April Ross will win a third Olympics beach volleyball medal.
The USA’s Ross and Alix Klineman crushed Anouk Vérgé-Depre and Swiss partner Joana Heidrich 21-12, 21-11 on Wednesday to advance to Friday’s Tokyo Olympics gold-medal match.
They will play Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, who beat Latvians Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka 23-21, 21-13 in the other semifinal at Shiokaze Park.
The championship match is at 11 a.m. Friday in Tokyo, 10:30 p.m. Eastern in America, and will be shown on NBC. That means you will miss seeing many of the points as the network likely starts coverage with the match in progress and then cuts to ill-timed commercial breaks.
The bronze-medal match starts 1.5 hours earlier.
While Ross has two Olympic medals — she won silver in 2012 in London with Jen Kessy and bronze in 2016 in Rio with Kerri Walsh Jennings — this is Klineman’s first Olympics.
“I can’t believe it. It’s the most amazing feeling,” Klineman said. “We dreamed of this, and this is what we worked for every single day. But just because you work for it, and you do everything you can, doesn’t mean that it happens. The fact that everything is falling into place, it feels so magical.”
Ross, 39, the former USC indoors standout, and 31-year-old Klineman, who starred at Stanford, are the No. 2 seeds in the tournament. They were hitting on all cylinders and completely overpowered their Swiss opponents, who are seeded 12th.
“Alix really took over with her blocking and that was a huge key to our game plan. She really got in their face and affected them a lot.”
Klineman had four blocks.
“It was amazing. We were expecting a battle,” Klineman said. “They’ve been really hot this tournament and they’re a super physical and aggressive team.
“We wanted to impose our game on them and I think we did that at the start and that worked in our favor.”
“They put a lot of service pressure on us,” Vérgé-Depre said. “We didn’t know how to respond. As soon as they had a few points of an advantage the game was easier for them.”
Said Angie Akers, coach of the A Team, “To me, this just speaks to their preparation. They prepared so well, and their bodies, minds, and game plan, and they came out so aggressive and firing and confident. It was awesome to watch.
“There’s a lot of nerves out here, you have to work through that, and you’re building that confidence and play and getting used to the environment, the change, and playing new teams, there are so many different variables.”
The Australians, seeded No. 5, will win their first medals.
The 5-foot-9 Artacho, who is originally from Peru and moved to Australia when she was 11, is 27, while 6-foot Clancy is 29. Artacho played in the Rio Games with Nicole Laird, but they did not win a match.
You probably wouldn’t have predicted them to make the final, but the top seeds, Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Autralians.
The No. 3 seeded Brazilians, Agatha and Duda, were eliminated in the round of 16, and fourth-seeded Brazilians Rebecca Cavalcanti and Ana Patricia Silva lost in the quarters to the Swiss.
Now they are guaranteed of a medal.
“Yeah, it’s so surreal,” Artacho said. “We’ve dreamed of this moment for so many years. And it’s just so unreal that we’re one step away.”
Australia last took Olympics beach gold in 2000 when Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst won in their home country at the Sydney Games.
“This is where my dream started by watching them,” Artacho said.
This will be the sixth time Ross-Klinemand and Artacho-Clancy will play since first meeting in April 2019. The Australians hold a 3-2 advantage, winning their last meeting May 1 in the semifinals of the FIVB Cancun four-star tournament.
For that matter, they met in all three of the Cancun tournaments that were held in succession in a bubble.
Artacho-Clancy won on April 18 in the winners bracket, and then Ross-Klineman won on April 24 in the winners bracket.
“Australia is a little more on-two, it’s part of their system,” Akers said. “They’ve got a tough jump serve, some big weapons there with a fast offense. Obviously we’re going to do our homework and study them in more detail.”
For Clancy, doing so well means even more as she represents both her county and Australian Indigenous people.
“Gosh, I don’t even know how to put it into words. I hope that I can inspire other athletes or not even athletes,” Clancy said. “It’s great to represent my people, to show them anything’s possible.
“I didn’t really think about it when I was just an athlete. But now, what I’ve been able to give back to my people, my community, you see how much influence …“And it’s so important to me. I’m so proud of who I am. And I want to let all my people feel the same way.”
The 16th-seeded Latvian pair includes Graudina, the USC star who in May led the Trojans to the NCAA beach championship.
“At this moment, I’m a a little bit tired, but we will make sure to do everything to be ready for tomorrow,” Graudina said. “It is disappointing to lose in the semifinals, but the tournament is not over yet.
“We have one more game, so we will go very determined towards the next match.”