AVP Tour: The faces of beach volleyball have changed
Anyone who showed up to the first day of the Salt Lake City AVP Open on Friday looking for familiar faces was likely not disappointed. Kerri Walsh Jennings, Todd Rogers, Phil Dalhausser, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, all Olympic medalists, were competing at Liberty Park.
So were Bountiful native Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, with whom Gibb competed at both the London and Beijing Summer Games.
What was out of whack for mainstream fans of beach volleyball, who check in with the sport every four years or so, were the teams. Since London, each of the four American teams (two men's, two women's) that competed have split up and rearranged.
Gibb and Rosenthal parted ways, with Rosenthal teaming up with Dalhausser after the 39-year-old Rogers made it known he didn't intend to play for another Olympics. On the women's side, Misty May-Treanor retired after winning her third gold medal with Walsh Jennings, leaving Walsh Jennings, 35, to pluck the 31-year-old Ross away from Kessy.
"I think had everyone been younger it wouldn't have happened," Ross said. "There's just people who are moving on. Todd's moving on, Jen's going to move on, Misty's already moved on. We had no choice."
Kessy and Ross are playing together for the first five stops on the AVP Tour, including at Liberty Park, before Ross leaves to play full time with Walsh Jennings.
The moves shake up the upper echelon of a high-profile sport that has been relatively stable for more than half a decade. Since the Athens Games in 2004, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings dominated the women's side, and the same two men's teams represented the U.S. in the last two Olympics.
Rogers now plays with 7-foot-1 Ryan Doherty.
Switching partners isn't uncommon in the world of beach volleyball, but each of the four teams had played together for at least seven years and does throw into flux the question of who will represent the U.S. in Rio de Janeio at the 2016 Games.
On the men's side, Dalhausser and Rosenthal are virtual locks, but it remains unclear whether Gibb and Patterson, who played volleyball at BYU, will rise to that level.
"They're having great success on the world tour," Rosenthal said, pointing out they won in Shanghai earlier this summer. "Jake being a two-time Olympian and Casey playing with a lot of fire, they're a loud team that's out there and they're ready to win."
Same with the women, where Walsh Jennings and Ross will likely return, but the second spot is wide open. Kessy said she plans on leaving international competition and just playing domestically with AVP in future years.
"Kerri and Misty have broken up a few times and retired a couple times and come back and had babies and come back," Kessy, 36, said. "So we've seen it. We've seen it with them. I think with us it's weird because we've never once wavered. â¦ It's definitely the end of an era."
Each of the top teams cruised through the opening round of the Salt Lake Open, winning in straight sets, essentially on collision courses to face each other. Kessy and Ross could wind up in a final against Walsh Jennings and temporary teammate Whitney Pavlik, while a matchup of Gibb and Patterson against Dalhausser and Rosenthal would be the fourth this year.
"I think it was a little strange just warming up the first time we played," Rosenthal said. "Since then, the whistle blows, it's another match."
But the amount of time partners in beach volleyball spend together, and the relationships they build, can't be overstated.
"All good things come to an end," Dalhausser said of his time with Rogers, "and I felt like our partnership had basically come to an end, we both were miserable on the court, we weren't having any fun, so I think it was better that we split."
And that meant learning someone new.
"We travel together, we stay in the same hotel, we play together," Dalhausser said. "So you tend to know the guy pretty well. Everything is totally different. Todd was super neat and organized."
"Sean's a little different."
Teams to watch at Salt Lake City AVP Open
Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal
Day 1 • Beat Jeremy Casebeer/Andrew McGuire 21-7, 21-15
Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson
Day 1 • Beat Casey Jennings/Stafford Slick 21-19, 21-17
Todd Rogers and Ryan Doherty
Day 1 • Beat Jeffrey Carlson/Joey Dykstra 21-18, 21-15
April Ross and Jennifer Kessy
Day 1 • Beat Allison Daley/Dianne DeNecochea 21-16, 21-14
Kerri Walsh Jennings and Whitney Pavlik
Day 1 • Beat Airial Salvo/Brenda Whicker 21-15, 21-16
Salt Lake City AVP Open
O Professional beach volleyball tournament
When • Friday through Sunday
Where • Liberty Park
Who • 16 men's and women's teams, including Olympians Jake Gibb, Phil Dalhausser, Sean Rosenthal, Kerry Walsh Jennings, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross.
Tickets • http://www.avp.com