Lausanne, Switzerland, January 18, 2019 – Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil have wasted no time in making their mark on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour since they teamed up at the Qinzhou 3-Star in October.
The Americans marked their debut together by winning bronze and then opened 2019 by winning silver at The Dela Beach Open in The Hague.
It sets them up well for the next two seasons which feature the Hamburg 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
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However, with fellow Americans April Ross and Alexandra Klineman, and Summer Ross and Sarah Hughes ahead of them in the world rankings they know they will need to keep bringing in the ranking points to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
“It’s hard to think so far ahead, but that’s certainly the goal,” Sponcil told beachmajorseries.com.
“For me personally and us as a team, the goal should always be willing to get better and to learn. I feel like the faster we can do that, the points and everything else will come from doing that.
“Everyone is going to be looking at that, but I feel that if we’re focused on us and how we’re going to get better and fine tune these things, we’re not going to have to worry about that and it will come, if it comes.”
Claes, 23, and Sponcil, 22, showed their potential in The Hague with wins over compatriots Betsi Flint and Emily Day, and Spain’s double Olympians Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez in the knockout rounds.
They then defeated Finland’s Taru Lahti and Anniina Parkkinen in the semifinals but were unable to complete their run in the gold medal match against Brazil’s Ana Patricia and Rebecca Silva.
“Chemistry is a huge part of this game and she’s very easy to hang out with on and off the court, so it’s been very nice so far,” Claes said. “On the court, we are trying not to be afraid to offend each other because that’s a struggle sometimes with teams.
“You’re not criticizing the other person, you’re trying to make them better because you want this team to be better and sometimes it can be kind of an emotional and critical state, so we are just trying to be as open as possible about it.
“I think we figured out a lot of things already, but we still have a ton to work on. We’re trying to be aggressive in every play and go for things and if we make errors, we just brush them off and learn from them. Right now, we’re trying to put all those little pieces together.”
The next World Tour 3-star tournament will take place in Sydney from March 6-10, and after that the Xiamen 4-Star in China runs from April 24-28.
Claes and Sponcil are quickly building experience on the World Tour. They have also benefitted from playing alongside more senior members of the USA team.
Claes has played alongside triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings three times, while Sponcil featured in two tournaments with Lauren Fendrick, who won silver at the Vienna 2017 World Championships.
“I was just coming right out of college and this past summer was a huge learning experience,” Sponcil said. “Coming with Lauren and traveling to Tokyo and trying all these different things, it allowed me to open my eyes to this whole new world.
“Everyone is better, stronger and faster, so I had to learn pretty quickly and I’m grateful for being with Lauren when I was, she taught me so much.”