CHICAGO — When Kerri Walsh-Jennings decided to boycott an AVP beach volleyball tournament just a few weekends after winning bronze in Rio, her partner, April Ross, was left with a choice. Either skip the tournament, or find a different partner at the last minute to join her at the AVP’s last tournament of the season.
Ross decided to play, and contacted first-year AVP player Kelly Reeves on Monday. The pair won their first game of the tournament on Friday afternoon as young fans cheered for her and held up glittery signs with her name. They were the reason she made sure she was playing.
“It was important to me to be here to meet the fans who were so generous and cheered for us,” Ross said.
But that doesn’t mean playing with a new partner, after finding so much success with Walsh-Jennings, is easy.
“It’s a really hard thing to do. I feel like, when it happens, it’s a big growth opportunity for me. Kerri takes up so much space on the court. She’s so good,” Ross said. “Playing with another player, you have to do things you’re not used to doing. I’m blocking this tournament, and I haven’t done it in a year. But I feel like it’s an opportunity to get better.”
Walsh-Jennings boycotted because of rules changes put in place by the AVP. In a Facebook post, Walsh-Jennings said while she didn’t like the rules, her bigger problem was the AVP didn’t consult players before putting the changes in.
One of the rules changes how games are ended. To win at match point, the team has to be serving. In Ross and Reeves’ match, they had a sizable lead when their opponents had the serve. They were able to win back the serve and win, but the new rules clearly had an effect on the match.
“The uncertainty is nerve-racking. Like in today’s match, we were up by 12 or 13 points, but at the same time, they’re going to freeze our points. What’s this team going to do? How long is it going to take?” Ross said. “It didn’t change the way we played. We ended on an ace, so if there was some back and forth, I don’t know how it would have gone.”
The AVP stands by its rule changes, and responded to Walsh-Jennings’ boycott with a statement from president Donald Sun.
“We have nothing but the utmost respect for Kerri as a person and a world class athlete. Beach volleyball would not be where it is if it wasn’t for her and our amazing athletes.
“That said, as a relatively young, evolving business we must continue to be nimble and evaluate ways to improve our game for fans and the brands and networks that support us and our players. At times, this means trying something out that may at first feel uncomfortable, but I assure you that every decision we make has the long term viability of our game in mind and has included extensive input from all stakeholders. These changes, none of which fundamentally alter the nature of competition have been discussed at length and our decision to try them now was largely based on the fact we wanted to ensure that we had the broadest representation of players engaged in that test.
“As such, it’s especially unfortunate that given the value we place in her perspective that Kerri won’t be with us in Chicago to provide the feedback we’re seeking. We will continue though, to engage her and the other players on tour in dialogue on and look forward to an exciting weekend of play. There are incredible players here who should be celebrated and beach volleyball and the AVP has never been in better shape.”
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