HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Betsi Flint is a bully.
Just ask her new coach, Jordan Cheng.
“She’s got this effect against her opponents. She bullied us,” Cheng said of Flint, and the 17-21, 19-21 loss she helped deliver to Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil last August. “There was no stopping, there was no slowing down. It was just this gritty mentality: I’m going to beat you guys.”
Flint’s name came up early, and it came up fast, then, when Claes sat down to make a list of potential partners heading into the Paris Olympic quad.
Claes and Flint met to chat about goals and mindsets in November and December, and “I thought we clicked pretty quick,” said Claes, the 26-year-old product of Placentia, California. “She’s all in, which I love.”
But beyond Flint being all in, beyond the personality connection, beyond the fact that Flint’s skill set is a perfect complement to that of Claes’, there was one question with an obvious answer that Claes couldn’t ignore.
“Who do I not want to play against?” She asked herself. And the answer was always the same: Betsi Flint.
“I’ve always struggled against Betsi and Emily [Day],” the 6-foot-2 Claes said. “They always keep you on your toes. You don’t know what’s coming. Other teams, you know their tendencies, you know what to expect, and I felt more of that energy coming from Betsi.”
No longer, then, will Claes have a fear of who’s on the other side of the net, for the only player who could ever produce it is now playing alongside her.
“We’ve gotten to compete once or twice now and I’ve gotten to feel that on the other side and I love it,” Claes said.
Claes and and the 5-foot-10 Flint teaming up has produced a cascading domino effect through the rest of the women’s partnerships.
Sponcil, with whom Claes tied for ninth in the Tokyo Olympics, will play in 2022 with Terese Cannon. Day, Flint’s good friend and longtime partner, is set to play — perhaps mostly domestic — with Olympic gold-medalist April Ross. Ross’ Olympic partner, Alix Klineman, is recovering from shoulder surgery and is out for the foreseeable future. So the only top women’s team on the AVP who remained together are 24-year-olds Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth.
After all of that reorganizing, the new No. 1 team representing the USA on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour will be Claes and Flint, uncharted territory for both.
“I was really excited when Kelly called, especially the long-term commitment of going for Paris,” said Flint, who is 29 and competed collegiately for Loyola Marymount. “Obviously the main goal is to win tournaments and building chemistry together. It was easy and it was hard because I love Emily, but Kelly’s obviously awesome and she’s an Olympian, she’s experienced.
“We’ve played each other a bunch of times and it’s always a battle. She has the nastiest on-two game. Kelly’s energy is always so great, and it’s been fun to play with already.”
The two make for a seamless fit, both in skill set and personality. Already, Cheng sees Flint as an ultimate teammate, someone who will do or say whatever is needed to put Claes in the best position possible to succeed. She’s running sprints after practice, showing up early on a Wednesday morning for a one-on-one session, asking for more film. She’s a superb passer, someone who will allow Claes to remain the world’s most dangerous option threat. Her hands are some of the best in America, making it possible to run a creative offense with variations in tempo and spacing. They’re both magnificent servers.
In short: They’re going to be very, very good.
“It’s nice being able to be on the other side of someone who goes on two,” Flint said. “And Kelly’s really solid siding out so it’s going to be tough for teams to game plan.”
Should the schedule remain the same, their season will begin with an Volleyball World Elite 16 in Rosarito, Mexico, which will be a few weeks after Claes and Cheng are married. And this year Flint will not have to skip time at LMU. Once the assistant coach alongside John Mayer, Flint decided to focus full-time on playing and being a mom to daughter Cora.
“I’d been thinking about it and I decided before Kelly called to step down,” Flint said. “It was definitely challenging juggling being a mom and coaching and playing so I decided to step down to focus on training and being a mom, and it’s just as hard. It’s really fun to focus on those things.”
With two months still to go before the start of the season, the biggest challenge, with all of the excitement that comes with a fresh start with a new partner and an unwritten Olympic quad, is not going too hard, too soon.
“It’s the honeymoon period. It’s great,” Claes, a two-time National Champion at USC, said. “I’m still pretty antsy. We’re still going kind of slow. We’ve competed against two other teams and I want to compete for the next four hours. It’s like: We need to work on A, B, and C, how do we communicate, how do we bring the best out of each other, and that takes time and conversations.
“But I’m antsy to compete together because that’s the most fun, being on the court together and strategizing and being this united team and united front and going to battle together. It’s what I love about this sport and I’m really excited to do it with Betsi.”
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