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FIVB Gstaad Major

FIVB Gstaad Major: April Ross, Alix Klineman Turn “Disappointing” World Champs Silver Into Gold

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Disappointing.

That was the word Alix Klineman landed on when speaking to reporters following a 21-23, 21-23 loss to Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan in the finals of the Hamburg World Championships a week ago.  

First World Champs? A silver medal?

Disappointing?

There are only select few, across all of sport, who could use such a descriptor when referencing a second-place finish among the best competitors all over the globe. The Golden State Warriors can perhaps relate. McKayla Maroney, famously, can. It’s no sign of disrespect, of course, to be disappointed in finishing second. More an unwavering confidence that they’re the best in the world, and they’ll be damned if they’re happy someone took that title from them for the weekend.

“It’s hard because we were for sure capable of winning and we did it before,” Klineman said after Hamburg. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out at our best today, it just wasn’t there, and they put us in some tough situations as just part of us not being at our best. They’re a great team and we respect them a lot, but we really believe that we didn’t do our best and that’s really disappointing.”

Now, to be clear, they were both legitimately ecstatic to be in the finals, and both would admit as much. Making the finals meant a massive boost in the Olympic rankings. A sure sign that Klineman, in her second full-time year playing beach volleyball, is one of the fastest-improving players in the game, if not the single fastest-improving player.

“We’re obviously very happy to win a silver medal, this is the best I’ve ever done in a World Championships in an Olympic qualifying year and it goes a really long way until Tokyo, so we’re really proud about that,” Ross said.

But…

“It stings,” she added, “to not have gold.”

The next opportunity would come but a few days later, a little more than 600 miles north, in Gstaad, Switzerland, the second of four major international events on the beach calendar. If that disappointment served as motivation, it didn’t show. Not immediately in any match, at least. In the first three matches of the tournament, Ross and Klineman dropped their first set, coming back in two of them, the third of which was an elimination round against Russians Ekaterina Birlova and Evgeniya Ukolova.

“Losing the first set was the story of the tournament,” Klineman said. “For whatever reason, we’ve been having issues but we’ve kept on learning while playing and the biggest thing is we’ve stuck together through all the highs and lows.”

They’d do it again in the finals. Just to keep the routine. For the second time in less than two weeks, they met Brazil’s Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado, the same team they saw in the first round of elimination in Hamburg.

Just like in Hamburg, it went three, in three relatively lopsided sets, the closest being decided by four points. And, just like in Hamburg, the match went to Ross and Klineman, who, per the theme of the weekend, dropped the first set, 15-21, before coming back to win the next two, 21-17, 15-12. The win made Ross, at 37, the oldest player to win in Gstaad, and it awarded Klineman a cowbell in her second go at it.

“To bounce back from [Hamburg] and fight has hard as did, especially after some slow starts in matches here, and then do the same in the final, I am really proud,” Ross said.

Yes, proud. A much better ring to it than disappointing.  

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