HAMBURG, Germany – Four athletes will make their first Olympic appearance alongside four veterans when the U.S. Olympic Beach Volleyball Team goes to the 2016 Olympic Games.
Based on the 2015-16 FIVB World Tour, eight athletes have earned the distinction to represent the United States at the sixth Olympics featuring beach volleyball. This August 6-18th, two teams in each gender will join the field of 96 athletes (48 men, 48 women; 24 teams per gender) on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The American women are: April Ross (Costa Mesa, Calif.) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (San Jose, Calif.); Lauren Fendrick (Carlsbad, Calif.) and Brooke Sweat (Fort Myers, Fla.). The U.S. men competing are Phil Dalhausser (Ormond Beach, Fla.) and Nick Lucena (Davie, Fla.); Jake Gibb (Bountiful, Utah) and Casey Patterson (Manhattan Beach, Calif.).
The teams representing the U.S. are blended between Olympic veterans and newcomers. All four pairs are newly formed partnerships for the quadrennial.
APRIL ROSS | KERRI WALSH JENNINGS
Walsh Jennings and Ross are the only duo comprised of two Olympians. Walsh Jennings, a three-time gold medalist with Misty May-Treanor, and Ross, a 2012 silver medalist with Jennifer Kessy. In the qualification period, the pair have four gold medals, two silver and two bronze and finished third in the 2016 Olympic rankings.
“The face of this journey is different, considering I have a new partner by my side, but the spirit of it is just as beautiful and humbling and as wonderful as ever,” said Walsh Jennings. “Each Olympic cycle has been so unique and so full of the best things in life: love, personal growth, teamwork, friendship, dedication, acceptance, dream chasing, etc. This journey has been no exception and yet it’s been full of its own magic. I am proud, I am grateful and we are very happily in it to win it… every single day.”
On the year, they have the most earnings after seven events, with $174,000, which is the most award money earned for any team in either gender. During their partnership, dating back to 2013, Ross and Walsh Jennings have 10 gold medals, two silver and two bronze, with a 140-24 match record (85.4 win percentage). Against the current Olympic qualified field, the pair are an impressive 53-14.
PHIL DALHAUSSER | NICK LUCENA
Dalhausser, who won 2008 Olympic gold with Todd Rogers, is with Olympic newcomer Lucena. After a mid-season switch of partners, their first FIVB tournament together was well into the Olympic qualification process, in August 2015 at the Long Beach Grand Slam. After earning silver, the pair quickly made up lost time and went on to earn six gold medals and three silver to fulfill their qualification requirements at the Moscow Grand Slam in the second to last qualifying FIVB tournament via rankings.
In that run, the duo joined the Top 10 in rankings on April 25 and became the top ranked U.S. men’s team on May 23. In 2016, Dalhausser and Lucena lead the World Tour in win percentage, at 88.5-percent on a 46-6 record.
“It is a huge honor to be playing in the Olympics and representing the U.S.,” Lucena said. “Playing with Phil has been a lot of fun. He’s been, in my opinion, the best player in the world for a long time. Having the opportunity to play with Phil has been special.”
In the final event of Olympic qualification, Dalhausser and Lucena won gold in Hamburg, Germany, securing the third seed at the Olympic Games in August. Against the current field of Olympic qualified teams, Dalhausser and Lucena have a 27-10 record.
JAKE GIBB | CASEY PATTERSON
Gibb, a two-time Olympian with back-to-back fifth-place finishes with Sean Rosenthal, will play with first-time Olympian Patterson. Sixth in Olympic rankings and second in the U.S., the pair held the top-ranked U.S. men’s spot for all but three weeks in the two-year Olympic qualification season.
“We have not celebrated it at all actually,” Gibb said of qualifying. “We feel like that’s a step in what we want to accomplish and what we want to accomplish is getting a medal at the Olympics. Our end goal is to get a medal and that’s what we’re focused on.”
In 2015, Gibb and Patterson won gold in St. Petersburg, Fla., and silver in Olsztyn, Poland. Most recently, they’ve tallied four fifth-place finishes and a fourth in Moscow in May. At the 2015 Beach World Championships, the pair finished fifth, but were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Brazil’s No. 1 ranked team and eventual winners.
“Representing Team USA is really special for me,” said Patterson. “Being able to have someone like Jake as a partner is cool because I can go to him for all my experience. To learn from him, it was easy for me to appreciate how special it was because from day one playing together we talked about how special it is and how important it is to embrace every win you get because they’re so tough to get. I’m excited to represent the United States of America and beach volleyball. It’s a dream come true, but I’m still 100-percent focused on what our goal as a team is.”
LAUREN FENDRICK | BROOKE SWEAT
Fendrick and Sweat comprise the only team of the four where both athletes are making their Olympic debut. Seeded 15th for the Olympics and second for USA, Fendrick and Sweat solidified their berth at the final event of rankings qualification, in Hamburg, Germany. The pair were the U.S. point leaders through March 20, 2016 and have maintained the second-seed among the U.S. since.
“We worked hard the last three years to get to this point,” Sweat said. “It’s been an up and down season for us, but we stuck together. I’m excited to represent USA, it’s the best country. It’s always an honor to wear USA on your back, to do it at the Olympics, it’s not something a lot of athletes get to experience.”
In qualification, Fendrick and Sweat earned silver at the 2015 NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation) Finals and cemented their spot in the Top 15 of Olympic rankings following a 17-place finish at the Hamburg Major. Their top finish and momentous performance against the 2016 Olympic field came at the 2015 Beach World Championships where Fendrick and Sweat placed fifth, the highest among American women.
“Competing with USA on my back is always an honor, but to do it at the Olympics on the biggest stage and in a city with such a rich beach volleyball tradition is truly a dream come true,” Fendrick added. “I feel honored and privileged to get to compete for my country.”
USA AT THE OLYMPICS
Teams qualified based on a two-year period between Jan. 1, 2015 and June 12, 2016 on the Federation Internationale De Volleyball (FIVB) World Tour. Countries are able to qualify a maximum two berths per gender for the Olympic Games and for the U.S., all four pairs qualified through the Olympic rankings by being in the Top 15 in the world, excluding Brazil who qualified two teams as the host country and World Championships wins, respectively, in both genders. In addition, teams must have been the top two of American pairs in their gender and play in 12 sanctioned FIVB events in order to gain points in the rankings.
The four head coaches (one per pair) will be announced at a later date.
Team leaders for USA Volleyball are John Ruger and Sean Scott. Full-time Head Athletic Trainer Aimee Miyazawa will lead the medical staff, which includes team doctor Dr. Elmo Agatep and chiropractor Dr. Wayne Huber.
All athlete and staff nominations to the U.S. Olympic Team are subject to approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
The United States has won gold at every Olympic beach showing, in men’s and women’s, since the sports inception in 1996. The U.S. also has the most medals (9) out of any country and has won three of the five gold medals in beach volleyball Olympic history for both men and women.
For all four teams in the 2016 Olympics, each finish will be a record performance.