Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Alix Klineman, beach volleyball gold medalist, is pregnant, may make 2024 Olympic run

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Olympic beach volleyball champion Alix Klineman announced she is pregnant, sharing sonograms on social media on Monday.

Klineman, 33, and retired NHL player Teddy Purcell, 37, are having a boy, according to the post.

Klineman won the Tokyo Olympic title with April Ross in her first Games and four years after picking up the sport full-time after an indoor career.

Klineman’s last tournament was October 2021, after which she had shoulder surgery in January 2022. Klineman is due later this summer and said she might make “a last-second run” to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, according to volleyballmag.com.

“Right now my priority is having a healthy pregnancy and doing everything I can to deliver a healthy baby, but if everything worked out perfectly and magically maybe there would be a chance to make a last-second run at the Olympics,” she said, according to the report. “I’m still holding out hope for that, but at the same time I don’t feel comfortable saying 100 percent I’m doing this because I don’t know how my body is going to react, I don’t know how I’m going to feel emotionally after everything so I just feel like I have to take it one step at a time.

“You just hear so much about how it changes your world, and I’m sure it’ll change mine. It’s just something I’m going to have to wait and see. Initially we were hoping this would have happened a little bit earlier just to give me a bigger and better opportunity to come back for Paris, but life has its own plans so we’re just happy to be expecting a boy and to become parents and all that.”

Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The first significant tournament in qualifying for the 2024 Paris Games is next month. Qualifying runs into June 2024.

Teams with Olympic ambitions probably need to compete at some point in 2023 or risk falling significantly behind in qualifying for a maximum of two spots per country.

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Kerri Walsh Jennings sets timeline to decide beach volleyball future

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, the most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player in history, said she would begin deliberating this week as to whether she will make a 2024 Olympic run.

Walsh Jennings, 44 and a three-time Olympic gold medalist, was asked about the 2024 Paris Games at her induction into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts last weekend.

“I’m going to start testing it next week and take the next couple months before the new year to test it out,” she told a local news station. “After the new year, I should have an answer.”

In her induction speech, Walsh Jennings said she had the same love for the sport as she did as a 10-year-old fifth-grader starting indoor volleyball. She emphasized that she competed in five Olympics so far and pursued six Olympics so far, after just missing a Tokyo Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings said in a podcast published in April that she wanted to partner with 2000 Olympic indoor teammate Logan Tom for a 2024 Olympic run. Walsh Jennings last played competitively in June 2021, making this the longest break of her 21-year beach career.

“I’m trying to get her to come out to the beach and go win Paris with me, but we’ll see,” Walsh Jennings said then of Tom, a 41-year-old whose last Olympics was 2012. “If I come back, I want to play with the legend of all legends, who is Logan Tom.”

Efforts to reach Walsh Jennings for comment on her partner situation have been unsuccessful.

Qualifying for the Paris Olympics begins in January and lasts into June 2024. Each nation can qualify up to two teams per gender.

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