Beach Volleyball Preview

The U.S. beach volleyball teams have won at least one medal at every Olympic Games since the sport debuted in 1996. Team USA is looking to continue that streak at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – now taking place in 2021 after being postponed due to COVI-19 – as a strong group of athletes fight to qualify.

Several of the top U.S. beach volleyball athletes have extensive international experience, but only one team remains that competed at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Three-time Olympian Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena placed fifth in Rio, and they are looking to reach the Olympic stage once again and sit in second place among U.S. men’s teams.

Shortly after the Rio Games, the bronze-medal team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross split to search for new partners. For Ross, the search ended at the end of 2017 when she had a tryout with indoor player Alix Klineman, a standout at Stanford University. The pair has improved quickly and placed second at the 2019 world championships and first at the 2019 FIVB five-star event in Gstaad, Switzerland. Their 2019 finishes have put them way ahead of their U.S. competitors in the race for Olympic points.

Walsh Jennings, who is looking to make her sixth Olympic team, found her new partner at the end of 2018 when she joined 2016 Olympian Brooke Sweat. The pair made a statement in 2019 when it won the FIVB four-star event in Jingjiang, China.

Younger women’s teams are benefitting from the NCAA’s adoption of beach volleyball, and they are making strong pushes prior to the Tokyo Games. The pairs of Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil and Kelley Larsen/Emily Stockman have achieved success on the international stage.

On the men’s side, three-time Olympian Jake Gibb and newcomer Taylor Crabb lead the U.S. teams in Olympic points thanks to a gold-medal win at the four-star in Chetumal, Mexico, to end 2019. Dalhausser and Lucena are in second, but still need to compete in two more events to be eligible.

Newcomers Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb (Taylor’s brother) are in third place among U.S. teams. They came together in late 2018 after Bourne recovered from a long illness, and they have surprised themselves by winning the FIVB three-star event in Quinzhou, China and finishing fourth at the 2019 world championships.

Updated on July 19, 2020. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

The A Team: Ross and Klineman came together at the end of 2017. After a rough start, the pair finished second at the 2019 world championship and first at the 2019 five-star event in Gstaad, Switzerland. Klineman just started playing beach volleyball full time in 2017.

Tri Bourne/Trevor Crabb: With Bourne at 6’6” and Crabb at 6’4”, the pair is considered undersized in the world of beach volleyball. While many teams have a tall blocker and a shorter defensive specialist, Bourne and Crabb “split block,” meaning they take turns doing each. Bourne still manages his illness, a chronic inflammatory muscle disease called dermatomyositis.

NCAA Beach Volleyball: The NCAA adopted beach volleyball as a full sport for women in 2015. Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil are the first top women’s teams to come out of the collegiate ranks (from University of Southern California and UCLA, respectively), with more on the way.

Still Playing: Walsh Jennings, Dalhausser, Lucena and Gibb will all be 40 or older in 2021, while Ross, Sweat and Klineman will all be 30 or older. In a sport that favors the young, these beach volleyball players are finding ways to stay in the game.

Kerri Walsh Jennings (Saratoga, California)

 The 41-year-old is looking to make her sixth Olympic team and win her fifth Olympic medal. She has dealt with injuries and the pressures of raising three children with husband Casey Jennings. Walsh Jennings also started her own volleyball tour called P1440.

Tri Bourne (Honolulu, Hawaii)

After just missing an Olympic berth in 2016, Bourne was ready to make a run at the 2020 Games when he started suffering symptoms of pain, inflammation, rashes and fatigue. After much testing, he was diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory muscle disease called dermatomyositis. He could not compete for almost two years before returning at the end of 2018 with new partner Crabb. The pair now leads the U.S. men in Olympic qualifying points.

April Ross (Costa Mesa, California)

Ross has earned medals at every Olympic Games in which she has competed but is still missing an elusive gold. She partnered with Klineman in 2017 and it has paid big dividends. The pair is coached by Ross’s former partner, Jennifer Kessy.

U.S. beach volleyball athletes can qualify for the Tokyo Games by finishing in the top-15 of the Olympic rankings, with a maximum of two teams per country per gender. If more than two American duos are in the top-15, only the two highest-ranked teams will compete at the Tokyo Games.

Olympic ranking points can be earned at FIVB World Tour events between Sept. 1, 2018, and June 15, 2021. Teams must play at least 12 FIVB events during that time.

Should the U.S. not have two teams in the top-15 for their gender, an American duo can earn a slot by winning the NORCECA Continental Cup or the FIVB World Continental Cup.

Following the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the FIVB announced that it would extend the qualification period for beach volleyball for one year. However, with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, a new schedule of Olympic qualification events has not been released.