Rachel Wacholder was back on familiar sand, walking in the direction she had a million times, then stopped.
"I was afraid to go to the players' tent," she said. "I don't feel like I'm a player anymore. Can I really go in there?"
Wacholder and mom-in-arms Kerri Walsh spent the rest of Friday showing everyone, including themselves, they do belong back on the AVP tour.
With their newborn baby boys lurking - and sleeping, eating and being ogled almost as much as their moms - Walsh and Wacholder won three matches and then nearly pulled off a stunning upset.
That's all they needed.
"I didn't want to think of it and make it really important, but it is important," said Walsh, who gave birth to Joseph Michael Jennings on May 22. "I think we're inspiring a lot of people out here, and from Rachel and I, the fact that we're playing at a really high level, we had chances against world champions and we felt like we blew it."
Their fourth and final match of the first day was a 21-17, 17-21, 15-13 loss to second-seeded Jen Kessy and April Ross, who were returning to the AVP after playing five consecutive FIVB events in Europe.
Kessy and Ross, who captured the world championships in Stavanger, Norway, and also won in Marseille, France, joined top-seeded Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs as semifinalists.
"To play Kerri and Rachel again, it feels really good," Kessy said. "To have Kerri out here? She's one of the best, if not the best, blockers in the world. It feels like something's been missing. She's a gnarly competitor."
Truth be told, Walsh and Wacholder were a step slow on many occasions. They were complaining about their lack of jump, and just where is that darn muscle memory?
"I feel like if I could jump, I would be fine, and that's still not happening," said Wacholder, who delivered Koa Daniel Scott by C-section on April 3. "I felt like earlier in the day it was a little bit better. Two weeks ago I couldn't get out of the sand, so I'm happy to get a little bit out of it. My brain can still jump, but my legs can't."
But Walsh, with 103 titles, and Wacholder, who has eight, haven't lost the desire to compete. In the third round against Ashley Ivy and Lauren Fendrick, they erased a match point in the second game, fell behind by four points in the third and rallied for a 15-13 win in the closing game.
The ever-ebullient Walsh smiled as she recalled the moment.
"We were down big and I look over and see Joey, and I'm like `I'm not tired,"' she said. "It was new inspiration."
While the top two seeds wait in the semifinals, No. 4 seeds Carrie Dodd and Dianne DeNecochea will face No. 8 Tyra Turner and Angie Akers, with the winner facing sixth-seeded Walsh and Wacholder.
Seventh-seeded Priscilla Lima and Tatiana Minello will face No. 9 Jennifer Fopma and Brittany Hochevar, with the winner facing No. 5 Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan.
Each of the top eight men's seeds advanced to the winner's bracket. The final is scheduled for Sunday.