April Ross thought she was on the right track when, in late 2017, she asked Alix Klineman to be her partner in beach volleyball. She knew it for sure when they won an FIVB event in their first match together.
“I think it was huge,” Ross said of that January 2018 victory at the Dela Beach Open in The Hague, Netherlands. “It gave me all the confidence in the world that we could make this work. To win an international event like that is a really, really big deal.
“The fact that Alix did it her first try, I mean, the best that you can get.”
Ross said that indeed solidified her belief that she would be in it for the long haul with Klineman – meaning a trip to the Tokyo Olympics, which would be happening right now, but have been pushed back to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Klineman remembers that first match, and the unlikely victory as the No. 13-seeded team.
“First of all, I don’t think either of us expected that to happen, said Klineman, who this weekend will team with Ross again in the second leg of the AVP Champions Cup in Long Beach after the duo won the first leg this past weekend.
“I remember we actually had to play a country quota and the qualifier before playing the main draw.”
Having to play through the country quota and qualifying rounds to get to the main draw meant Ross and Klineman had to win some 10 matches to get that victory, twice as many as usual.
Klineman said she was nervous about just getting to the main draw.
“But I think we were just so focused on each match, you know, taking it one match at a time and not thinking about, ‘How do we get first place or second place or third place?’ ” the Manhattan Beach resident said. “I just remember giving everything we possibly had.”
And a great team was born.
AVP owner and managing partner Donald Sun used the team’s moniker when queried about this rare accomplishment.
“The A-Team winning in their first FIVB international tournament in the Netherlands was an impressive feat,” he said. “Four months later, they duplicated this achievement by winning their first AVP event together in Austin.
“Since then, they have added to a long list of wins and accomplishments. April and Alix are great ambassadors for the sport and the AVP.”
Ross and Klineman have now won four FIVB events together, took second at the World Championships in 2019 in Hamburg and are currently ranked No. 2 in the world behind Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, whom Ross and Klineman defeated this past weekend in the semifinals.
Ross went on the hunt
Ross played indoor volleyball at Newport Harbor High and USC. She won a silver medal in beach volleyball at the 2012 London Games with partner Jennifer Kessy and a bronze with Kerri Walsh Jennings in the 2016 Rio Games.
Walsh Jennings in 2017 decided she was no longer going to play in the AVP for a variety of reasons. Ross believes playing in the AVP is vital to one’s career, so while Walsh Jennings left the circuit, Ross stayed and found Klineman.
“I was looking – regardless of points, regardless of experience – like three years down the road, who would make the best teammate and partner to give us a chance at winning the gold medal in Tokyo?” Ross, 38, said. “So it wasn’t about immediate success or anything like that, it was what could create the best team and the best chance for us to win a gold medal.”
Klineman, who played indoor volleyball at Stanford after starring at Mira Costa High, was in her first season of beach volleyball in 2017. Ross said she had other options for partners that had more experience.
“But looking at Alix – just her physicality, number one,” the 6-foot-1 Costa Mesa resident said of the 6-foot-5 Klineman. “And then talking to her, her drive and competitiveness and work ethic. And you could just feel the intensity and her passion for accomplishing her goals.
“I think having that fire in yourself is huge. You can’t kind of manufacture that.”
Klineman played with several partners in 2017 before Ross reached out to her late that year.
“I never really thought April would be available just because of the time she was with Kerri, so it wasn’t even really on my radar,” Klineman, 30, said. “But then she had approached me a couple of months prior to kind of joining forces and I just remember being so excited that she was even interested in me and thinking about me as a partner.
“It completely changed the trajectory of my beach career … completely shifted my gear of just how I was improving and all that because it put me on like a fast track of playing at the top level.”
Tokyo on the horizon
If the Tokyo Games were this year as originally scheduled, Ross and Klineman would be there. But qualification has been extended a year, so they still have some FIVB work to do to make sure they’re one of the two American teams at the Olympics.
For Ross, the goal is obvious. She’s got a bronze and a silver. She wants the gold.
“It would just be the culmination of all the hard work I’ve put into the sport,” Ross said. “It’s the only thing left I have to achieve in the sport and it would mean everything to me if Alix and I could bring home that gold medal.”
For Klineman, it would be her first Olympics experience.
“It’s definitely like the one big thing that I’ve just been working toward for so long that I haven’t achieved, and so to be able to go would be like everything,” she said. “But I’m just trying to take things one step at a time and keep focusing on the journey and enjoying it now.”
AVP Champions Cup
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Long Beach Convention Center
What: Three events over three weekends
Prize money: A total of $700,000
TV: Amazon, NBC Sports
Note: No fans