Team of the Week: Ross & Klineman
Lausanne, Switzerland, November 3, 2020 – "It's such a blessing to be able to play this sport as my job and I'm just going to play it for as long as I can," says 38-year-old American beach volleyball star April Ross.
Lausanne, Switzerland, November 3, 2020 – "It's such a blessing to be able to play this sport as my job and I'm just going to play it for as long as I can," says 38-year-old American beach volleyball star April Ross. And a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with partner Alix Klineman would certainly provide a great climax for both players. Dubbed “the A-Team”, April and Alix are the number two pair in the current FIVB World Ranking and Volleyball World's Team of the Week.
April Ross and Alix Klineman - Watch on Volleyball TV.
April Ross and Alix Klineman - Watch on Volleyball TV.
April’s great run with Kessy
Ross was 24 when she first appeared on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in 2006. Her journey to international glory, however, really started the following year when she partnered with Jennifer Kessy. They failed to pass through the country quota match at their very first World Tour event together, but at their second attempt, the 2007 Stavanger Grand Slam, Ross and Kessy made an incredible breakthrough from the country quota, through two rounds of qualifications and defeats in their first two pool matches in the main draw, all the way to the top of the podium.
Two years later, that same venue in Norway staged one of the greatest highlights in the Americans' careers, as Ross and Kessy won gold at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship.
April and Jennifer show off their World Championship gold medals in Stavanger
“The best memory was when the last ball landed and we knew we had won,” Ross told fivb.com. “I remember jumping into Jen’s arms and just feeling so amazed at what we had done. It will always be one of my fondest memories.”
The next big milestone came in the form of an Olympic debut in 2012. At the London Games, the pair claimed silver after losing only the final match to their legendary compatriots, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
When the amazing tandem played their last World Tour tournament together in August 2013, Ross and Kessy had amassed a formidable collection of nine gold, 11 silver and nine bronze medals on the Tour.
Carry on with Kerri
Soon after the September 2013 split with Kessy, Ross teamed up long term with Kerri Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medallist at the time. They immediately won gold at their first three appearances on the World Tour – the Sao Paulo and the Xiamen Grand Slams in October and the Fuzhou Open in April 2014.
A prolific partnership also featured an Olympic bronze won at Rio 2016, 11 golds, three silvers and two bronze medals on the World Tour.
Second World Championship medal
Ross then partnered with Lauren Fendrick. They played together on the World Tour from May through August 2017. Even if they only stepped on to an international podium once together, it was significant. Ross and Fendrick took silver at the 2017 World Championship in Vienna.
Alix before April
Before joining forces with Ross on the beach, Alix Klineman was predominantly an indoor player. She won continental gold medals with the US national team at both the youth and the junior levels and eventually became a member of the senior squad. She played professionally for clubs in Italy and Brazil for several years.
In 2017, Klineman switched to beach playing domestically on USA’s AVP Tour. Her first appearance on the World Tour came the following year, only after she and Ross decided to team up, coached by April’s former teammate Jennifer Kessy.
"I was just looking towards Tokyo and who I could win a gold medal with. With Alix's background from indoor, and I knew she grew up in Manhattan Beach playing beach volleyball, I just thought there was a ton of potential. We talked about it before we decided to play together, and it just seemed that everything that she was saying matched with how I felt and vice versa. I think we both have really good work ethics and attitudes; we are on the same page in lots of different ways. Her motivation for switching to the beach was right. She wanted to make the Olympics and I know how motivating that can be. To have that fire under you - I want that on my team," Ross said in an interview for FAIR GAME.
"It was a really hard decision to make the switch. I grew up playing a little bit of beach as a young kid and I kind of always imagined that I would go back to the beach, but I had been training on the national team and I had a pretty good career overseas, so I knew, being a rookie in another sport, I would take a huge pay cut. But I really wanted to try it, to take that risk, so I just did it and didn't really look back... No regrets!" Klineman added.
As if to prove that it was the right decision, the new duo achieved immediate success. April and Alix triumphed at their very first tournament together. Starting off in two country quota matches and two qualification matches, the new pair extended their victorious run to 10 consecutive games to claim gold at the Hague 4-star in January 2018.
Klineman became only the third woman in history to win a gold medal at her first World Tour event.
“I’m still in shock!” she told fivb.com after the final in The Hague, in which they shut out Brazilian standouts Maria Antonelli and Carolina Solberg Salgado. “We prepared the same way and we tried to play this game as we would play any other game and it was enough in the end.”
At the 2019 World Championships in Hamburg, Ross and Klineman took the silver, April’s third medal from FIVB’s top competition. But that result did not feel good enough for her at the time.
“I’m pretty upset. To get here and have it be Alix’s first World Championship, it would have been so amazing to win the gold,” Ross said after the final. “We’re obviously very happy to win a silver medal at the World Championship. This is the best I’ve ever done at a World Championship in an Olympic qualifying year by far, and it goes a long way towards Tokyo so we’re proud about that. But it stings to not have the gold at a World Championship. To not pull that out hurts a lot.”
In addition to that Hamburg silver, the American pair have collected four gold medals and one silver over the two seasons played on the World Tour, before the pandemic put a temporary stop to their international rise.
They also dominated domestically, winning as many as 10 gold medals on the AVP Tour, including all three events on the 2020 calendar that were held after the coronavirus lockdown was relaxed.
“We honestly didn’t know how these tournaments would go for us with so much going on. We made sure we did all we could to be ready for them, but we knew all the other teams would be doing the same, so to get to win all three tournaments is incredible and it really feels like a reward for all our hard work,” 30-year-old Klineman commented.
Despite being the number two team in the World Ranking, April and Alix are not qualified for Tokyo 2020 just yet, especially with so much internal competition coming from fellow American pairs. But aware of the huge challenge ahead, they have confidence and the Olympic gold is definitely what’s on their minds.