COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Jan. 8, 2020) – Alix Klineman and April Ross make beach volleyball look easy.
In 2019, the pair finished in the top 10 of all 10 FIVB tournaments in which they competed. This includes victories at the Gstaad five-star and the four-star in Itapema, Brazil.
They won silver medals at the World Championships in Hamburg, Germany and the four-star Olympic test event in Tokyo.
They finished the season ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the world and are very close to securing one of the two U.S. women’s slots at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
For their success, Klineman, 30, and Ross, 37, have been named 2019 USAV Women’s Beach Co-Players of the Year. It is the eighth time Ross has earned the award and the first for Klineman.
Klineman/Ross would like fans to know that none of their 2019 success came easily.
For Klineman, who began playing beach volleyball full time in 2017 and internationally in 2018, the sport has had a steep learning curve.
“When I switched (to beach), it was so much harder than how it looked,” she said. “I am happy with my progress, but if people realized how many reps I’ve taken in the sand… From outside, it looks like I learned quickly. But so many times, I couldn’t get it right. Eventually those reps paid off.”
As a two-time Olympian, Ross wanted to make sure she and Klineman are both in condition for the all-important Olympic year, so they can keep making it look easy.
“We wanted to make sure we took some time off this past fall so we could feel refreshed and give it our all this year,” Ross said. “We started ramping up in December and worked on some things we identified as weaknesses from last season to get a head start. There’s no aspect of this sport that’s off limits to improvement this year: nutrition, fitness, strength, sports psych, reading, video…”
Both players look back on 2019 happy about their accomplishments, but also aware of things they might have done better.
“I am proud of how we played through Tokyo,” Ross said. “I think we played great and really focused through Tokyo and then we let our foot off the gas pedal. In hindsight, that’s the only thing I would have changed. We could have done better at the end of the season.”
Klineman added, “We took care of some really important tournaments for Olympic qualification. That coincided with the high point of our playing level. At World Championships, Gstaad and Tokyo, I felt we were executing at a high level.
“At the very beginning of the season, there were definitely some injuries I was overcoming. That’s when volleyball becomes more of a job than something I love to do.”
The third member of the “A Team,” as they have come to be called, is Jen Kessy, who won the Olympic silver medal and a world championship title with Ross before transitioning to coach.
“She makes things flow smoothly,” Ross said of Kessy. “She can act as a therapist. She can eat with one of us if the other doesn’t want to. She is willing to fill any void we need. It might sound simple, but it’s an amazing thing to have on a team.”
“It’s almost liked I get two teammates,” Klineman added. “She is still young and relevant enough that she remembers how it felt to play and how to develop the skills. Interpersonally, she adds a ton to our team.”
Klineman/Ross also rely on the USA Volleyball beach staff, including Director of Coaching Tyler Hildebrand.
“He runs us through one practice a week and leads us in video sessions,” Ross said. “He will break down practice and show us what we can do better.”
For 2020, the team is hoping to keep making things look easy all the way to the podium in Tokyo.
“There a lot of strong teams on the women’s side. There are probably five to eight teams capable of winning any given tournament,” Klineman said. “No matter how good we are, we have to play our best for a chance to get a medal in Tokyo.”
“I think we’re really happy and grateful to be where we are,” Ross said. “But we are not complacent in any way.”