Nestled amidst a historic backdrop of lofty London landmarks, the beach volleyball center court not only attracted several thousand fans, but four dozen athletes who welcomed the chance to participate.
Among these 24 teams, three top-level American teams jumped at the opportunity to represent their country at this FIVB beach volleyball exhibition tournament, a dry-run for the event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“When we first saw the event scheduled, we told our federation we are going,” said Kessy who just missed punching a ticket to the Beijing Olympics, along with Ross, as America’s second team. And why would the USAV organization disagree with this highly-ranked team on the FIVB tour?
Kicking-off this sport’s “trial” on Tuesday, the six women first competed in tightly contested pool play where only Jennifer Kessy and April emerged without a setback.
In contrast, Tealle Hunkus and Heather Lowe, the National Volleyball League inaugural event champions, finished the pool play round with a 1-2 match slate. And despite earning a second-chance “Lucky Losers” match opportunity, the duo was edged out of the tournament by a Spaniard team in a three-set contest.
Due to a late-breaking cancellation by another country, rising international event competitors Lisa Rutledge and Brittany Hochevar received the nod from USAV to fill this void.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to compete, and see how the Olympics are going to run,” said Rutledge.
Although, finishing with a 1-2 match record within a loaded pool, they advanced into the quarterfinals – only to be pitted against Kessy and Ross.
In this “round of sixteen” contest on Friday, which marked the first time compatriot teams battled each other here, the tandems equally benefited from chants of “USA-USA” from the appreciative British audience.
Long-term partners Kessy and Ross continually applied pressure with strong serving, powerful attacks, and clever cut shots. This dominance and experience proved to be too much for this newly formed partnership who fell, 21-18, 21-16.
Nevertheless, Hochevar said, “The event was refreshing because it gave us the chance to work on things – without the pressure of Olympic qualifications, and affecting our placement in the (FIVB) standings.”
Although controversy is swirling around USAV’s proposal to conduct beach volleyball trials next summer, Kessy and Ross hope to return to London next summer to represent America.
“For me, after missing the Beijing Olympics, I wanted to give our team every advantage possible,” said Ross. “I feel like having a mental picture of what it will be like, will be a driving, motivating force for us.”
This majestic and bureaucratic parliamentary precinct, which has opened its heavy set doors to welcome this oasis party, is just the experience these athletes were hoping for – memories that will undoubtedly spark their competitive drive on the road to the podium.