This week at the FIVB Vienna Five Star, April Ross and Alix Klineman will look to medal for the fourth FIVB World Tour event in a row.
Ross—who has won 25 FIVB gold medals, 18 silver, and 12 bronze in her 14-year professional beach volleyball career—said last week in Tokyo that the last month competing alongside Klineman has been perhaps the most amazing period of her career. And even in a career as decorated as Ross’, her accomplishments with Klineman during the month of July have been incredible.
First, a silver-medal finish at the World Championships in Hamburg. Then gold in Gstaad, the first five star of the season. And just last week, silver in Tokyo.
“To get second at World Champs, win a huge five-star, and then be in the finals of the test event, a four star, it’s been, I can’t say anything else other than amazing,” Ross said to VolleyballMag.com’s Lee Feinswog on Saturday in Tokyo.
Like many of the top teams, Klineman and Ross, who will be the No. 2 seed in Vienna, have been on the road for a full month now, leaving the states ahead of World Champs in late June. They’ll return after the tournament in Vienna and will have one week to recuperate before the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, Aug. 15-18.
Eight total teams, four per gender, will represent the USA in Vienna, the second and final five-star rated event in the 2019 World Tour season.
On the line are 1,200 Olympic qualification points and $40,000 for the gold medalists, a valuable haul at this point in the qualification calendar for next year’s summer Olympics.
Klineman and Ross’ fellow Americans in the women’s main draw are No. 6-seeded Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings and No. 7-seeded Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat have played 13 FIVB tournaments in the 2018-19 qualification season already, compared to ten for Klineman and Ross, Claes and Sponcil, and Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman, with eight for Sara Hughes and Summer Ross.
They’ve medalled four times, but at the last three tournaments, they’ve been stonewalled in the quarterfinals, being forced to settle for three fifth-place finishes in a row.
At World Champs, they lost to Ross and Klineman, and Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa have knocked them out in the last two events, Gstaad and Tokyo.
You might call that a roller coaster, but Walsh Jennings wouldn’t.
“When you stay together you’re not on a roller coaster,” she said after losing in the Tokyo quarters. “It’s just [Brooke and I are] together. Whatever the score is whatever the winds are whatever it is, we’re together. So that eliminates the roller-coaster feeling. It’s Olympic qualifying, it is what it is. It’s a challenge.”
Claes and Sponcil have had similarly up-and-down finishes in their first season playing together, Sponcil’s first year playing full-time on the AVP and FIVB tours. They medaled twice early in the season, a bronze at the Qinzhou Three Star in September and silver at the Dela Beach Open in The Hague in January.
Since then, they’ve lost in country quota matches, taken a fifth and a trio of ninths, but then in Gstaad couldn’t make it out of the qualifier. A silver medal at the Espinho four star where they defeated Tokyo gold medalists Agatha and Duda may have served as a boost in confidence, however, as the pair took a fifth in Tokyo.
Emily Stockman and Kelley Larsen, the fourth American women’s team, earned a spot in the main draw by defeating Austria’s Franziska Friedl and Eva Pfeiffer 21-9, 21-13 and Finland’s Niina Ahtiainen and Riikka Lehtonen 21-13, 21-19.
Stockman and Larsen posted their best finish of the season at the Warsaw four star, where they took home a silver medal, losing only once in the entire tournament, to Australia’s Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho in the final. Their latest finishes have included a ninth in Tokyo and a fifth in Espinho.
Hughes and Ross are unable to compete in Vienna due to injury. The pair is currently ranked fifth among American teams in Olympic qualification with 4,080 points, although they are two events behind.
Following a fifth-place finish in Tokyo, the No. 4-seeded American men’s duo Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are in the hunt for their first FIVB medal since the Katara Beach Volleyball Cup in Doha, Qatar, way back in March.
The Crabb brothers, Trevor and Taylor, along with their respective partners, Tri Bourne and Jake Gibb, make up the other two USA pairs in the main draw.
Thanks to a fourth-place finish at World Champs and a fifth in Tokyo, Trevor Crabb and Bourne earned the No. 9 seed in Vienna. In Tokyo and at the World Championships in Hamburg, Crabb and Bourne got knocked out by the top team in the world, Anders Mol and Christian Sorum of Norway, but both times, the Americans pushed Mol and Sorum to three sets.
“Trevor and I are, we’re a new partnership still. We’re trying to figure out our identity and how we’re going to go about things,” Bourne said during the Tokyo competition. “Two steps forward, one step back. As long as we’re moving forward though. We understand that the path to mastery is not all upward. It’s about taking small steps here and there and just moving in the right direction.”
No. 13-seeded Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb have played just eight FIVB events this season with their best finishes a pair of fifths. They took ninths at World Champs and in Gstaad, then a 17th in Espinho and a 19th in Tokyo.
Three-set matches have been the modus operandi of this team the last few big tournaments. In Gstaad, three of their four matches went to a tie-breaking set. In Tokyo, all three pool-play contests did the same.
“A wise woman told me today that she was excited for me because ‘the bounce back is always the best’!” Gibb wrote on Instagram. “We lost 3 close matches, all 3 setters, here in Tokyo.”
You can see the depth of the World Tour field by looking at the Vienna qualifier, where the fourth U.S. men’s team of Reid Priddy and Theo Brunner will be playing for a spot in the main draw alongside Tokyo bronze medalists and Gstaad silver medalists Robert Meeuwsen and Alexander Brouwer of the Netherlands and Tokyo silver medalists Nils Ehlers and Lars Fluggen of Germany.
Priddy and Brunner won their first match Tuesday, defeating Austria’s Peter Eglseer and Florian Schnetzer 21-16, 21-15. Wednesday they will face Austria’s Julian Horl and Tobias Winter with a main draw berth at stake.
On the women’s side, the qualifier includes Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, who finished second in Gstaad.