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April Ross and Alix Klineman

April Ross And Alix Klineman Are Keeping Their Feet on The Gas Pedal

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It’s November 27, 2017, and April Ross is sitting at Tri Bourne’s kitchen table. In less than a year, she’d begin making another Olympic push, seeking her third appearance at the summer Games. Which meant she’d need a partner.

She shrugged. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to announce her choice just yet, but what the heck?

The world would find out soon enough, anyway.

“It was really hard to figure out what to do,” Ross said that evening. “There weren’t many chances to compete and to try people out. It came down to really intangible things. I decided to go with Alix Klineman to take a shot at Tokyo.”

But even Ross, who has played with and against the best players in the sport’s history, whose name will be among those discussed when speaking of the greats in beach volleyball, is taken aback by Klineman’s blink-and-you-missed-it rise.

It was only five months earlier that Klineman was competing in AVP qualifiers. Now she was being picked up by Ross, arguably the best player in the United States?

It wouldn’t be easy, but then again, if it were easy, “what is the meaning of what you’re doing if you’re not being challenged?” Ross said. “If you don’t have these things that will help you grow and things to help you overcome, what’s the point?”

So maybe they wouldn’t win immediately. Not the big ones, at least. Not the Gstaads, Viennas, Hamburgs, Manhattans.

Or maybe they would.

Their first two tournaments as partners, at The Hague Four-Star and AVP Austin, resulted in two wins. Three months later, they did get one of those big ones: Less than three years into Klineman’s beach career, and less than a year into her partnership with Ross, she put her name on the Manhattan Beach Pier.

“I knew as soon as I partnered with April that I was giving myself the best chance to succeed,” Klineman said. “I knew she would make me look better because of how good she is, but I don’t think I anticipated how much she would teach me as well.

“I think the biggest factor in us having success and me improving has been April and [coach] Jen [Kessy] and the experience they bring to our team. I felt like I was improving at a much slower rate before I teamed up with them.”

Would you like evidence of that expedited rate of improvement? Check in with Ross on July 16. While the rest of the Americans making the same push for the Tokyo Olympics are off to Espinho for another Four-Star, Ross is home. Exhausted. They’d gone from Poland to Hamburg to Gstaad without so much as a few days off in between.

Yet Ross had never been more stoked to be so exhausted.

“Oh my gosh,” she said, “I’ll take it every time.”

Why?

They’d won another big one. Took down Gstaad. Brought home a cowbell in Klineman’s second crack at it. Earned the week off, too. While everybody else bought the flight to Espinho, Ross and Klineman felt they could take the week off. Rest for once.  

“We’re happy to be home, happy that we did well enough that we think we can take a week off,” Ross said. “We needed it. Just really glad we could come home.”

Not that they’re satisfied, nor will they be until the ticket to Tokyo is officially punched. Actually, that sentence is might be inaccurate. It’s unlikely they’ll be satisfied until they return from Tokyo with a medal in hand.

That – the Tokyo Olympics – is the big one Ross was talking about that November night in Bourne’s kitchen. She knew it would be a process with Klineman, who is still, astonishingly, new to the beach. That process, as Klineman mentioned, has been put on hyperspeed by the team with which they’ve surrounded themselves.   

“That’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time,” Ross said of choosing Klineman. “I don’t think I ever could have predicted how quickly she would develop her beach game. And everybody comments on it all the time. I’m still super bummed we didn’t actually win World Champs [they finished second], but to get on the podium of your first World Champs in your second full year of international play? That’s pretty crazy. I don’t know if it’s ever been done before. Definitely happy with my decision.”

More importantly: She’s happy with the constant growth of their team as a collective whole. Sometimes that growth comes in quantum leaps. Sometimes in gains so small maybe only Ross, Kessy and Klineman notice. An attitude adjustment here. A slight drop of the hand on a block there.

“The improvement hasn’t been linear and there are still days where I feel like I’m struggling at a variety of skills,” Klineman said. “So for me, it’s just being detail-oriented and aware of what I can do better, and committing to improving every single day.”

It’s funny, how minds can align sometime. What Klineman said in 2019 was almost an identical reflection of what Ross said a little less than two years ago, when her and Klineman first began practicing.

“We’re training every day,” Ross said back then. “Doing everything we can to get better every day.”

Hunting for the big wins.

Not that they’re stopping. Getting complacent. Not these two.

“Until we are officially qualify I don’t think we’re going to take any pressure off of ourselves,” Ross said. “I think Alix and I play better with a sense of urgency and it’s her No. 1 goal to make the Olympics, so I don’t think we’ll take our foot off the gas pedal at all.”

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