Rich Lambourne didn’t think much of it when Casey Jennings threw out the idea.
It was after a dinner with some mutual friends in early July in Gstaad — just Lambourne, Jennings, and Jake Gibb. Gibb and Taylor Crabb, the team Lambourne had been coaching for the previous two seasons, had finished ninth. Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat had snagged a fifth, despite their coach, Marcio Sicoli, not being available to travel with the team. Walsh Jennings and Sweat had known, coming in, that Sicoli’s time was limited. He’s the head coach at Pepperdine, a full-time job in itself, as well as a new father.
“We knew that Marcio was going to be busy, we knew that we were going to get him for a limited amount of time for the majority of the season,” Walsh Jennings said. “But it turned out that we need more.”
So Casey Jennings threw it out there: Maybe Lambourne could join the team.
A former teammate of Casey’s at BYU, the 44-year-old Lambourne is a decorated player himself. He was a libero on the USA men’s team that won Olympics gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That was preceded by his being named, in 2007, the Best Libero of the World League, a gold at the 2007 NORCECA Continental Championship, and being named best libero as the USA won their first World League title in 2008.
As a coach, he had helped Gibb and Crabb to two AVP titles in 2018 and three finals in four AVPs in 2019. Since Sicoli wasn’t on the road, and Lambourne was there with Gibb and Crabb anyway, it might, at the very least, be worth a trial run.
Still, Lambourne didn’t think too much into it.
“To me, that was completely out of left field, because I just always almost inseparably associate Kerri and Marcio,” he said. “That’s been her past decade-plus at this point. I had never considered that they were looking for something different. So I didn’t think too much of it because it seemed like an off-handed remark, sort of a hypothetical, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool, this that and the other,’ sort of conversations between three friends. It didn’t seem like anything more than that.”
The following week, however, after the FIVB four-star in Espinho, Kerri pulled Lambourne aside. They had two more tournaments on the overseas swing: The Vienna Major and the Tokyo four-star, two critical events in the Olympic race. She was interested to see how they would work together, with Casey serving as an assistant.
“At the most, this would be a trial thing to see if we like you, if you like working with us, and then we can sort of determine whether or not there was any potential reason to move forward from there,” Lambourne said of how the conversation went. “I figured I was going to be there anyway, so to me, I was like ‘Sure, let’s do it. Why not?’ So that’s how we went about it.”
At that point in the season, with so little practice time or training blocks, everyone knew there would be no major, or even minor, changes made. At the very least, it would be nice to have someone there to serve a few balls on the road.
“It’s been a great asset overall for us, even just little things, warming us up,” Sweat said. “Before we would just toss a ball and set. We wouldn’t get actual side out serve receive reps. Just little things like that is huge.”
The results haven’t been drastically different, one way or the other: Fifth in Tokyo, 17th in Vienna, bronze in Moscow, 17th in Rome.
Even though they’ve technically been a team, with Lambourne as coach, for close to two months, they’ve still only had a few practices, sporadically bunched, between Moscow, AVP Chicago and World Tour Finals. They’ll have a couple practices before Lambourne goes with Gibb and Crabb to Hawai’i, then a few more until they’re all off to the NORCECA Continental Championships in October.
“It’s been interesting to kind of navigate logistically and mainly mentally the idea of ‘Here’s something new, but we have to come to terms with the fact that not a tremendous amount can change in such a short period of time,’” he said.
It is still, technically speaking, a trial run. Walsh Jennings and Sweat have committed to Lambourne through the final event of the FIVB season, in Mexico in November, and then they’ll review and move forward through the remainder of the schedule through the Tokyo Olympics. There are no hard feelings between Walsh Jennings and Sicoli — the split was due to the human condition of there simply not being enough hours in the day.
“It wasn’t a lack of love or trust or anything but a lack of Marcio,” Walsh Jennings said. “To be the best in the world, you need consistency, you need time in the saddle together and you need eyes on you at all times and we didn’t have that.
“It’s heartbreaking to an extent, but I’m excited for Marcio and I’m excited to learn and grow with Rich and Casey. We’re kind of calling it a test period until the end of the season but the expectation is to kick ass together and to progress.”