FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Watching her team lose had to be hard Wednesday for Jen Kessy, even though she said coaching “is easier, to be honest.”
The former beach star is the coach for April Ross and Alix Klineman, a new pair in 2018.
“It’s been a dream coaching them so far,” Kessy said.
But they got off to a rough start in pool play at the five-star FIVB Fort Lauderdale Major after winning their debut tournament in the Hague in January.
Ross and Klineman, the 12th seed, lost their first match to 21st-seeded Karla Borger and Margareta Korzuch of Germany 21-18, 21-17.
Kessy, who won 10 FIVB events and won the Olympic silver medal with Ross in 2012, retired after the 2015 season. Like Ross, she played indoors at USC.
Now 40, the mother of two is on the sidelines.
“It’s been a fairly smooth transition, I think, because I know April so well,” Kessy said. “Getting to know Alix day by day is pretty easy. It’s pretty natural with her.”
It doesn’t get any easier, because the Ross and Klineman play fifth-seeded Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado of Brazil on Thursday.
Overall, there were mixed results for the American women. Top-seeded Nicole Branagh and Lauren Fendrick, another new pair, won twice, winning their pool and the coveted bye that goes with it. They beat Ingrid Lunde and Oda Ulveseth of Norway 22-20, 21-16, and Taru Lahti and Anniina Parkkinen of Finland 26-24, 21-13.
“It feels great to win the pool,” Fendrick said. “Good start.”
“I think we had a little advantage there with the home crowd,” Branagh said. “it’s fun to play in that atmosphere and the back and forth in that first game was fun, you’re on the edge of your seat, and us too. We’re just trying to focus on siding out every ball to keep that advantage, it was a fun game to play, and I thought we worked well together and communicated well to keep pushing the pressure onto them.”
And the kids, 11th-seeded Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, won twice. They grinded past Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez 19-21, 26-24, 15-13 before rolling past sixth-seeded Nina Betschart and Tanja Huberli of Switzerland 21-16, 21-11.
Emily Day and Brittany Hochevar lost to third-seeded Chantal Labourer and Julia Sude of German 21-17, 21-17.
Summer Ross and Brooke Sweat split, as the 13th-seeded pair beat Carolina Horta and Taiana Lima of Brazil 28-26, 21-19, but then lost to fourth-seeded Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic 21-19, 21-17.
Click here for full women’s results and the schedule, provided by BVBinfo.com.
Things were also tough for the USA men, but top-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena beat Norwegian qualifiers Mathias Berntzen and Hendrik Mol 21-15, 21-11.
Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb beat Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle of Belgium 19-21, 21-11, 15-11. The No. 18 seed has a battle ahead Thursday against second-seeded Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola of Brazil.
Theo Brunner and John Hyden, seeded 20th, lost to 13th-seeded Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera of Spain 21-15, 21-16, and Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick lost to fifth-seeded Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai of Italy 21-16, 21-17.
Click here for full men’s results and the schedule, provided by BVBinfo.com.
Kessy is married to former French pro beach player Andy Ces and they have two children, Aila, who is 3, and 9-month-old Callan.
“The hardest part for me was going from one kid to two kids, and then juggling two kids and coaching and everything that goes with it,” Kessy said. “I don’t sit down. I sit down when I’m driving. I drive to L.A. and the radio is on. That’s my relaxing time.”
Kessy played with Ross for nearly eight years and said she had heard only good things about the 6-foot-5 Klineman, who went full time on the beach last year after a indoor pro career.
“After this we have so much off time in between tournaments. After this we have six weeks, which is great for Alix but a little frustrating for April,” Kessy said. “But she has such a great attitude. April is one of the best people to coach in the whole wide world. You don’t have to worry about her work ethic, you don’t have to worry about anything like that.”
The 6-1 Ross, 35, and Klineman, 28, made quite a splash as a pair when they opened their season by surprisingly winning the FIVB event in The Hague January 7. Then it was back to southern California to train.
“The last couple of weeks after that Alix and I did one or two individuals a week so she can start catching up. But if you talk to April she has just as much to work on as Alix does. She’s been working a ton on her defense and it shows. It’s definitely a balance. We’re talking to people about how to balance the new versus the old and I’ve been reading things.”
Klineman is getting a lot of invaluable off-the-court lessons.
“I like being prepared in everything I do,” said Kessy, who noted that she read all she could to know everything imaginable about childbirth. “So bringing the knowledge and experience to Alix, showing her this is what you need to do to prepare for a match and this is how much video you need to watch, this is how much you need to practice, this is what you need to eat, all that stuff that I have so much of in my brain and it’s nice (for Alix) to get that knowledge from someone your first year. I wish I had that my first year. Maybe I had it and didn’t realize it, but she’s soaking it in.”
Kessy, a fiery competitor, was the kind of player who could control a match. Now she can only watch.
“As a person, I like to control things,” she said. “So it’s kind of a good exercise for me, and I’m sure my husband would agree, to let go. I do everything so that I know that before the match they are completely prepared as much as I could prepare them. And so then I let it go.
“I watch the game as a fan. Most of the time they do everything I say or on the fly they change it, which is great. But I really think letting go of that control has been good for me. I need to do that in other parts of my life, probably,” she said with a laugh.
At least that doesn’t include getting match ready herself.
“For me I don’t necessarily have to hydrate all the time. I’m not worried about when I’ll get to the hotel, did I get enough sleep, blah-blah-blah,” Kessy said, laughing. “All that stuff I used to worry about. OK, I need to be prepared for the games, I need to make sure I’m scouting — which I did anyway as a player — and now I just have a little bit less responsibility.”