April Ross, Alix Klineman win AVP beach volleyball’s socially distanced return

April Ross, Alix Klineman
Robert Beck/AVP
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Olympic medal favorites April Ross and Alix Klineman won the first AVP beach volleyball tournament since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, taking the AVP Champions Cup in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday and Sunday.

Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, rallied past American Sara Hughes and Canadian Brandie Wilkerson in Sunday’s final 24-22, 21-19. Ross and Klineman were down 20-16 in the first set.

They lifted a trophy during a time they thought they would be heading to Tokyo for the Olympics, which have been postponed to open July 23, 2021.

“It’s not what anybody hoped for, but I think we’re making the most of it,” Klineman told Dain Blanton NBC. “We took the time off to enjoy that time but also to get stronger and healthier. We’re just really grateful that we even have opportunities to play right now.”

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist, and Klineman beat reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada 14-21, 21-15, 15-12 in the semifinals earlier Sunday. Those are the two favorites for Olympic gold in Tokyo next summer.

Ross and Klineman paired in 2017 after Ross and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings split with Walsh Jennings’ decision not to sign an AVP contract. Ross and Klineman won their first international tournament together in 2018. They also racked up eight AVP titles in 13 starts over the last three years.

Ross and Klineman have a comfortable lead in U.S. Olympic qualifying more than halfway through the period. Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Rio Olympian Brooke Sweat, are trying to hold off Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil for the second and final spot. AVP tournaments do not count toward Olympic qualifying.

Earlier Sunday, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena beat three-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb 21-19, 13-21, 15-13 in the men’s final.

Dalhausser and Lucena, Gibb and Crabb and Tri Bourne and Crabb’s older brother, Trevor, will battle next year for two U.S. Olympic men’s spots. Dalhausser and Lucena rank third more than halfway through qualifying, but they still have one more tournament to count, while the other teams can only count a result in place of a worse previous result.

Dalhausser and Lucena, both 40, would both break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, according to Olympedia.org. As would the 44-year-old Gibb. And Walsh Jennings, 41.

The AVP Champions Cup is a three-weekend series of three tournaments replacing the normal AVP season. Every tournament takes place in the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

Every player competing began undergoing weekly coronavirus tests three weeks ago. No players tested positive as of Thursday, the day before play began with qualifying. Each player also gets their temperature taken upon arrival at the tournament site.

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