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Meet The Four U.S. Beach Volleyball Teams Headed To Tokyo

By Steve Drumwright | June 10, 2021, 11:19 a.m. (ET)

The four U.S. beach volleyball teams headed to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer span the age spectrum — from the youngest U.S. team ever to the oldest male in the sport’s Olympic history.

While the U.S. men’s teams boast comparatively more experience than the women, all four duos are ranked among the top 10 in the country and could be medal contenders. And after all, winning medals has become a tradition for Team USA.

Since the sport made its Olympic debut in 1996, the U.S. men have won three gold medals and a silver, while the women have added three golds, a silver and two bronze medals. Can they add to that in Tokyo?

Get to know the eight beach volleyball players who will represent Team USA in Tokyo.

Alix Klineman and April Ross

Together since 2018, Klineman and Ross are ranked No. 2 in the world and enter Tokyo as one of the top medal contenders. The duo has already won once and taken third twice on the World Tour’s abbreviated schedule in 2021, and they have six FIVB wins to their name.

Both hail from Southern California, with Ross — who lives in Costa Mesa and graduated from USC — having previous Olympic experience. She won a silver medal in 2012 with Jen Kessy in 2012 and a bronze in 2016 with the legendary Kerri Walsh Jennings. That made her just the fourth player, male or female, to win multiple Olympic medals in the sport, joining Walsh Jennings, Misty May-Treanor and Karch Kiraly. Ross also becomes just the second American to qualify for three Olympics with different partners, joining Holly McPeak.

Since 2008, the 6-foot-1 Ross has been USA Volleyball’s Beach Player of the Year eight times and has been part of the Beach Team of the Year three times — in 2009 and 2012 with Kessy, and 2016 with Walsh Jennings.

While Ross turns 39 on June 20, Klineman is 31. The 6-5 Klineman is from Manhattan Beach and graduated from Stanford. She was named USA Volleyball’s Female Beach Player of the Year in 2019. After starting her professional career as an indoor player in Italy and Brazil, she transitioned to the beach game and was coached by Kessy, who was Ross’ partner from 2007-12. Kessy still coaches the duo.

Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil

Ranked sixth in the world, Claes and Sponcil are the outlier among the four U.S. teams for one very good reason: They are young.

Claes is 25, and Sponcil is 24, making them the youngest beach volleyball team in U.S. history. Sponcil will also be the second-youngest U.S. Olympic beach player, just a year older than May-Treanor was in her debut in 2000.

The pair, who started playing together in 2018, are as hot as anyone at the moment, having won World Tour events in each of the last two weeks.

The 6-2 Claes, who has also partnered with Walsh Jennings and Ross in the past, won back-to-back national titles at USC with Sara Hughes in 2016 and ’17, with the first championship capping an undefeated season.

Sponcil, who hails from Phoenix, is the only non-Californian among the four women representing the U.S. However, she did go to college in the Golden State, playing at Loyola Marymount for three years before transferring to UCLA. The 5-10 Sponcil played indoor and beach at both schools.

Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb

While Claes and Sponcil are heading to Tokyo repping the new generation, Gibb is standing tall for the old guard at age 45. He’ll becoming the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, surpassing the mark set by Angola’s Emanuel Fernandes, who was 41 when he competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Crabb, meanwhile, is 29 and the youngest of the four American men going to Tokyo. The duo have been together since 2017 and are sixth in the men's rankings.

The 6-7 Gibb will be making his fourth trip to the Olympics, and first with Crabb. A Utah native, Gibb and twin brother Coleman are the youngest of 11 kids. All of the boys have the middle name Spiker, which is his mother’s maiden name. Jake and Coleman began playing beach volleyball together at age 21, and Jake has taken off since then. He's been named USA Volleyball Men’s Beach Player of the Year four times, including in 2018 and 2019.

Crabb, a 6-foot Hawaii native, made his international debut in 2015. His brother Trevor was also in contention to go to Tokyo with partner Tri Bourne. The brothers were introduced to volleyball by their dad, Chris. Another family tie is uncle Tony Crabb, who was an assistant coach on the U.S. men’s indoor team that won Olympic gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
 

Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena

In keeping with the age theme, Dalhausser and Lucena are each 41 and bring a wealth of experience of their own. In fact, Dalhausser was part of the most recent U.S. men’s team to win an Olympic gold medal, when he did so with Todd Rogers in 2008.

This is Dahlhausser and Lucena’s second time together as partners. After pairing together from 2003-05, they rejoined forces in 2015 and are now ranked eighth in the world. Four years ago in Rio, they won their pool and finished tied for fifth.

Dalhausser, a 6-9 Florida native, is making his fourth trip to the Olympics. After winning gold and being named the Most Outstanding Player in Beijing, he returned to the London Games with Rogers, where they finished tied for ninth. A four-time FIVB Most Outstanding Player, Dalhausser is also a five-time best offensive player, seven-time best blocker and seven-time best setter.

The 6-1 Lucena, also a native Floridian, was USA Volleyball’s Men’s Beach Player of the Year in 2015, when he and Dalhausser were named Beach Team of the Year. Lucena is married to former pro beach player Brooke Niles, who coaches the Florida State beach team.

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Alix Klineman

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April Ross

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Kelly Claes

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Sarah Sponcil

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Taylor Crabb

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Jake Gibb

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Phil Dalhausser

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Nick Lucena

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