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USC Beach Volleyball Alumna Kelly Claes Clinches Olympic Berth

Jun 2, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.  Three-time USC beach volleyball AVCA All-American Kelly Claes (Fullerton, Calif./El Dorado HS) mathematically clinched a nomination to the Tokyo Olympic Games (July 23-Aug. 8) as part of Team USA with partner Sarah Sponcil on Wednesday, June 2.
Over the weekend, Claes and Sponcil captured international gold for the first time in their careers as winners of the FIVB Beach World Tour (Fédération Internationale de Volleyball) four-star event in Sochi, Russia. Previously, Claes had had 17 top-five finishes including three runner-up results. The victory propelled Claes-Sponcil into an Olympic-qualifying position with 7,120 Olympic Ranking points; 160 more than the next closest American pair: Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
On Wednesday, Claes and Sponcil clinched that Olympic berth when Sweat and Walsh Jennings lost their match in the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open qualifier. The result guaranteed that Claes-Sponcil will finish Olympic qualifying as the second-ranked American duo in the Provisional Olympic Ranking.
Since partnering in 2019, Claes and Sponcil have earned 10 medals in 29 FIVB tournaments, including the gold in Sochi, four silver, and five bronze medals. In 2021, the duo has played all five four-star tournaments and has finished tied for fifth or better in four of them. They will also compete in the main draw of the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open, which begins Thursday (June 3).
Not far removed from college, Claes and Sponcil will become the youngest beach duo to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. They have an aggregate age of 49 years (Claes 25; Sponcil 24), and Sponcil will become the second-youngest American beach Olympian after former USC assistant coach Misty May-Treanor made her Olympic debut at age 23 in Sydney 2000.
USC will also be represented by three-time indoor volleyball AVCA All-American April Ross. She and partner Alix Klineman have also mathematically qualified and clinched their Olympic berth earlier this year. Ross will compete in her third Olympic Games after taking silver in London 2012 with USC alumna Jennifer Kessy and bronze with Walsh Jennings at the 2016 Brazil Games.
Additionally, current Trojan All-American Tina Graudina (Jurmala, Latvia) is the first-ever collegiate beach volleyball athlete to qualify for the Olympics. She and partner Anastasija Kravcenoka won the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Haiyang, China, in September 2019, and are the first Latvian women's beach volleyball Olympic pair in the country's history. 
Team USA Olympic berths are awarded to the two highest-ranked American beach pairs in the Provisional Olympic Ranking provided they also finish among the ranking's overall top 15. Claes-Sponcil is currently ranked sixth overall.
The USC beach volleyball team captured the program's fourth national championship (third NCAA crown) with a win over crosstown rival UCLA in the NCAA Championship dual. Under second-year head coach Dain Blanton, USC went 30-4 and had winning streaks of 13 and 12 matches during the season. The Trojans finished as the Pac-12 runner-up and produced the league's Pair of the Year in Tina Graudina and Megan Kraft. Graudina was also named Pac-12 Player of the Year and Kraft was the conference's Freshman of the Year. Both were named first-team AVCA All-Americans and were joined on the first team by Julia Scoles and Sammy Slater.
For more information on the USC beach volleyball team, a complete schedule, and results, please visit Fans of the Women of Troy can follow the team on Instagram and on Twitter @USCBeach.