Kristen Nuss, right, gives a celebratory drink to Taryn Kloth/Rick Atwood photo

CHICAGO — In just three pro seasons, Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss have morphed from “that team straight out of college with huge potential” to “one of the best teams in the world.”

Their rise to the top rung of American beach volleyball on the women’s side received additional validation on Sunday afternoon when TKN, as they are known to their legion of vocal supporters, took the long road to back-to-back titles in the AVP Chicago Gold Series Open.

Kloth’s and Nuss’ Windy City resume vividly reflects how far they have come. In 2021, fresh off sensational collegiate careers at LSU, as the new up-and-comers, they advanced to the semifinals before getting the reality check of a lopsided sweep by Olympic gold-medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman. In 2022, they ground out a three-set title-match victory in the rain over Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson, who were playing their first tournament together.

This year, with an unseasonable heat wave sweeping Chicago that sent the temperature to 92 degrees at match time, TKN again got the better of third-seeded Melissa and Brandie in three sets 21-14, 15-21, 15-8. Dropping the middle set seemed to light the proverbial fire into the top seeds, who broke open a tight third with five consecutive points that created 13-7 separation.

The “real points” came when Kloth stuffed Wilkerson on a trap set, 5-foot-6 waterbug Nuss feathered her trademark cutty for a winner and followed that with a high roll shot down the line. The barrage was climaxed by the 6-foot-4 Kloth’s taking out the trash on a bumped over-set by Humana-Paredes. To seal the deal, Taryn then rejected Humana-Paredes.

What had been a contentious battle between teams that almost certainly will represent their countries in the 2024 Paris Olympics was over in a flash.

The strategy in the deciding set, according to Kloth, was “to go back to what we were doing in the first set, but honestly, and just locking it in. Focus on one point at a time and not guessing what’s going to happen, just reacting.”

Kloth and Nuss also lost a three-setter to Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson in the knockout round of an FIVB Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 in Montreal in late July, an event won by the Canadians.

“The last time we played Melissa and Brandie, after the match I asked Brandie, ‘Can we just cut to the third set every time?’ Because every single time we have an absolute battle with them,” Nuss said. “It’s an honor to play against one of the great teams in volleyball.”

The LSU products still live in Louisiana and said that the heat and 128-degree sand that might have served to wilt the Canadians wasn’t a significant factor to them. However, Kloth did say that the Oak Street Beach quartz sand was the hottest they had been on so far, so hard on the feet that the AVP court crew watered it down with a hose to cool it off.

Kloth and Nuss, who earned a $30,000 check for their victory, needed that Bayou Country acclimation because they were out in the summer sizzle for a long time on Sunday, having been dropped into the contenders bracket on Saturday in a three-set stunner to fourth-seeded Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles. In the morning, they took care of business with a sweep of sixth-seeded Brook Bauer and Latvian Olympian and former USC great Tina Graudina.

That moved them into a semifinal showdown with second-seeded Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes that easily could be seen as a “second final.” Cheng, the Tokyo Olympian, and Hughes are neck-and-neck with TKN for the USA’s two spots in the Paris Games. They had a three-set barnburner on Stadium Court, with TKN pulling out a 17-21, 22-20, 15-12 victory. Kloth’s intimidating presence at the net paid dividends late in the third when she swatted a poke shot by Hughes on a trap-set

“We knew when we lost that match (to Flint and Scoles), we were like, ‘Taryn do you want to play three on Sunday?’ We knew it was going to be a grind and we knew that every single game would be a battle,” Nuss said. “Whether you go into the contenders or stay in the winners, every single game in the AVP, especially Gold Series, it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Melissa and Brandie also played three on Sunday. They first defeated eighth-seeded Hailey Harward and Kelley Kolinske 21-17, 21-18, then survived a three-set, one-hour semifinal slugfest with Manhattan Beach Open champions Flint and Scoles 21-13, 17-21, 15-9.

Kristen Nuss stretches out/Mark Rigney photo


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