Hermosa Beach 2024 Olympians: Local players “Cardinal and Gold” going for gold in Paris

Kelley Kolinski and Sarah Hughes celebrate winning the 2022 AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Elka Worner

For the past several months, top ranked U.S. beach volleyball teams Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, and Chase Budinger and Miles Evans have been training at the 16th Street courts in Hermosa Beach, home to the legendary Memorial Day, and Labor Day weekend tournaments, as well as this past week’s Fourth of July four-player tournament. 

Kelly Cheng goes up against her former USC, and upcoming Olympics partner Sara Hughes in the finals of the 2022 AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Photo by Ray Vidal

The two teams have been preparing for their next tournament, at the Eiffel Tower Stadium, as representatives of Team USA in beach volleyball at the 2024 Olympics.  

“My goal is to bring home the gold,” Hughes said on her Instagram account. The 5-foot-10 player began playing beach volleyball when she was eight, and training in Huntington Beach. She said she’s been dreaming of the Olympics ever since.

Sarah Hughes in the 2022 AVP Manhattan Beach Open, which she won with Kelley Kolinski. Photo by Ray Vidal

Her partner, the 6-foot-2 Cheng, shared that dream. Cheng has Olympic rings tattooed on her arm. Both teammates live in Hermosa Beach (as do Budinger and Evans).

“It’s a  surreal feeling getting to compete on the biggest stage against the rest of the world with your country on your back. To fight for an Olympic gold medal is something like 0.001 percent of people get to do, so it’s a really special feeling,” Cheng told Olympics.com. 

Cheng was raised in Placentia, in Orange County, and played indoor volleyball on her high school before teaming up with Hughes while the two were at USC.

The powerhouse team was nicknamed “Cardinal and Gold” after USC’s colors and their hair colors. Cheng has long red hair and Hughes long, blonde hair.

The two had a 103-match winning streak and led the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA titles, before parting ways in 2018. Cheng went to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 with Sarah Sponcil. They were favored to win, but failed to medal. Cheng and Hughes reunited in 2022.

Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Cheng taking a break at 16th Street, Hermosa Beach in 2021, during training for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics (which were delayed from 2020 because of COVID). Photo by Kevin Cody

The following year, they all but secured qualifying for the Paris Olympics by winning the FIVB World Championships in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

The two phenoms are hoping to become the third U.S. women’s team, and beach cities team  to win the Olympics after Kerry Walsh (Manhattan Beach) and Misty May-Treanor, three-peat from 2004 through 2012, and Alix Klineman (Mira Costa High, Manhattan Beach)  and April Ross, in Tokyo in 2021.

“We have really good chemistry. Our styles of play complement each other well,” Cheng said in the Olympics.com interview. “We’re both at the same stages of life and on the same page with a lot of things. I think that’s helped us fight hard and fight for each other. on and off the court, which I think is really important.”

Hughes said she is doing everything she can to win in Paris, “so treating my body right and prioritizing training, consistency, mindset and nutrition can help me reach a new potential.”

The two said they train at 16th Street because they can always find strong women’s and men’s teams to play against. 

USA beach volleyball teams have won at least one medal at every Olympic Games since the sport was introduced at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. That year Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes defeated Mike Dodd, of Manhattan Beach and partner Mike Whitmarsh in the finals.

In the months leading up to this year’s Olympics, Dodd, and his wife Patty have trained elite Beach players at 16th Street.

“Beach volleyball is just deeply embedded in the local  culture,” Hughes said in a Los Angeles Times article. ER


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