By Paul D. Bowker | July 20, 2019, 2:26 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes celebrate after advancing to the championship match at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 4-Star tournament on July 20, 2019 in Espinho, Portugal. 

 

Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil are clearly in the race for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

The rising stars, Claes, 23, and Sponcil, 22, posted their second runner-up finish in an FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour 4-star tournament this season on Saturday, winning the silver medal in Espinho, Portugal.

Claes, who played in college for the Southern California, and Sponcil, who starred for Loyola Marymount and UCLA, joined forces this season and have made an immediate impact.

In October 2018, they finished third in their first FIVB World Tour tournament together, a 3-star event in Qinzhou, China. A few months later, they took another 4-star silver medal, this time in the Hague, Netherlands.

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They entered the Espinho tournament as the No. 13 team in the Olympic qualification rankings, and the fourth-ranked team from the U.S. Up to two U.S. teams can qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The success for Claes and Sponcil continued in Espinho. After dropping their first match, Claes and Sponcil won five straight to reach Saturday’s final, defeating Brazil’s Ana Patricia Silva Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti Barbosa Silva 21-12, 26-24 in the semifinals.

Claes and Sponcil dropped the championship match to Nadezda Makroguzova and Svetlana Kholomina of Russia 21-17, 21-16.

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.