Medals in the sands of Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach

2020 beach volleyball Olympic gold medalists and 2021 AVP Manhattan Beach Open winners April Ross and Alix Klineman. PHoto by Bo Bridges (BoBridges.com)

Beach volleyball Olympians gather at the 16th Street, Hermosa Beach courts to thank officials and the beach community

Photos by Bo Bridges (bobridges.com)

by Paul Teetor

On a beach-perfect morning last month, one week after the Tokyo Olympics closing ceremony,  15 beach volleyball players gathered on the sand courts at 16th Street in Hermosa Beach. All were Olympians or members of the USA Beach Volleyball National Team. All trained and most lived in the Beach Cities.

Mark Paaluhi, Director of Beach Volleyball for the Southern California Volleyball Association, gathered the players to thank local officials for their help during the pandemic.

After beaches were reopened last March, after having been closed for a year because of the pandemic, beach volleyball tournaments were still prohibited because health officials banned sporting events involving more than two teams. High school football games with 50 players to a side, were allowed. Beach volleyball tournaments with two players to a side were not, because  beach volleyball tournaments have more than two teams. 

Alix Klineman puts the ball away during last month’s AVP Manhattan Beach Open. Klineman and partner April Ross won the event for the second consecutive time.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn and Hermosa officials worked with Los Angeles County and State health officials to exempt beach volleyball from the two-team limit. Though tournaments with fans remained banned prior to the Olympics, local officials allowed Paaluhi to organize private tournaments at 16th Street, where many of the players trained. 

“The purpose was to keep the players’ tournament skills sharp,” Paaluhi said. “And to keep

them motivated.”

Among the participants in those tournaments were Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, who reached the round of 16 at the Tokyo Olympics; and Alix Klineman and April Ross who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. 

All four attended last month’s 16th Street gathering, as did 2020 women’s Olympic coaches Angie Akkers, and Guilherme “Fiapo” Tenius; men’s 2020 Olympians Taylor Crabb, Tri Bourne and Nick Lucena; 2008 Olympic gold medalist Rich Lambourne; 2012 and 2016 Olympian Sean Rosenthal; and USA National Team and AVP players Sarah Hughes, Emily Day and Chase Budinger.

Hermosa Beach Councilman Raymond Jackson, Mayor Mary Campbell and Councilwoman Stacey Armato accept autographed volleyballs from Tokyo Olympics beach volleyball gold medalist April Ross and Alix Klineman.

“I felt it was important for the players to meet the people behind the scenes who have helped support beach volleyball during these challenging times. And for the people who were behind the scenes to meet the players they helped,” Paaluhi said before introducing the players to the local officials.

Public officials thanked included Supervisor Hahn, Hermosa Beach Mayor Mary Campbell, Councilmembers Stacey Armato and Raymond Jackson, Hermosa City Manager Suja Lowenthal, Hermosa Police Chief Paul LeBaron, and Los Angeles County Lifeguards Fernando Boiteux and Marco Rodriquez. 

The diminutive Hahn shocked the crowd by revealing she was the MVP of her Lutheran high school volleyball team.

The gathering was also an opportunity for the players to get together, after having been separated, first by the pandemic, and then by the Olympics.

Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn accepts an autographed volleyball from Tokyo Olympics beach volleyball gold medalist Alix Klineman and April Ross.

Following the presentations and photographs, Claes was asked the logical-but-delicate question — how many times a day does she think about how it could have been them instead of the A-Team winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Only a couple of dozen times a day,” she said with a wry smile. “At least that many.”

Sponcil quickly corrected her.

“Make that a couple of hundred times a day,” she said with a bigger smile. “At least that many.”                        

The team that calls itself “Slays” as a response to the branding success of Klineman and Ross calling themselves the A-Team, rushed to make sure they weren’t misunderstood.

“Of course we’re happy for them,” Claes said. “If it couldn’t be us, then at least an American team took the gold medal. We’re genuinely happy for them.”

Mark Paaluhi introduces local Olympians to local city officials, including Hermosa Beach Police Chief Paul LeBaron.

Klineman, still riding the wave of exhilaration from her team’s win in Tokyo just a week earlier, was grateful for the tsunami of home-town love.

“It’s fun to come home and share this gold medal with the Manhattan Beach community,” said the Mira Costa High School grad, class of 2007. “And of course to share it with the other beach cities, Hermosa and Redondo, too. I feel like it’s not just our gold medal. It belongs to the whole community.”                      

Asked if the A-Team was committed to trying for a repeat gold medal in the Paris Olympics, just  three years from now, Klineman hesitated.

“We haven’t fully decided on Paris,” she said. “We’re trying to seize this moment and savor it as much as we can.”

And that’s exactly what they did three days later by defeating team Slays in the semi-finals of the Manhattan Beach Open and going on to win the tournament and their second bronze plaque on the Manhattan Beach Pier Volleyball Walk of Fame.

Team Slays sounded proud, but not satisfied with their last two tournaments.

“There’s a lot of mutual respect between us and the A-Team,” Claes said on the beach at 16th Street. Before adding, “We hope to follow in their footsteps in the Paris Olympics.”  

Sponcil, who is from Phoenix, and now lives in Hermosa Beach, said the two are committed to staying together through the Paris Olympics.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” she said. “We’re already preparing mentally for Paris.”

She pointed out that both members of Slays are only 25 years old, while Klineman is 31 and Ross is 39.

“They’ve got 20 years on us. It’s pretty inspiring to watch the A-Team, so we’re happy to learn from them and watch them enjoy their success,” she said. “For now.”

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER

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