutes, assuring another main draw berth.
“For us to be playing on country-quotas, it will hopefully lead us to something great as well,” she said. “We have a huge opportunity this week to be here in Rome at the last Five-Star of the year. The best of the world are here and we want to make our mark. We’ve been slowly climbing and getting more confidence and this is a huge chance for us to kind of position ourselves as a top team in the world.”
To make that mark, they’ll need to break a pool that includes Brazilians and Olympic race leaders Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva, Japan’s Miki Ishii and Megumi Murakami, and the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hemannova and Marketa Slukova.
“This is a big tournament for us and I know the importance of it, so [skipping AVP Chicago was] just a small sacrifice to make for us to be able to do as well as we want to,” Sweat said. “Getting ready and getting acclimated was really important and I think that showed in our first two matches, so I’m excited to keep it going.”
Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrates as she and partner Brooke Sweat qualify for the World Tour Finals main draw/FIVB photoOther Americans in the main draw are April Ross and Alix Klineman, Emily Stockman and Kelley Larsen, and Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes.
On the men’s side, with Casey Patterson and Chase Budinger withdrawing due to injury and with Billy Allen and Stafford Slick falling in the final round of the qualifier, only three teams remain: Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.
Allen and Slick were knocked out Wednesday by Belgians Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle 21-18, 21-18.