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Race for Olympic beach volleyball spots heats up World Tour Finals

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April Ross and Alix Klineman can all but wrap up an Olympic beach volleyball berth this weekend. For Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, a strong finish at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome may prove crucial for Tokyo 2020 hopes.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage Saturday (6 a.m. ET quarterfinals and 12 p.m. semifinals) and same-day finals coverage Sunday at 12 p.m. NBCSN airs coverage Sunday at 11 p.m.

The international season ends with a bucket of Olympic qualifying points available. There will be more tournaments in the fall, winter and spring before the Olympic qualifying cutoff date of June 14, but the majority of next season’s schedule has not been announced.

“It’s so uncertain right now,” NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong said. “You need to lock in points as soon as possible. We don’t know how many events there are going to be next year.”

And there might not be any events with as many Olympic qualifying points at stake as the World Tour Finals, which carries five-star-level status. Only the biennial world championships, which took place earlier this season, had greater ramifications.

A maximum of two U.S. pairs per gender can qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, her new partner as of two years ago, are ranked No. 1 in the world. With the World Tour Finals, they will reach the requirement of 12 events played to be eligible for the Olympics.

They already have 8,160 Olympic qualifying points, which is 1,280 better than the next-best U.S. team of Walsh Jennings and Sweat.

Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion who split with Ross after their Rio Olympic bronze medals, paired with Sweat about a year ago. They have been up and down but grinded through qualifying matches to reach main draws all season.

They have a 580-point lead for the second and final U.S. Olympic spot over the No. 3 American team of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.

Both pairs have met the 12-tournament requirement, which means each is playing to replace their lowest-scoring result so far. Teams can play as many tournaments as they like in the Olympic qualifying window, but only their 12 best points results count.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat are looking to drop a 480-point score. Claes and Sponcil want to drop a 240-point score, which means they can finish lower than Walsh Jennings and Sweat this weekend and still gain on them in the qualifying standings.

The World Tour Finals winners get 1,200 points, a significant increase over a four-star event (800 points) and a three-star event (600 points).

On the men’s side, three pairs are also in the running for two Olympic spots. The teams include 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and brothers playing with different partners — Taylor Crabb with Jake Gibb and Trevor Crabb with Tri Bourne.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman win biggest title of their young partnership

April Ross, Alix Klineman
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April Ross and Alix Klineman notched the biggest title of their two-year beach volleyball partnership and consolidated their lead in U.S. Olympic qualifying on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, in her third beach season since switching from indoor, won an FIVB World Tour Major Series event in Gstaad, Switzerland. Major events carry the most Olympic qualifying points of any tournament outside the world championships.

Ross and Klineman, who earned world champs silver a week ago, swept three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat 21-17, 21-13 in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Then on Sunday, they swept Swiss Tanja Hüberli and Nina Betschart 22-20, 21-17 in the semifinals and rallied past Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Carol Salgado 15-21, 21-17, 15-12 in the final.

Ross and Klineman have won four FIVB World Tour events since they began playing together at the start of the 2018 season. They’ve made at least the quarterfinals in their last 11 World Tour events.

Ross and Walsh Jennings split in 2017, less than a year after taking bronze in Rio. Ross earned world silver with Lauren Fendrick in 2017 before picking up former Stanford indoor player Klineman later that year.

Ross and Klineman have a comfortable lead for one of two U.S. Olympic spots more than halfway through the two-year qualifying window. Walsh Jennings and Sweat are in second place after a boost as the only other U.S. pair to make the quarterfinals in Gstaad.

There is one more major event this season in two weeks in Vienna.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champion eyes comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman take silver at beach volleyball worlds

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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman took silver at the world beach volleyball championships, getting swept 23-21, 23-21 in the final by Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in Hamburg, Germany on Saturday.

“I’m pretty upset,” Ross told media in Hamburg, adding that she and Klineman did not play their best. “To get here and have it be Alix’s first world championships, it would have been so amazing to win the gold. … It stings a ton.”

Ross, 37, earned a world medal with a third different partner after taking gold with her now-coach Jennifer Kessy in 2009 and silver with Lauren Fendrick in 2017, four months before announcing her new partnership with Klineman. No U.S. men’s or women’s team has won a world title since 2009.

Klineman, 29, nearly scaled the heights of the sport in just her third season since switching from a professional indoor career.

“She’s already one of the best players in the world,” Ross said. “It’s really scary for other teams.”

Ross and Klineman consolidated their lead in U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with about a year’s worth of tournaments left. The top two U.S. pairs come June are in line to go to Tokyo.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings, who split from Rio bronze-medal partner Ross in 2017, and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, are in the mix but took a step back with Walsh Jennings’ earliest career exit from an Olympics or worlds.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes have been one of the world’s formidable teams since pairing to start this Olympic cycle. But this marked their first tournament win this season.

Pavan, who helped Nebraska to the 2006 NCAA women’s indoor title with U.S. Olympic indoor captain Jordan Larson, lost in the Rio Olympic quarterfinals with former partner Heather Bansley.

In men’s action Saturday, Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb fell in the semifinals to Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy 21-13, 19-21, 15-11 after upsetting Brazilians Andre and George in the quarterfinals.

The top U.S. team of the last few years, 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, were eliminated by Germans Julius Thole and Clemens Wickler 21-18, 21-17 in the quarterfinals.

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report.

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings has earliest Olympic/worlds exit of career

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