They had their pitfalls in Europe, kind of like the Griswolds, but April Ross and Alix Klineman emerged on top of the world.
Already having won the two AVP tournaments they have entered (Huntington Beach Open and the AVP Gold Series New York City Open), Ross and Klineman took their show on the road again and proved they are a serious challenger when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics arrive next July.
Tantalizingly close to an automatic bid to the Olympics, Ross and Klineman fell in the gold medal match in the FIVB World Championships on July 6th in Hamburg, Germany. Disappointed but undaunted, they traveled south and won the FIVB Gstaad Major in Switzerland eight days later.
All that did was push them to the No. 1 spot in the world in the Olympic qualification rankings which were released on Monday. And it confirmed to the duo that their commitment and mindset is on the right track, no matter what happens along the way.
“The main thing was – the World Champs, just like the Olympics, are really tough tournaments,” said Ross, who has already won Olympic silver and bronze medals. “You have to bring your emotional all to every match. We can do that and we did do that and I’m proud of us for doing that but you have a little bit of an emotional hangover (from Hamburg).
“We did everything we could to recover so we could step it up again but I think the way we started, we weren’t giving it as much as we needed to. It became elimination and we said, ‘You know, we either find a way to bring it now or we’re going home.’ ”
This is their resilience in a nutshell: In the first elimination match in Gstaad against Russia’s Ekaterina Birlova and Evgenia Okulova, they fell behind 11-1 in a first-set loss. On the heels of a blowout loss to Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Lili Fernandez, it was a warning sign.
Oh well, at least Gstaad is one of the most picturesque places on earth.
“I kind of feel like I’m on vacation,” Klineman said, “and I have to keep telling myself it’s business.”
They got their business done with a three-set win on the way to earning the gold medal (and gold cowbell, a coveted prize from Switzerland).
For the rest of the AVP athletes, there were movers and shakers.
Sara Hughes and Summer Ross finished fifth in the World Championships and are ranked ninth in the world. Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman, now tied for 13th in the world, could do no better than 17th place in the two tournaments. Brooke Sweat, with partner Kerri Walsh Jennings, is now No. 11 in the world. Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil are No. 17 and remain in the hunt along with Emily Day and Betsi Flint at No. 26.
The biggest jump on the men’s side came from Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, who finished fourth in the FIVB World Championships after an agonizing loss to eventual champs Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov of Russia in the Semifinals. Bourne and Crabb are now the highest-ranked American men at No. 12 in the world.
A breakthrough came from Billy Allen and Stafford Slick, who entered Hamburg ranked No. 73 but knocked off No. 6 Konstantin Semenov and Ilya Lushenko of Russia, then No. 6 Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Evandro Goncalves of Brazil to take ninth in World Championships and rose to No. 37 in the world rankings.
“Maybe it gives us a little confidence that we can hang but only when we’re playing our best and preparing,” Allen said. “It wasn’t like all of a sudden now we’re at this level with these teams. We played about as good as we could and if we do that and execute well and prepare, we can fight with anybody.”
That fight will have to be taken to not only Bourne and Crabb but to Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser (No. 19) and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (No. 21), who have a lot of work in front them. In addition to requiring some good results along the way, starting in the next two weeks in Portugal and Japan, Gibb and Crabb still have not reached the minimum number of tournaments played to enter the Olympic qualifying process.
Although the Olympic qualification process only lives on the FIVB tour, the Team USA stars live on the AVP tour so you can share the sand with them each tournament.