Kessy, Ross turning it on late again
This past weekend was highlighted by the return of two-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh, who teamed with Nicole Branagh, who had previously played the entire season with Walsh’s partner during those Olympic wins, Misty May-Treanor.
But Jen Kessy and April Ross were the only American pair to leave Sanya, China, with a medal. Though they lost to Walsh and Branagh in the third round of the winner’s bracket, Kessy and Ross fought through the contender’s bracket to win bronze. Walsh and Branagh finished fifth.
It’s the fifth FIVB World Tour medal of the year for Kessy and Ross, tops among Americans, as they also own two golds, a silver and bronze from earlier in the year. Much earlier in the year. The middle of June, to be exact, is when Kessy and Ross last found themselves on an international podium.
After winning nine medals in 12 events last year, Kessy and Ross began this summer with a fourth-place finish, claimed the title in their next two tournaments, and took hardware home from the following two events. But they’ve garnered nothing but a bunch of disappointing performances since, mixing in a few embarrassing results as well (25th in Stare Jablonki, 17th in The Hague).
Granted, they tore up the AVP Tour this summer, winning four titles, but they expect to contend every time out on the international circuit as well. The bronze in China is a good sign that the month and a half off prior to the tournament served Kessy and Ross well.
And if their past two seasons are any indication, they know how to end the year on a strong note. In 2008, after missing out on the Olympics, Kessy and Ross won the season-ending Phuket and Sanya events. And last year, they took second in Sanya, followed by another win in Phuket. So they enter this weekend’s season finale in Phuket as the two-time reigning champions of the tournament.
But Americans in general have fared well in Phuket. Kessy and Ross’ opponents each of the last two years in this event’s gold-medal match have been compatriots: Angie Akers/Tyra Turner last year, Branagh/Turner the year before. And in 2007, May-Treanor and Walsh knocked off Branagh and Elaine Youngs for Phuket gold.
As well as Walsh and Branagh played in Sayna, their second-ever tournament together and first since 2008, another All-American final would surprise few in Phuket. But the Chinese duo that claimed the Sanya title, Olympic bronze medalists Xue Chen and Zhang Xi, have advanced to the finals of the past five FIVB events. And unlike Sanya, Phuket will feature the best women’s team in the world, Brazil’s Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva, the 2010 World Tour champions.
However, rain is expected to pour throughout the week. Anything can happen when conditions are less than ideal.
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