No. 4 Jen Kessy and April Ross will be facing off against No. 3 in the world in Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh in the gold medal match for women's beach volleyball. Either could walk away with the gold, but what is certain is that in a sport where each country is only allowed two teams, the U.S. women will sweep the gold and silver.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
Before the London Games began, there were questions surrounding May-Treanor and Walsh. Both were aging, both had taken time off from the sport and many were wondering if they had enough to make beach volleyball history and win a third consecutive gold.
Ranked eighth on the FIVB Tour, May-Treanor and Walsh opted not to play in a large number of events in 2012. They spent more time dedicated to preparing for another gold medal run, something that is now looking more possible than ever.
They have not been the team they were entering Beijing when they were on an incredible winning streak and the clear gold medal favorites. In fact, coming into London, they weren't favorites at all. As the third seed there, was a chance they could make it into the gold medal final, but the level of difficulty at the tournament was stacked and most did not expect the two-time defending gold medalists to do it again.
One of the teams standing in their way was the undisputed favorite and world No. 1 in Brazil's Larissa and Julianna, who, as it turned out, were dispatched by perhaps the biggest surprise of the women's tournament, Kessy and Ross.
Making their Olympic debut, Kessy and Ross, who are actually ahead of May and Walsh in the FIVB World standings, showed solid and consistent performances throughout the Games. They have even been one of the best offensive teams as both Kessy and Ross possess power serves and the ability to execute kills down the line.
Against the top Brazilian duo, Kessy and Ross had a slow start, and it looked like Larissa and Julianna were going to sail through without dropping a set.
Unfortunately for the Brazilians, the American pair headed into a new gear when they were down in the second set. They went on a run and started to rifle on points, frustrating the Brazilians and ultimatlely shattering their chemistry.
Kessy and Ross, on the other hand, had no problems with chemistry and they used their powerful offensive attacking to best and upset Larissa and Julianna, ensuring themselves of at least a silver medal.
Both of the American teams have a strong partnership and both work well together. May-Treanor and Walsh have the advantage of being together longer and they have a lot of experience at this stage but Kessy and Ross shouldn't be counted out. They have proven throughout these Olympic Games that they can contend for a medal, and they will have a shot to do so for gold in tomorrow's finals.
It will be an interesting matchup as the two teams really do have opposite styles. Kessy and Ross are more of an offensive team relying on service aces and powerful shots that are hard to defend.
May-Treanor and Walsh, on the other hand, even though they are an all-around team, excel particularly on defense. This is due in partly to Walsh's height and uncanny ability to block at the net, but May is also good on defense and is considered one of the best diggers in the game.
What it could come down to is that experience, those two gold medals that May-Treanor and Walsh have. Kessy and Ross have the ability to stay with the best in terms of scoring, as they showed against the Brazilians, but they can't match the experience and the familiarity that their American teammates have.
Another interesting dynamic that could come into play is the time the match is played. I wouldn't say that May-Treanor and Walsh aren't favored in the daytime, but due to Kessy's recent issues with her feet getting frozen in the cold sand, it could be a factor in the outcome. Kessy and Ross could stand a better chance at dethroning the Olympic champions if the match is during the day, but even then it will be a tough task.
It is likely this match will go one of two ways.
If it is a blowout, two-set victory, May-Treanor and Walsh will be the three-time defending Olympic champions, finishing their illustrious career with an unbeaten Olympic record and by dropping only one set.
If the match goes three sets and if Kessy and Ross can hang in with the defending champions, they will have a great shot at winning the gold medal and at doing what they came to London to do.