The second major American beach volleyball partnership shakeup is confirmed:
Sara Hughes is leaving Kelly Claes to play with Summer Ross, who is splitting from Brooke Sweat.
Both players confirmed, though neither wanted to go into extensive detail about the change, both out of respect for their former partners and because there is still much to figure out. Their first tournament together will be April 18-22 at FIVB Xiamen, a four-star event in China.
Hughes, 23, had, up to this point, played nearly every meaningful event of her volleyball career with former USC teammate Claes. Their first tournament together came at the 2013 U-19 World Championships in Portugal, where they won a bronze medal. It provided the impetus to form the most dominant college beach pair ever.
In three years at USC, they won four national championships — including the first two NCAA titles — which included along the way a record 103-match win streak. In 2017, their first year as professionals, they finished the AVP season with a win in Chicago. Hughes was named the FIVB Rookie of the Year.
Ross, a 25-year-old with four professional wins to her name, played all of 2017 with Sweat, a 31-year-old defender who competed in the 2016 Olympics with Lauren Fendrick. In four AVP events in 2017, the two made three finals, winning in Seattle without dropping a set.
Ross and Sweat tied for 17th at the FIVB season-opening event at The Hague, while Hughes and Claes tied for ninth. Then, in February’s Fort Lauderdale Major, they finished third. Hughes, who still seeks her first FIVB podium, and Claes were knocked out by Ross and Sweat in the second round of playoffs and again tied for ninth.
The move will inevitably cause ripple effects in the sport.
With whom Claes and Sweat will end up is still to be determined and their choice of partners –- unless they end up together –- will continue to send more changes throughout the AVP. The only partnership that seems to be certain to remain the same this season is April Ross and Alix Klineman, who won gold at The Hague.
The men’s side, too, has been rife with partner switches. Aside from Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb, nearly every top American team has made a change.
Ryan Doherty split with John Hyden and is now with Billy Allen; Hyden is defending for Theo Brunner; Allen’s old partner, Stafford Slick, is blocking for Casey Patterson; Trevor Crabb has partnered with John Mayer; and Sean Rosenthal, Crabb’s former defender, has turned to the NBA to pick up Chase Budinger. Mayer’s former partner, Jeremy Casebeer, has not confirmed whom he will be blocking for.