Injured Kerri Walsh Jennings learning to hold back
NEW YORK (AP) Kerri Walsh Jennings may serve underhand at the World Series of Beach Volleyball.
What matters is she'll be competing.
The Olympics are a year away, and the three-time gold medalist no longer enjoys the luxury of time after separating her right shoulder again last month.
''Big picture, I'm very optimistic,'' she said Tuesday. ''Short term, I'm very stressed.''
That's because Walsh Jennings and partner April Ross need to play in at least eight more FIVB events to qualify for the Rio Games.
''Even if we just have to stand on the court, we need a finish,'' Walsh Jennings said.
So they hope to compete in Long Beach, California, on Aug. 21-23 and at events in Poland and Brazil in subsequent weeks.
At 6-foot-3, Walsh Jennings is used to winning points with her spikes. But now she must quickly adjust to a different style.
''I can't be powerful; I have to be smart,'' she said. ''When I have to think and play, I get in trouble. I need to have a new comfort zone.''
That means playing ''ridiculous defense.''
''If we're scoring points on defense, I don't have to take swings,'' Walsh Jennings said. ''The world's going to pick on me. They're going to serve me every ball, and they should; I would do the same thing.''
And it means relying on Ross, who won silver at the 2012 Olympics with Jennifer Kessy behind Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. May-Treanor retired after the London Games and those three straight gold medals, and Walsh Jennings teamed up with Ross seeking No. 4 in a row.
''What I have - what the rest of the world doesn't have - is April Ross,'' Walsh Jennings said. ''She's literally one of the most lethal weapons. Her serve is ridiculous. She's going to carry a lot of weight.
''I need to get my ego OK with being taken care of.''
She doesn't have much choice. After Walsh Jennings first injured the shoulder in May, she rushed back in four weeks. Her shoulder didn't hurt much - but that wound up being her biggest problem. She tried to do too much and reinjured it July 10.
She always admired NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird's finesse on the court. Both May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings' husband, professional beach volleyball player Casey Jennings, make up for a lack of height with craftiness, and she'll just need to add more of that to her game.
Still, this temporary mindset is hard to accept for a self-described ''killer'' on the court who doesn't ''want to be pretty and soft and nice out there.''
She certainly can't be nice out there in Olympic qualifying. Competing in enough events is just part of the challenge for Walsh Jennings and Ross. They likely need to finish among the top 16 teams in the world and the top two in the U.S. to qualify for Rio. With all the time missed, they're currently 30th in the world and third among the Americans.
In college, Walsh Jennings hit left-handed for an entire season because of a bad shoulder, though in indoor volleyball, she had five teammates to rely on. But she's never been injured during qualifying like this.
Walsh Jennings said surgery remains likely; she'll have another MRI and consult with more doctors after the Rio Open in early September. Whether she undergoes an operation or does rehab instead, she's optimistic she can return to training in January.
She also had surgery before each of the last two Olympics, so there's a reason Walsh Jennings describes herself as ''supremely confident'' she and Ross can dominate their competition once the FIVB season resumes in the spring.
She got back on the beach twice last week, just passing and setting, before hitting down on the ball for the first time since the injury Monday. She insists she'll be in Long Beach ''even if I have one arm to play with.''
It's not just about Olympic qualifying. There's the exposure for the sport of her home tournament, where she'll be launching her clothing line for Asics.
May-Treanor, meanwhile, said Tuesday that she will play in the AVP `s Seattle Open this weekend in her first competition since London. May-Treanor is just helping out a friend, Brittany Hochevar, and is not mulling a comeback, a tournament spokesman told NBCSports.com.