GULF SHORES, Ala. — She doesn’t have a partner yet, but Kerri Walsh Jennings said here Friday that the next time she will play competitive beach volleyball will be at the FIVB event June 27-July 1 in Porec, Croatia.
Walsh, here as a sports ambassador at the National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship, would normally be playing this weekend at AVP Huntington Beach. But she wouldn’t sign the AVP player contract.
“My first tournament as of now will be in Porec,” Walsh Jennings said. “I plan on playing the five-star FIVB events.”
“I do not know,” said the five-time Olympian who won three beach gold medals with Misty May Treanor and the bronze last summer with April Ross.
Ross signed the AVP contract and is playing this weekend with Whitney Pavlik. Walsh Jennings said this week that she and Ross will no longer play together.
“I’m currently partner-less,” she said with a laugh, “but it’s not even concerning to me yet, because I just had a bigger vision and this year was always going to be weird. But I’m planning on playing and I’m planning on winning.
“I have a world championship to win this summer. And a partner would be helpful. And that’s coming.”
Walsh Jennings said she “has some feelers out there, for sure,” but that’s all she would divulge.
What’s more, she added that “I want to win and I want to do it with a true partner.”
She said she plans on playing World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach in July and some higher-level FIVB stops.
“I want to play at the highest-level events, but this year the FIVB is so weird with the star system. It’s really hurting the athletes and the federations. So I’m trying to connect with them and make some immediate changes there. I want to support the sport, but I don’t want the top athletes to go to three- and four-star events when there’s no prize money, no points and a single elimination.
“I love the FIVB. They’ve given me such a great platform, but I don’t know if this plan was well thought out because it has some bad ramifications. I want to try to correct that.
“But the plan for me is to play at the five-star events and play at Leonard’s event (WSOBV) and try to win the world championship.”
Walsh Jennings battles with the AVP have been well documented, especially here at VolleyballMag.com.
“I just want more opportunities for everybody,” she said. “To sign something that’s exclusive and pretty small limits the growth abilities for the players to make money and grow the game. My vision is big. I want to host great events, I want the professionals to actually make a living and I want to create a great feeder system for these NCAA athletes where they have a place to land after they finish college and they can make a decent living.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be a billionaire off of beach volleyball, but my goal is to give people a great profession. I believe that if you dream big and create big, wonderful events, the (sponsor) brands will come. Because people have shown they love beach volleyball, they show up and watch on TV, and I just want to capitalize on that.”
She referenced Armato, who ran the AVP from 2002-09.
“We have meetings every week and he dreams big and thinks big and that’s why he’s my manager,” Walsh Jennings said. “But we’re partners in this mission to grow the game. When he ran the AVP it was huge. The events were big, the marketing was big. The prize money was great. And we were growing.
“I don’t want to re-do what we we did back then, but I want to get back to having a big buzz in the air, because when you have that it feeds the grass roots, it feeds the collegiate athletes, it feeds the whole world.”
Walsh Jennings, 38, who played indoors at Stanford where the school recently named the beach courts for her, has always been devoted the college game. While this is her first trip to this event and to this town, she is a fixture at the annual NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship in December.
“We’re going to have some showcase events. We’re working on one at the NCAA Championship this winter to have an exhibition indoors. Sort of like a hot, winter night model. It’ll be really fun.
This year will be weird, competition-wise, which will be the hardest part, but my dream and vision of the sport is grand and I know it will take some time to get there and I’m just on a mission.”
That’s not lost on the volleyball world. An example was the LSU team, preparing on a practice court for its second match of the day, stopped practicing as Walsh Jennings walked by. Many of the Tigers yelled and waved while the face of beach volleyball paused to take some pictures and sign autographs.
In a scheduled media session, Walsh Jennings was asked about the growth of the beach game she didn’t get to play in college.
“I am so excited. It literally brings tears to my eyes. I was watching from my hotel room, looking down at this setup and to know how far this sport has come on the NCAA level, it just gives me hope for Team USA, it gives me hope for the future as a professional sport and it really warms my heart for all the pioneers who have grown the sport.”
The continuing growth of collegiate beach volleyball bodes obviously has her excited.
“My mission the next four years is to grow our sport’s notoriety, I want us to be on TV quite often, I want to get more eyeballs on the sport.
“Because we’re not going anywhere. NCAA beach volleyball says we’re going to be here forever.”