Sara Hughes

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour

April Ross, Alix Klineman get early Olympic beach volleyball qualifying boost

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The U.S. Olympic qualifying chase in women’s beach volleyball figures to be among the most dramatic for the Tokyo Games.

Take last week’s Yangzhou Open, the biggest tournament so far in an Olympic qualification window that runs into June 2020.

April Ross, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 World silver medalist, and new partner Alix Klineman won the FIVB World Tour event in China, sweeping Brazilians Ana Patricia and Rebecca 21-19, 21-16 in Sunday’s final.

“Almost didnt get into China bc didnt realize visa was in my old passport, heroes helped, figured out a way,” was tweeted from Ross’ account. “We played terribly in pool, enlisted more help, believed. Called on more help to prepare for unknown teams, fought hard, won.”

The other top U.S. team from last season, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, rallied for bronze in Yangzhou, 16-21, 23-21, 15-5 over Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.

Those medal matches came after April Ross and Klineman eliminated triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Kelly Claes in the round of 16. Ross and Walsh Jennings earned bronze together at the Rio Games, then split last year.

Walsh Jennings’ partner for an Olympic run is not Claes but Brooke Sweat, which slightly lessened the impact of the Yangzhou defeat.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three looking to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player, and Sweat will play for the first time in this week’s FIVB World Tour event in Las Vegas, which doubles as a stop on Walsh Jennings’ new p1440 circuit. The event has the same amount of Olympic qualifying points as Yangzhou.

No more than two pairs per gender per nation can qualify for the Olympics, adding results from the next 18 months of international competitions.

That means at least one of Ross/Klineman, Hughes/Ross and Walsh Jennings/Sweat will not make Tokyo.

MORE: U.S. women’s volleyball has worst global result in 12 years

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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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Phil Dalhausser named beach volleyball’s most outstanding player

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Phil Dalhausser earned beach volleyball’s top international honor, the World Tour’s Most Outstanding Player, for the fourth time and the first time since 2014.

Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic champion, and partner Nick Lucena won three tournaments this season, including the World Tour Finals. At the 2016 Olympics, the duo lost to eventual gold medalists Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt of Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Dalhausser was also named the Best Blocker for the seventh time and the Best Offensive Player for the fifth time. He has won more post-season awards, 30, than any other player.

Fellow American John Hyden was named the Most Inspirational Player. The 44-year-old, a two-time Olympian in indoor, finished top-five in four of his six international tournaments in 2017 with Ryan Doherty.

On the women’s side, Germany’s Laura Ludwig was named the Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive season. Ludwig and partner Kira Walkenhorst swept the year’s two biggest tournaments: the world beach volleyball championships and World Tour Finals. They also won the two most prestigious tournaments of 2016: the Rio Olympics and World Tour Finals.

Ludwig was also named the Best Defensive Player, Sportswoman of the Year and Most Inspirational Player.

American April Ross was voted the Best Server for the fifth time and the third consecutive season.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, has said she will reevaluate her partnership with Lauren Fendrick at the end of this season.

22-year-old Sara Hughes, won two national championships with Kelly Claes at USC, was honored as the Rookie of the Year.

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MORE: The beach volleyball player who turned down Kerri Walsh Jennings

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