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USC's Kelly Claes and UCLA's Sarah Sponcil Seek Third Beach Volleyball Win

Team USA’s beach volleyball team of USC’s Kelly Claes and UCLA’s Sarah Sponcil takes on Brazil Thursday afternoon at the start of Day 8 of the Tokyo Olympics. 

The United States’ youngest-ever beach volleyball team is scheduled to play at 5 p.m. PT. Twenty-five-year-old Claes and 24-year-old Sponcil are seeking their third win in three at the Tokyo Olympics. 

They won their opening match in three sets before defeating a team from Kenya, 21-8, 21-6. 

Since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996, it has been forced to rely on players who switched over after playing indoors in college and perhaps even beyond in European or Brazilian professional leagues. But the varsity beach volleyball program has given Claes, 25, and Sponcil, 24, an option that wasn’t available to their predecessors.

Men still don’t have a college beach program in the U.S.

The Americans hope that by starting on the beach earlier, they can get back to dominating the sport as they did when Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor were winning three straight Olympic gold medals. In Rio de Janiero, Walsh Jennings and Costa Mesa’s April Ross took bronze for the only American medal — the worst U.S. haul ever.

“It’s been really cool to see just the pendulum of beach volleyball around the world how it’s kind of shifted,” Claes said. “The U.S. has kind of been at the forefront for so long with Misty and Kerri. And then I think the rest of the world kind of caught up and passed us. With the NCAA, there’s going to be this huge new generation of amazing athletes. And I think we’re going to make that kind of push back.”

Sponcil said that when she was growing up in Phoenix, younger girls would compete indoors in school and maybe have a chance to play on the beach only in the summer. There were no beach volleyball clubs in the area; now there are 10 or more.

“The girls are starting a lot younger. It’s crazy,” she said. “And people are just choosing that as their sport. So it’s really cool that so many girls are going beach from the get-go, and they’re going to be that much better when they get to college and professional.”

Claes and Sponcil each won back-to-back NCAA titles while in school.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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