April Ross and Alix Klineman weren’t supposed to be in Southern California this weekend. Had all things remained normal in the world, they’d have been in Tokyo, preparing for Ross’s third Olympic Games and Klineman’s first.
Normal, of course, has not been the case with much this year. Instead of Tokyo, Ross and Klineman were in Long Beach, with the rest of the top 18 teams per gender on the AVP Tour. And, since they were here anyway, may as well win the thing.
On Sunday in Long Beach, Ross and Klineman topped Brandie Wilkerson and Sara Hughes in the final of the first AVP Champions Cup, 24-22, 21-19. It marked the eighth AVP title for the two, who have been playing together since 2018.
“We’re making the most of it,” said Klineman, who hit .400 in the finals. “We’re just really grateful that we have the opportunity to play right now. To be here even without the fans, it’s obviously not the same, but it felt good to be out there.”
And tiring. When asked in the Amazon Prime booth afterwards what they’d be looking to work on this week in preparation for next weekend’s Wilson Cup, Ross joked, “resting!” The format for the tournament — just eight teams in the main draw — may have been shorter, but still: This was the first time Ross and Klineman had competed since September’s AVP Hawai’i Open.
That explains, in part, some of the slow starts, and several moments in which Ross and Klineman found themselves down in pivotal moments. Take the first set of the finals vs. Wilkerson and Hughes, for example.
Ross and Klineman, after beating World Champions and AVP rivals Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan, were down 16-20.
“There were some frustrating moments where we could have let it get the best of us,” Ross said, “and we didn’t.”
No, they certainly did not. They rallied, scoring four straight to tie it, before pushing once more to finish the set, 24-22.
“When we’re down it actually fuels some of our best play because we get fired up and we start thinking about what we need to do to play better,” Klineman said. “It wasn’t maybe our most consistent tournament but mentally, we were there, we had good attitudes, we were resetting. I’m proud of the ways we battled.”
While not every match needed a four-point run to save a set, most matches provided a few tense moments. In Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup with Wilkerson and Hughes, who beat Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes in the other semifinal on Sunday, they started off down 5-9 in the first. Then they rallied, winning 21-19, 21-17.
Another opportunity to battle came one match later, in Sunday’s semifinal, against Humana-Paredes and Pavan. They dropped the first set, 14-21, before taking the next two, 21-15, 15-12.
Was it a perfect tournament? Not quite. But a useful one? No doubt.
“This is an amazing opportunity to get better, and work on what we need to improve to be the best come Tokyo,” Ross said. “We’re focused on those themes throughout.”