CAGLIARI, Italy, October 5, 2021 - It was time.
Time to unwind. Time for Alix Klineman to take a
long-awaited trip to Florence and Tuscany, to
sit back, drink some wine, enjoy some -- or
quite a lot of -- good food, to enjoy the
nuptials of good friends Brian Cook and Kelsey
Robinson, to not pore over film and opponents
and blocking moves and what she could be doing
better on a beach volleyball court.
It was time. Time to unwind. Time for April Ross
to hit a Kygo concert, to sit down with a good
book, to rest the shoulder that pounded so many
aces and kills, time to ease the mind that had
won so many chess matches against the best teams
in the world.
That time is now over.
A glimpse into what the off-season might look
like, after the final ball at the AVP Chicago
landed but before preparation needed to begin
again for the upcoming World Tour Finals, was
brief, a tease. Ross and Klineman, who have won
mostly everything there has been to win this
season, have one more tournament to stand atop
the podium: the World Tour Finals.
On Tuesday evening, Ross was back in the USA
Volleyball gym, “back to full volume training,”
That full volume training has worked
astonishingly well over the previous three
years. Ross and Klineman have won eight FIVB
medals, one NORCECA, and 12 AVPs. They’ve won
cowbells, cemented themselves on the Manhattan
Beach Pier, been adored in Olympic parades.
They’ve now won three straight tournaments:
Tokyo, Manhattan Beach, Chicago.
“I have to pinch myself pretty much every day,”
Klineman said. “Life is seriously so crazy right
And now for one last gold, one final
pinch-yourself moment in 2021, at the World Tour
Finals in Cagliari.
Their only attempt at a World Tour Final as a
team came in 2019, in Rome. They finished ninth
then, falling in the first round to the Czech
Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marketa
Slukova. They’ve only finished ninth one time
They are rising still, Ross
and Klineman. Somehow, some
way. Yet so is much of the field. More than half
of the eight teams in Cagliari made brilliant
runs through the 2021 season, precocious teams
once considered Cinderellas who are Cinderellas
no longer. When Ross and Klineman spoke of the
teams who became immediate Olympic contenders
after a long and strange 2020, five are in the
field of the World Tour Finals: Svetlana
Kholomina and Nadezda Makroguzova, Nina
Betschart and Tanja Huberli, Sanne Keizer and
Madelein Meppelink, Joana Heidrich and Anouk
Verge-Depre, Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes.
“What were all these teams doing?” Ross
mentioned of the youthful
contingent who burst onto the podiums in 2021.
“Russia got so much better. Australia got so
much better. Swiss were ridiculous. Latvia.
Maggie [Kozuch] on Germany got so much better.
Sponcil-Claes got so much better. All these
teams we felt like previously we kind of had a
handle on, were beating us or we were struggling
with. Agatha-Duda medalled three times in Cancun
and we just did not feel like we were favourites
at all heading into Tokyo.”
Are they favourites heading into the World Tour
It would be impossible to make any other
rational argument, though it’s also impossible,
in a field this strong, to claim that any team
is strongly favoured. How can you count out
Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan,
who have not won a tournament in more than a
year but have won so much throughout their
partnership? How can you not argue for Agatha
and Duda, one of the most consistent
podium-making teams in the world? Or Keizer and
Mepelink, the only team who managed to take a
set off Ross and Klineman in Tokyo? Or Verge-Depre
and Heidrich, who won bronze in Tokyo, or their
countrywomen, Betschart and Huberli, who were
recently crowned European Champs?
“We enjoyed every single second on that court
together,” Huberli said after winning gold in
Starting on Wednesday, there will be more
seconds to enjoy, the final seconds of the 2021
season. Then, Klineman can retreat back to
Italy, enjoy some more wine and food. Then Ross
can retreat to the mountains, enjoy a good book
Then we can put a close on this wild and
wonderful beach volleyball season.