Sydney flashback: Kerri Walsh Jennings to face former indoor opponent on sand

Picture this: 19-year-old Australian indoor volleyball player Louise Bawden is making her Olympic debut at the Sydney Games. It’s the third match of preliminary play and the Australians, 1-2 in pool play, are about to face the undefeated Americans. 

Bawden, a setter, passes the ball to fellow Aussie teammate Angela Clarke only to be blocked by 22-year-old Kerri Walsh. The U.S. women win in straight sets and the Aussies exit the tournament the next day after losing four out of five pool play matches. 

Fast forward sixteen years and Bawden and Walsh are still playing the game though years of experience and a lot of sand have moved their careers in a slightly different direction. 

Kerri Walsh Jennings is making her fifth consecutive Olympic appearance, her fourth in beach, at the Rio Games. She’s hoping to grab her fourth consecutive Olympic gold and claim the shining accolades that come with the lofty goal; be the first volleyball player to win four gold medals, the third U.S. woman to win gold at four different Games, and the oldest medalist in beach volleyball history. 

To achieve those goals, she’ll have to beat Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy to advance to the semifinals of the Rio Olympic beach volleyball tournament. 

While Walsh Jenning switched to beach volleyball shortly after the Sydney Games, Bawden stuck to indoor. After the Australian women failed to qualify for the Athens Games, she took time to focus on school and began working in communications. 

But when the Aussie attended the Beijing Games as a spectator, seeing world class athletes inspired her to return to the sport, though opting to make the switch to sand. By 2012, Bawden was back in peak form and qualified for the London Games with Becchara Palmer. 

The Australian women failed to advance after preliminary play while Walsh Jennings, alongside former partner Misty May-Treanor, went on to win their third consecutive Olympic gold. 

Louise Bawden is back the Olympic Games with a new partner, Taliqua Clancy, and the duo entered the tournament as the seventh seed. The pair managed to make it out of pool play unscathed and are set to face Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross in the quarterfinals. 

Sixteen years since their first Olympic faceoff, Bawden and Walsh Jennings will meet again, though with fewer teammates and in a slightly different game, with hopes of securing a semifinal berth and taking a step closer to Olympic glory. 

Watch live on on Aug. 14 at 11:00 p.m. ET.