Partner Changes Shake Women's Beach Volleyball

By B.J. Hoeptner Evans | April 17, 2018, 11:37 a.m. (ET)
New U.S. women's beach volleyball teams
Clockwise from top left: Sara Hughes has partnered with Summer Ross while Kelly Claes will play with Brittany Hochevar.

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (April 17, 2018) – Minor earthquakes are common in Southern California.

In March, there was small quake in the U.S. beach volleyball community when word got around that new women’s partnerships had formed.

Kelly Claes and Sarah Hughes parted ways after a seven-year partnership that included a World University Championship, four NORCECA gold medals, two age group world championship bronze medals, an AVP Tour victory and four college national championships with the University of Southern California,

Hughes, 23, has joined with Summer Ross, 25. Claes, 22, partnered with Brittany Hochevar, 36. Both teams will make their FIVB World Tour debuts this week at the four-star event in Xiamen, China.

The moves left Ross’s former partner, Brooke Sweat, 32, and Emily Day, 30, who played with Hochevar, looking for new partners. Lauren Fendrick, 36, has said on social media that she will be reuniting with Sweat, with whom she competed at the 2016 Olympic Games.

“It’s something that happens in the volleyball world,” Hughes said. “I needed to grow a little more as a volleyball player.

“Kelly is such an amazing player and competitor. We were still doing great. But I needed to look at myself and I needed to grow… It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had to sit down and analyze.”

Hochevar, who made her professional beach debut in 2004 and has played with several partners, took a long view of the situation.

“It was the trade deadline for our sport,” she said. “It’s a year before Olympic qualification… A lot of the teams that were constructed knew what they could do together. They were tested.

“The question is, how can you find that edge to position yourself for the (2020) Olympics?”

Hochevar and Claes have focused on their communication as they prepared for Xiamen.

“This has been quite and adventure for me,” Claes said. “I’ve never had to do this… It’s a little challenging and awkward. Brit and I decided on open and honest communication; not taking criticism as hurtful or attacking.”

When they were interviewed by phone, the two were making pizzas for dinner at Hochevar’s home. Claes commutes from Fullerton to Manhattan Beach to train and sometimes spends the night on Hochevar’s couch.

“Our communication on the court is important. But off the court, because we spend so much time together, that’s where trust gets built,” Hochevar said. “You create a conversation that carries over. You want that lightness. You want your personality to come through.”

Ross has also been through player changes before and had won a bronze medal with Sweat at the Fort Lauderdale Major. She is excited to see what she and Hughes can do with coach Jose Loiola.

“I was stoked,” Ross said. “I felt like we could go up from there. The split with Brooke was so hard. She’s an amazing player. But when Sara comes along, you can’t turn that down.

“We have been friends. I’ve been one of the younger ones on the tour, so I would always try to find Sara. Sara is fun. Everybody likes Sara.”

It’s actually not the first time Hughes and Ross have played together. They partnered for the 2012 FIVB U21 World Championships in Halifax, Canada and finished fourth.

“Summer is a ball of positive energy,” Hughes said. “She’s such a good blocker. She is tall and long and aggressive at the net.

“We need to get out there and compete.”

Hochevar was excited to see what happens in Xiamen.

“I think the shakeup was necessary and pertinent and the timing was perfect. It’s a matter of who becomes the most dangerous in a short amount of time.”

MORE ON XIAMEN

Another U.S. women’s team that will make its international debut in Xiamen is Kelley Larsen / Emily Stockman. Larsen had been competing with Betsi Flint and Stockman was with Kim DiCello.

XIAMEN TEAMS

Eight U.S. beach teams are scheduled to compete at the FIVB four-star event on April 18-22 in Xiamen, China.

Women’s Main Draw (in order of seeding)
Sara Hughes / Summer Ross (Coach Jose Loiola)
April Ross / Alix Klineman (Coach Jen Kessy)
Kerri Walsh Jennings / Nicole Branagh (Coach Marcio Sicoli)

Women’s Qualifying
Kelly Claes / Brittany Hochevar
Kelley Larsen / Emily Stockman

Men’s Main Draw (in order of seeding)
Theo Brunner / John Hyden (Coach Evie Matthews)
Jake Gibb / Taylor Crabb (Coach Rich Lambourne)

Men’s Qualifying
Billy Kolinske / Miles Evans

Sports Medicine: Aimee Miyazawa and Ciara Cappo