Hector Gutierrez wasn’t surprised that veteran Brittany Hochevar and new partner Kelly Claes did so well in their first event together, the FIVB Xiamen, the four-star event that saw them make it to Sunday’s gold-medal match.

“So far it’s been good,” Gutierrez said from his office in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is the TCU beach coach, while the tournament in China was in its third day.

“They were here last week practicing with me before they took off to China,” said Gutierrez, who has coached Hochevar for five years, which has included a variety of partners, including Lane Carico, Misty May-Treanor, Heather McGuire, Kristin Hildebrand and for most of 2016 and last year, Emily Day.

Hector Gutierrez at his TCU office

“Kelly is really good, really talented and a hard worker,” Gutierrez said of the 21-year-old who set the NCAA standard with USC teammate Sara Hughes, with who she played the 2017 pro season. But Hughes chose to go with Summer Ross, which left the 6-foot-2 Claes to hook up with 36-year-old, 6-foot Hochevar.

“It’s a good match. There’s an age difference, but Brittany has a lot of experience, a lot to bring to the table, and is a great player,” Gutierrez said. “And Kelly, with all the records she broke in college is hungry to do something good. So I think it’s a good combination.”

Hochevar, the former Long Beach State star, and Day won three times on the AVP in 2017, taking gold at Huntington Beach to start the season and then at Hermosa Beach and then at Manhattan Beach. Claes and Hughes won the next stop, last event of the AVP tour, in Chicago.

Gutierrez said Hochevar consulted him about taking on Claes.

“We talked. We went over stuff. I wanted to stay out of it a little bit, too, because those things are personal sometimes. She made the decision she’d like to play with Kelly and I supported it,” Gutierrez said.

Hochevar and Claes finished second in Xiamen, losing to Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, and split $16,000. Hughes and Ross tied for fifth.

The partner switching is part of the pro-beach culture, Gutierrez said.

“You never know. It happens a lot, especially on the women’s side,” Gutierrez said of the partner switching. “It’s all based on the best options for points and other stuff. (Day and Hochevar) worked great together and were great together and had a really good run. But things change, I guess.”

So his focus is on Hochevar and Claes, especially since the TCU season is over.

“I think they can be a really dangerous team. They really know what they have to do in each moment. They’re such different players and will have to know what they bring to the table for the good of the team.”

Claes will block and play on the left, which was what she did with Hughes.

Gutierrez took his Horned Frogs to Southern California this season and was able to work with them there. The native of the Canary Islands just finished his second season at TCU. Before that, his lengthy beach resume included being an assistant at Florida State, working with the USA beach program. The former pro player was also the coach of the Slovakian national beach team and has indoor-coaching experience as well on in the international level.

When Hochevar and Claes were at TCU, they played against men, Gutierrez said.

“I’m really excited based on our practices last week. It’s hard to tell because they’re really new — they’ve been practicing only for a month together — but at the end of the day the results will speak for themselves.”


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