Sara Hughes, Summer Ross net U.S. beach volleyball’s biggest breakout in a decade

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Sara Hughes and Summer Ross bagged the biggest title for a U.S. women’s beach volleyball team — not including Kerri Walsh Jennings or April Ross — in more than a decade on Sunday.

Hughes, 23, and Summer Ross, 25, beat formidable Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-19, 12-21, 15-12 in the final of an FIVB World Tour event in Moscow. It’s the first international title for the team of Hughes and Ross, who partnered in March.

“Being in the finals meant everything, and I’m so happy I had this girl by my side,” Hughes said. “Brazil, they played great, and we just competed hard and came out with the win.”

It’s a welcome victory for U.S. beach volleyball, which is looking for young players to succeed Walsh Jennings, who is 39, and April Ross, who is 36.

Sunday marked the first FIVB senior-level tournament title for either player, Hughes’ first final and the first final for Summer Ross in five years. The duo also won both of their AVP starts this season, rolling into Olympic qualifying that starts later this year.

Hughes and Ross (no relation to April) previously showed potential with other partners. Hughes and Kelly Claes won four NCAA titles at USC, causing Walsh Jennings to court Hughes as a potential partner a year ago. Hughes declined.

Ross was an early 2016 U.S. Olympic hopeful with Emily Day, reaching four FIVB World Tour Grand Slam quarterfinals in 2013 and 2014. But they broke up at the end of the 2014 season, and Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick ended up grabbing the second Olympic spot after Walsh Jennings and Ross.

Hughes and Ross and April Ross and Alix Klineman are the only U.S. women’s pairs to win top-level FIVB events since August 2016. Every top U.S. beach team has formed in the last year. Walsh Jennings is currently without a partner after breaking up with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh.

MORE: Walsh Jennings narrows potential partner list

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