April Ross-Alix Klineman to play for gold, Olympic berth in World Champs

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World Championship 2019-Nick Lucena
Nick Lucena attempts a foot save/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

April Ross is in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships gold-medal match again.

She did it for the first time in 2009, winning gold with Jen Kessy. Then, just two years ago, she did it again, this time making it to the final with Lauren Fendrick where the duo took home silver in just their fifth tournament playing together.

This time, playing alongside 6-foot-4 blocker and former indoor star Alix Klineman, Ross took down Australians Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho 21-15, 21-18 in the semifinals of the 2019 FIVB World Championships to advance to Saturday’s gold-medal match.

“It’s a lot of focus,” Ross said of making it this far with Klineman, her partner of two years. “We knew where we wanted to go and the level we wanted to be playing at. We worked so hard at it all season so far and we’ve just been putting everything we have into every match and we’re OK being completely exhausted at the end of this, but we’re going to leave it all out on the court, and I think that’s what the World Championships and big events make you do.”

Ross credited the semifinal victory to a good game plan developed by the team’s coach, and Ross’ former partner, Jen Kessy, and Klineman’s serving. The American blocker aced the Australians four times in the semifinal.

After the match, the 37-year-old Ross took a moment to compare 2019 to her first World Championship final appearance.

“In 2009 … I was new on the beach and it was just kind of like ignorance is bliss, and we’re just firing on all cylinders and doing the best we can,” Ross said. “Now I feel like there’s a method to the madness a little bit and it’s a little bit more calculated, which feels really good.”

Ross and Klineman will face Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in Saturday’s gold-medal match. Pavan and Humana-Paredes advanced with a three-set defeat (23-21, 17-21, 19-17) of the Cinderella team of No. 17-seeded Swiss pair Nina Betschart and Tanja Huberli. Betschart and Huberli will play Artacho and Clancy in the bronze-medal match.

World Championship 2019-April Ross
April Ross reaches for the down the line serve/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Earlier in the day, Klineman and Ross ended the World Championships run of their fellow Americans Sara Hughes and Summer Ross with a 21-18, 21-14 final scoreline. Hughes and Summer Ross took a fifth, their highest finish on the FIVB tour since their very first tournament of 2019 in Yangzhou, China, where they won bronze.

The two American teams know each other well, even practicing against each other back home in the U.S. a week before they departed for Hamburg.

“We didn’t play our best, and they played almost close to perfect,” Hughes said. “[April and Alix] had a very steady day and we made a lot of unforced errors. That’s all there is to it.”

On the men’s side, two Americans teams lived to play another day, advancing to Saturday’s quarterfinals, while the other two ended the tournament with identical ninth-place finishes.

Men’s quarterfinal matches:

Anders Mol / Christian Sorum Norway (1) vs. Daniele Lupo / Paolo Nicolai Italy (8)
Julius Thole / Clemens Wickler Germany (12) vs. Phil Dalhausser / Nick Lucena United States (6)
Viacheslav Krasilnikov / Oleg Stoyanovskiy Russia (3) vs. Adrian Carambula / Enrico Rossi Italy (45)
Tri Bourne / Trevor Crabb United States (13) vs. Andre Loyola / George Wanderley Brazil (17)

Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser, who only narrowly made it out of pool play, winning their lucky loser match to advance in the elimination rounds, easily defeated their second-round opponents Nikita Liamin and Taras Myskiv of Russia 21-15, 21-17.

“As a team something was a little off, but that happens, we’ve been playing together for how many years, known him for how many years, and every once in awhile you get kind of going in opposite directions,” Lucena said of the team’s struggles early on in the tournament. “But I think we did a good job as a team coming together. I think the pressure of single elimination tournaments, we do a good job of kind of turning it on.”

The 39-year-old pair drew the home team for Saturday’s quarters: No. 12-seeded Julius Thole, 22, and Clemens Wickler, 24, of Germany.

Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne also remain in the hunt for a World Championships medal, as they swept Ilya Leshukov and Konstantin Semenov 21-18, 21-18 in the Round of 16.

“We came out and did what we’re used to doing,” Bourne said. “We know that we can turn it on at any time, but it’s a matter of playing our style at our level.”

Bourne and Crabb’s quarterfinal versus Andre Loyola and George Wanderley on Saturday will serve as a rematch of the bronze-medal match at the Jinjiang Four Star a couple months ago. Loyola and Wanderley won that meeting 21-17, 21-10.

But no matter what happens in the quarters, Bourne and Crabb’s performance at World Champs represents a return to form for the pair after two 17th-place finishes in a row on the FIVB tour. And for Bourne, who sat out for almost two years battling an autoimmune disease, every tournament he’s able to play is special.

“It feels great to be back,” he said. “I knew it would be very difficult to get myself back into this position but I also knew it was possible. I got a good partnership right when I came back and we got right to work and our goals align, so I think everything moved smoothly because of that.”

Taylor Crabb runs down a high line/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Elimination for Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb came at the hands of red-hot Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, 21-13, 21-18. Krasilnikov and Stoyanovskiy, who have already won two FIVB gold medals this season (along with one silver and one bronze), played almost flawlessly, siding out at 100 percent in the first set.

“I think it comes down to if I could have passed their serves,” Gibb said. “They were serving really well. If I could have done a little bit better with that just to put a little more pressure on their sideout because they were free because they got that lead and then when you have that lead you’re super free, you get all your shots and everything feels comfortable. It would have been a different game if I could have sided out a few balls earlier on and at least tried to make them tighten up a little bit.”

Billy Allen and Stafford Slick pulled off Thursday’s biggest upset, eliminating Brazil’s Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Evandro Goncalves, but their run came to an end on Friday at the hands of Olympic silver medalists Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai of Italy in the second round, 27-25, 18-21, 15-13.

“This was the biggest test for us as a team and we responded and played our best volleyball,” Allen said. “It was really cool to see us rise to the level because we haven’t had that many times when we’re facing these top teams, so I think it was a good lesson for us that we can hang when we’re focused and doing everything right and at the top of our game, which is what we need to be every time.”

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