Casey Jennings got some laughs while introducing his wife for her induction into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame.
Jennings, a pretty accomplished beach volleyball player himself, joked that he figured the invitation was for him, because unlike Kerri, he’s retired.
“We’ll see,” Kerri Walsh Jennings said after she and five others were inducted into the IVHOF in Holyoke, Massachusetts, October 22. “It’s literally a huge question mark but we’re definitely leaning toward we would like to do it again. We would like to make a run. There’s some dissatisfaction in my heart. There’s just a big calling in my heart and I’ve always followed that.”
Walsh, the five-time Olympian who won gold three times on the beach with Misty May-Treanor (2004, ’08, ’12) and bronze with April Ross in 2016, went into the hall with Brazilian legendary player and coach Bernardinho, Brazilian indoors great Fernanda Venturini, Dutch icon Peter Murphy and Dutch Paravolley leader Pietr Joon.
Had there not been the pandemic, Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat likely would have made the Tokyo Olympics. But after the Games were postponed to 2021, it gave the opportunity for Kelly Claes (now Cheng) and Sarah Sponcil to pass them up for the second USA spot. The other American pair, Ross and Alix Klineman, won the gold medal.
Walsh, who turned 44 in August, hasn’t played competitively since June 2021. Nor does she have a partner.
What’s more, she moved from beach volleyball hotbed of Manhattan Beach to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where she said she’s been to a beach court with all her volleyballs and hitting them on her own.
“But I haven’t played in a long time.”
So how does a five-time Olympian (she played indoors in 2000) choose a new partner?
“There are definitely girls — a girl — on my radar, but I won’t mention her name.”
Walsh Jennings said the plan will be train with her coach, Arthur Carvalho, and then bring in potential partners.
“I’d love to meet them. The young girls, I don’t know them,” Walsh Jennings admitted. “Even Sarah Sponcil, she was on the tour for a couple of years before I took a timeout. I don’t know what their appetite is, I don’t know what my appetite is, but energy is so important to me. And fire and all that stuff.”
One reason she might not know many of the younger players is that Walsh Jennings hasn’t played on the AVP Tour since 2016. Her battles — legal and personal — with the AVP were well publicized.
Since she’s been gone, the AVP has been purchased by Bally’s and longtime owner Donald Sun is out of the picture. But his right-hand man, Al Lau, is now the CEO.
Would Walsh Jennings return to the AVP?
“I don’t know. I have to talk to people from Bally’s, I think. I don’t know, to be honest. It depends on who I partner with, that’s for sure. One girl, no, but the rest maybe.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I love the AVP. The AVP is my home. Management might have an issue and probably still does. It’s the same people. We’ll see.”
There are at least two solidified USA pairs heading into 2023, the most successful in 2022, youngsters, Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss, and now the reunified pair of Cheng and Sara Hughes, who played together at USC and early in their pro careers.
Walsh Jennings, 6-foot-3 and a great blocker, would presumably be looking for a defender. Cheng had great success with but left veteran Betsi Flint. Sponcil played this past season with Terese Cannon. Among the other young defenders you could list would be Zana Muno, Savvy Simo, Molly Turner and Hailey Harward.
“I can’t wait to tell you the answer,” Walsh Jennings said with a laugh. “Literally, because I can’t wait to know. It drives me nuts.”
One would to imagine some of those players would be pretty excited to pair with and learn from Walsh Jennings, “but you never know,” the veteran admitted. “You really never know.
“They’d be young and foolish if they didn’t,” she continued, laughing again. “But people have their own opinions and paths they want to take, you know?”
But unlike joining Walsh Jennings in the past, when you would get the benefit of her FIVB stature, now she, too, is starting from scratch in terms of FIVB points. The road to Paris 2024 is just as long for Walsh Jennings as anyone in the field.
“I have no points,” she said. “My points are pooped. Brooke and I had a terrible last year and I took a year off, so we’ll see. But basically it’s starting from scratch and I’m not going to worry about it.”
Walsh is as fit as ever and said her multi-time surgically repaired shoulder is doing great.
“I’m working out very hard. I don’t have my people. I’m lifting a lot of weights and taking a lot of hikes and I’m not playing volleyball, but I’m about to start next week. I’ll be fit forever. I’m a life athlete. That’s my goal. Something I learned in the break is that my physicality is very important to me and I never want to lose that, regardless of going to Paris or not.”
The Jennings family will stay in Tahoe, but “I’ll need to be in L.A. (to train in the South Bay) and I’m gearing up for that. I’ve talked to my family and we’re going to give it a test period and see how it goes.”
A lot, it seems, has changed in pro beach volleyball since the spring of 2021.
“I think it would be fun. I’m excited to go try. It’s been fun watching the past year and it just got more interesting with Sarah and Kelly partnering up and I just see the world being very, very physical and very, very good and very, very beatable.
“I see that on the AVP, I see that internationally, and respect all of them and the field is deeper than it’s ever been. But I don’t think the best are better.”