May 21, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) As Olympic medalists in beach volleyball, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross brought plenty of ability to their new partnership.

That led to plenty of winning in their first year and a half together, even if their timing wasn't always perfect.

''We at first approached it like, `OK, we know how to do these plays,''' Ross said recently. ''But I don't think it was until competition that we figured out we're not doing the plays the same way. She thinks I'm doing something, and it's just a little bit different than she thought.''

Walsh Jennings won three Olympic gold medals with Misty May-Treanor, whose retirement sent her looking for a new partner. She would team up with Ross, the silver medalist at the 2012 Games when she and Jennifer Kessy lost to Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor in the final in London.

''That's the fun part, finding our identity as a team,'' Walsh Jennings said, ''because once we do that consistently the world's in trouble.''

With Olympic qualifying starting this year, the 2016 Rio Games are now very much in focus. The AVP tour season begins Friday with the New Orleans Open, with NBC adding coverage for a sport it will no doubt spotlight again at the Olympics.

The two won all seven tournaments last year for the first undefeated season in the American tour's history. The results were more mixed on the international FIVB tour as they work to reach their full potential.

Walsh Jennings thinks they can be the ''best point-scoring team in world.''

''We haven't even touched close to that,'' she said.

So many areas can improve: transitioning to scoring points off their defense, Ross' defense off Walsh Jennings' block.

If they can reach that level, Walsh Jennings said, ''It just demoralizes people.''

For Ross, who's seeking her first Olympic gold medal, it's a new experience to be the favorite.

''Just growing up my whole mentality is being an underdog and scrap and fight and take people down,'' she said. ''I've had to change that a little bit. It's harder being the ones with the target on your back, but I think it pushes you and it drives you to be better than maybe you thought you could be.''

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