High Drama in Sin City—Vegas Women’s Preview
If you think selection for the Brazilian men’s team for the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo was going to be brutal, it could be child’s play compared to the twenty month donnybrook that awaits the USA women’s teams for the coveted two spots that will be on offer in Japan. And a warning to whoever gets there: be prepared for the hottest and most humid Olympic Games on record. It will be a far cry from London 2012 when players were in their woolies contending with the arctic temperatures in the capital of Great Britain.
So who has the upper hand for the Stars and Stripes? We will get a really good glimpse into the crystal ball in Las Vegas at the p1440 FIVB Four Star which will play a big role in determining who has the inside track.
April Ross and Alix Klineman have been the most consistent and sharpest USA team thus far. Klineman will be 29 at the end of December and has only two full seasons of beach volleyball experience so she has the strongest upside of all the U.S. contenders. With April, she finished no worse than third this past season on the AVP Tour, and in fact, won the last three tournaments impressively. But AVP finishes don’t count when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics.
It has been more of a mixed bag internationally for Klineman and April. A great start to the year in an indoor beach tourney in Den Hague and no other podium finishes until this past week in China. Keep in mind too, that the defending Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst sat out the entire 2018 season as did Brazil’s Larissa and Talita. Nevertheless, April is a massive big game hunter with Olympic silver and bronze and perhaps more impressively a gold (with Jen Kessy), a silver (with Lauren Fendrick) and a fourth (with Whitney Pavlik) in the World Championships with three different partners. And then there is always April’s serve to contend with as well.
A lot of pundits like the upside of Sara Hughes and Summer Ross. It seems as if Summer has been around forever but she will turn only 26 in December. She made her first big splash on the senior level (she was a prodigy on the junior circuit) internationally in 2013 in Long Beach where in one of the best matches in modern beach volleyball history Summer and Emily Day lost an absolute heartbreaker, 24-22, 20-22, 14-16 to the then-top ranked team in the world, Taina Lima and Talita Antunes to finish fourth.
From that point, until hooking up with Hughes this past year, Summer’s results were mixed. She won AVP tournaments with Lane Carico and Brooke Sweat in the intervening years but had not made too big a splash internationally until this past season. Two firsts and two seconds on the AVP tour augmented by three podiums and a win (Moscow) on the FIVB circuit. They are 2-3 against Klineman and Ross which is developing into quite a rivalry.
Now, the wild card lurking in the wings are the oldies but goodies, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat. They are the team of experience and savviness. Vegas will be their first tournament together. Sweat is coming her second shoulder surgery while KWJ appears to have no lingering effects from her sixth. At least early on in the Olympic process, pending wild cards, they may have to play in some qualifiers and country quota matches. As a defender, Sweat has few peers. She has an Olympics under her belt playing with Fendrick. They did not set the world on fire losing all three of their matches. But Brooke was hurt during the Games and it is not really an accurate read of what she is capable of. She has four world tour podiums. Call this “Team Hungry.” They want to prove all the naysayers wrong.
The USA is so deep on the women’s side that there are such high quality duos as Emily Stockman/Kelley Larsen and Betsi Flint/Emily Day that warrant only a mention because the mountain is such a high one to climb. And then there is Team 2024: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil who may not have the experience to make a Tokyo run but look like they could wreak havoc in the future if not in the present.
You have to like the USA’s chances for possibly two medals in Tokyo. Certainly Brazil and Germany will have teams that can, and will contend, but I think the two American teams that can survive the crucible of the 20 month beach volleyball equivalent of the Bataan Death March will be uniquely positioned to handle the pressure and the competition in Japan beginning July 25th, 2020.
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