The A-Team Becomes The Triple-A Team 

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, March 7, 2021 - April Ross and Alix Klineman had no intention of making any changes to a system that was clearly working for them, even less with the Tokyo Olympics fast approaching. Ranked second in the world, the Americans believed they were on track to contend for a medal in the Japanese capital next summer. 

But things in life can change quickly. And so they did. 

Jennifer Kessy, who partnered with Ross to win silver at the London 2012 Olympics, and who was the team’s coach since 2018, decided it was time to accomplish a long-standing goal. Married to former French player Andy Ces, it was time for her to move across country to settle with her family in Maine. 

“Jen played a big part in our development and she really took Alix under her wing,” Ross said in an interview with VolleyballMag. “As a right-sider and a blocker, it was really easy for her to relate to Alix in her struggles and help her figure out how to be that dominant right-side player. She coached us during our ups and downs and was always there when things got super frustrating. It was really good to have that from her. She was really instrumental and we’re sad she had to leave, but it is what it is and we’re just moving forward.”  

However, when one door closes, typically another one opens and Ross and Klineman didn’t have to look around for too long until they found a perfect replacement for Kessy. In fact, the same kind of family decision that took their coach away was what placed Angie Akers on their path. 

A former player who competed on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour from 2002 to 2012 and represented the United States at the 2007 Pan-American Games, Akers was heading back home after a prolific five-and-half-year stint coaching the Dutch national teams, one that took her to the Rio 2016 Olympics and to victory at the 2018 European Championships. 

“Jen and I had pretty similar situations as we both had to change our plans because of our families,” Akers said on the Sandcast Podcast. “My contract with the Dutch Federation was up in August 2020, when the Olympics were initially planned to end, and I had promised my husband that I wouldn’t renew it and that we’d move back to the United States. I was heartbroken when the Olympics were postponed, but I thought it wouldn’t be fair to him if we stayed there for another year. It was really hard to tell the players that I wouldn’t stay and to not complete a journey that you started with them wasn’t easy.”  

With Akers available and Ross and Klineman looking for a new coach, the solution was clear and obvious and their union offered the Americans an opportunity to continue their journey to Tokyo with a minimal level of change. 

In Akers, Ross and Klineman get a coach with a similar profile to Kessy’s and someone they can rely on to find the little areas of their games where they can still improve. 

“We love having a female coach, especially one like her because she played a lot and it’s nice to have someone with that experience assessing our game and helping us develop it,” Ross said. “We’re stoked to have gotten her. She’s very invested in improving as a coach and has put in a lot of work in the Netherlands, so she’s got a lot of tools at her disposal.”  

From Akers’ standpoint, it couldn’t get much better than coaching a team who have won four of the 18 World Tour events they have played at, secured a silver medal at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships and completely dominated the American AVP, finishing in the top-three of all 15 tournaments they competed at and winning ten. 

The team and their new coach decided to fast-track the early stages of their union and headed to a training camp in Brazil in December in which they not only got to practise with some of the country’s top teams but also developed chemistry and a working system that they hope will guide them as a team. 

“My whole perspective coming in was ‘this team has a recipe that’s working, so I’m not about to throw in different ingredients and spoil it’,” Akers said. “It’s more about offering a different perspective and thinking and talking about whether we can do anything differently and whether we want to. The trip to Brazil was extremely important, it helped us get to know each other better and we accomplished what we wanted to. It also gave us new things to think about and some new directions to look into.” 

Ross and Klineman expect to be even stronger with Akers at their side and in one sense, at least, that progress is already manifest. Previously known as the ‘A-Team’, it’s fair to say that with Akers on board they are now the ‘Triple-A Team’. 

“That was an added bonus,” Ross laughed about the coincidence. “We certainly didn’t hire her for that but afterward we were like ‘oh, Angie, it’s perfect for the A-Team’.”