American collegiate rivals Sarah Sponcil (left) and Kelly Claes are playing together at the 2019 FIVB World Championships in Hamburg.
Hamburg, Germany, June 29, 3019 - A day after losing their first two pool matches in the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships presented by comdirect & ALDI, two American women's teams secured late morning victories here Saturday to help celebrate the 46th birthday of the country's beach volleyball director Sean Scott.
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Scott, who missed the 2005 FIVB World Championships in Berlin due to a hand injury, is best known for his long-time partnership with Todd Rogers. The Berlin World Championships was Rogers' first-ever match with Phil Dalhausser as the pair started playing together for good in 2006 that led to their World Championship title in 2007 and Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medal.
A third women's United States match was played early Saturday evening as 2009 FIVB world champion April Ross teamed with her fifth-seeded partner Alix Klineman posted a 2-0 (21-8, 21-7) win in 25 minutes over 44th-seeded Valeria Mendoza/Lolette Rodriguez of Nicaragua.
The American teams of 15th-seeded Kelley Larsen/Emily Stockman and 18th-seeded Brooke Sweat/Kerri Walsh Jennings dropped their opening matches Friday to pairs from Germany and the Netherlands, respectively.
To start play Saturday, 11th-seeded Sara Hughes/Summer Ross and 10th-seeded Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil evened the American women's mark for the 2019 World Championships with Ross and Klineman's victory improving the mark to 3-2.
Playing in the same pool with ninth-seeded Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes/Sarah Pavan, the 16th-seeded Claes and Sponcil scored a 2-0 (21-8, 21-16) Pool I win in 28 minutes over 33rd-seeded Ekaterina Birlova/Evgeniya Ukolova of Russia.
Hughes and Ross were extended to three sets as the 11th-seeded Americans posted a 2-1 (21-18, 15-21, 16-14) win in 48 minutes over 38th-seeded Ana Gallay/Fernanda Pereyra of Argentina. Gallay and Pereyra almost pulled off the upset after trailing 14-9 in the third and deciding set.
Summer Ross (left) and Sara Hughes of the United States
Former collegiate and FIVB World Tour partners, Claes and Hughes are playing in their second World Championships after placing ninth together at the 2017 Vienna finale. Ross placed fifth in Vienna with Sweat while Sponcil is playing in her first World Championships after completing her collegiate career in May in leading UCLA to the national title along with the Canadian McNamara twins (Megan and Nicole).
"In 2017, it was literally straight out of college so just being in the World Championships was a dream come true," said Hughes. "I almost didn’t understand how much of a powerhouse tournament it was. We were just the new college girls just coming out and having fun. We placed well but I am coming into this tournament with a different partner and a little bit more expectations."
Hughes added that she and Summer Ross are "out here to have fun and play our best, but we don’t want anyone to take us lightly. We want to be on the podium at the end of the day, that is what we are striving for. We want to come out and win a gold medal here and go to the Olympics and compete to the best of our ability for Team USA.”
Claes, who was eliminated with Hughes by eventual world champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst in the Vienna worlds, said playing the "German Olympic champions was fun. Sara and I had just beaten them (in the bronze medal match at an exhibition event in Long Beach). They were so fun to watch and so fun to play against."
Claes also noted that with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics "so close, an amazing finish here is going to make all the difference. I think the cool thing about me and Sarah’s (Sponcil) partnership is I kind of look ahead and she very much grounds us and keeps us in the present. I’m the one who sits down and looks at all the points because you need to know where you are standing, and she is just like “I don’t care, let’s just play."
Claes ended by saying she is "excited about this partnership and excited about Sarah, she is awesome, and I could rave about her for days. Again, a good showing here is going to make or break for a lot of teams.”