When Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor were receiving their beach volleyball gold medals a year ago in London, Walsh Jennings whispered something to April Ross, who was getting a silver medal with her partner Jen Kessy.
"Want to be my partner next year?"
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won three Olympic gold medals together, but even before the London Games began, May-Treanor had told her partner she was going to retire, no matter what happened.
Walsh Jennings, now 35 and a mother of three, could easily have made the same decision, but she had other plans.
Like winning another gold medal in 2016 in Brazil.
The new Walsh Jennings-Ross partnership will be on display beginning Friday at the final AVP volleyball tournament of the year at Huntington Beach.
Walsh Jennings says her expectations for the tournament, and for most of this year after having her third child in April, have been modest. "I'm still a little chubby after having my third baby," she said. But she also said she feels like an eager rookie with her new partner. That's not a knock on her old partner.
"The energy is so new, everything is new, I'm so geeked out," Walsh Jennings said before the tournament, which began with preliminary matches Thursday and will finish Sunday.
Walsh Jennings also said she feels revitalized, because she has to.
"I've never played with anyone with as much energy as April has," she said. "It's like looking in a mirror out there. I think we're really similar in the way we play and the way we feel about playing. I don't think I would have guessed that really."
Ross, 31, though the younger of the two, sounded like a calm older sister when she spoke about her new teammate.
"Beach volleyball is a living, breathing organism," Ross, a former indoor player from USC, said. "You change as you go, and that's what it's like for Kerri and I. We're shaping our team, and it would be amazing to win a gold medal in 2016. It's the ultimate prize in sports. Kerri has three. I want one."
So far the new partnership is working. Walsh Jennings and Ross are 15-1 together.
Ross, a high school star at Newport Harbor High, played indoor volleyball professionally until 2006.
"Then I moved to the beach," she said. "All the hard pounding indoors, my body just couldn't take it anymore."
She said that even though she grew up practically on the beach, it wasn't where she enjoyed playing volleyball. "It's really, really hard," Ross said. "I didn't enjoy it at all. It's much harder to play than indoor. I mean, there's only two of you. But the beach is easier on your body.
"Every single skill on the beach is much harder than indoors, especially when you're learning the game," Ross said. "But once I got the hang of the beach game, I never looked back. I missed the memories of playing indoors, but now I love the beach."
Ross started every match of her USC career and led the team in kills and points each year. She was national freshman of the year and first-team all-Pac-10 four times and led the Trojans to consecutive NCAA championships in 2002 and 2003.
Ross and Kessy lost to May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings in the Olympic gold-medal match in London. Kessy is now playing with Rachel Scott, and that new pair is also in the Huntington Beach event.
The silver medal was wonderful, Ross said, but adding a gold to her collection with Walsh Jennings would be "just awesome."
As for playing with a three-time Olympic gold medalist, Ross sounded as if she still didn't believe it.
"I never thought I'd be good enough to play with her," Ross said. "Partly it was intimidation. I was used to getting hammered by Kerri and Misty."
Walsh Jennings said it would never be fair to compare what she has already accomplished with May-Treanor and what she may accomplish with Ross.
"We're Kerri and April," Walsh Jennings said. "Kerri and Misty, that was another entity."