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Beach volleyball tour hits St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Since first teaming up in 2007, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross have won 12 titles on the AVP Professional Beach Volleyball Tour, including two this year.

Internationally, the duo has captured 10 FIVB Tour victories.

At the 2012 Olympics in London, Kessy and Ross lost in the final to beach volleyball legends Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings to earn a silver medal at their first Games.

This weekend's AVP St. Petersburg Open at Vinoy Park will be the final time Kessy and Ross share the same side of the court.

Ross will partner with Walsh Jennings — who needed a teammate when May-Treanor retired after winning a third gold in London — for the final two AVP Tour events in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Huntington Beach in preparation for a medal run at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Kessy, 36, is scaling back her playing schedule to focus on her family.

"It's really bittersweet," Ross, 31, said. "We're good friends, and I'm trying not to think about it too much. We'd like to go out on another win, but it's going to be tough as it always is with the competition. But this tournament will be more meaningful. This is it for us."

Ross emailed Walsh Jennings about partnering once she learned of May-Treanor's retirement. After the Olympic final, Walsh Jennings approached Ross about the idea.

"I know that she could pick a lot of other people to play with," Ross said. "I'm thankful that she wanted to play with me."

For Walsh Jennings, the decision was simple. As a competitor, Ross had become her greatest adversary. Why not eliminate the threat by joining forces?

"I think she's the best person for where I want to go," Walsh Jennings, 35, said. "I believe together we can win a gold medal in Rio, and I believe in the next three years we can become the best team in the world. I want to be around someone who's better than me, and April has that in a lot of ways."

Men's pro beach player Todd Rogers, 39, understands the difficulty in switching teammates, having done it three times. Most recently, Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, who struck gold together at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ended their long-term partnership in 2012 after getting bounced in the round of 16 in London.

Rogers will be searching for his first AVP Tour victory with Ryan Doherty this weekend in St. Petersburg. Dalhausser and new partner Sean Rosenthal have one win this season.

"For me, (switching partners) was a little easier than I imagine it will be for April and Jen because they're going to do it in the middle of the season," Rogers said. "I would not be shocked if there are tears shed at the end of the event no matter how they do."

Added Walsh Jennings: "I think it's going to be really sentimental. They've had such a beautiful partnership. But I hope to spoil their weekend. I've been frustrated by their partnership for a while. They're a big reason we won gold in London because of how they challenged us."

.Fast facts

AVP St. Petersburg Open

When/where: Today through Sunday; Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg

Schedule: Today, main draw, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, main draw, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, quarterfinals, semifinals and final, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m., men's final 3:30 p.m., women's final 5 p.m.

Notable players: Kerri Walsh Jennings (three-time Olympic gold medalist), April Ross and Jennifer Kessy (2012 Olympic silver medalists), Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers (2008 Olympic gold medalists), Jake Gibb (two-time Olympic qualifier) and Sean Rosenthal (two-time Olympic qualifier)

Top seeds: Men — Dalhausser and Rosenthal; Women — Kessy and Ross

Purse: $150,000 split evenly between men's and women's competition; each winning team receives $15,000 to share

Tickets: General admission one session ticket (good for one session today, Saturday or Sunday), $10; Grandstand one session ticket, $30; Club AVP one session ticket, $75; General admission tickets are free for kids 6 and under. Each adult ticket purchased allows for one free ticket for a child 7-12 years old. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or at avp.com.

Tournament details: The St. Petersburg Open is a double-elimination tournament. Teams that lose in the winners bracket are sent to the contenders bracket, still alive for the tournament title until a second defeat. Each match is best-of-three sets. In the first two sets, the first team to 21 wins (must win by two points). If a third set is necessary, first team to 15 wins (must win by two points). The St. Petersburg Open is the fifth of seven AVP Tour events in 2013. It's the first time in the tour's 30-year history to visit St. Petersburg. The tour's last bay area appearance was 2007 in Tampa outside the then-St. Pete Times Forum.

Beach volleyball tour hits St. Petersburg 09/12/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 12, 2013 7:45pm]

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