Young American blockers highlight p1440 Top Guns
With its unique, round-robin style format, p1440’s Top Guns is an opportunity for a number of interesting scenarios to play out. Partners can play partners, like Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Carolina Salgado. Former partners can play with one another, like Nicole Branagh and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Australians can play alongside Brazilians or Americans, an inevitable scenario for whomever plays with 30-year-old Australian Olympian Becchara Palmer.
Perhaps most intriguing for American fans next weekend in Huntington Beach is this: They’ll get a glimpse at the vast majority of the rising American blocking talent.
While just three of the eight defenders in the 16-player field are Americans, five of the eight blockers call the States home, and three are 26 years old or younger. Yes, the two biggest names at the net – Alix Klineman and Summer Ross – are missing, but there is no doubt that bright futures are ahead for 23-year-old Kelly Claes, a three-time national champ at USC; 26-year-old Kelley Larsen, Pepperdine’s all-time winningest player; and 24-year-old Brittany Howard, who was recently elected rookie of the year on the AVP Tour.
The remaining two American blockers, Walsh Jennings and Emily Day, have long since established their prowess. Day has won a domestic event in six of the past seven years, including three in 2017 and two in 2018, while Walsh has won more tournaments than any female player in beach volleyball history.
It will be especially interesting to see how the younger blockers do with different partners behind them. Howard, for instance, played the entire year with Kelly Reeves, another Rookie of the Year winner, with the exception of Las Vegas, where she teamed with Branagh and finished 25th.
In Larsen’s wildly successful four-year career thus far, fans have only been able to see her play with Betsi Fint and Emily Stockman, combining for 16 medals between the two (13 in three years with Flint, three in one season with Stockman).
Claes, too, is most known for her decorated run with Sara Hughes, winning three national championships at USC, capped by an AVP win in Chicago at the end of 2017. Since, she has played, with fair success, alongside Brittany Hochevar, Walsh Jennings and Sarah Sponcil, with whom she plans on making a run at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
At the very least, it will be a point of interest to see young blockers adjusting to new partnerships, playing with different styles, testing their comfort zones. Three times they’ll change partners in Huntington Beach – or one more than Larsen has done in her career.
Full field for p1440 Top Guns:
Maria Clara Salgado
Kerri Walsh Jennings
Elize Secomandi Maia
Ana Patricia Silva Ramos
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