Alix Klineman of Manhattan Beach and April Ross of Costa Mesa won the Olympic gold medal in women’s beach volleyball Thursday, defeating Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy of Australia, 21-15, 21-16, in 43 minutes.
The duo dubbed “The A-Team” never trailed in 20-minute first set, breaking a tie and taking the lead for good with five consecutive points for a 7-2 lead.
Three consecutive points gave the U.S. the first of its three eight-point leads, 16-8. It led by at least five the rest of the set at Shiokaze Park near Tokyo Bay.
Australia scored the first two points in the 23-minute second set, the U.S. the next 10. Australia cut the lead to 16-13, but would get no closer.
Artacho del Solar served into the net on the third match point to give Klineman and Ross their seventh victory in seven matches in the Tokyo Olympics, winning 14 of their 15 sets.
The medal is the third for Ross, who won a silver medal at the London Games in 2012 with Jennifer Kessy and a bronze at the Rio Games in 2016 with Kerri Walsh Jennings. This was the first Olympics for Klineman.
“I’m still trying to process it but I’m so in the present moment here with this team and this medal,” Ross said. “I’m so proud of my other ones but just how this worked out, and the risks that Alix took to come out onto the beach and all her hard work — it doesn’t happen without that.
“I can’t fathom that it worked out the way it did. It’s kind of a fairytale story like, `Oh, I’m going at 39 to try and get my gold medal,’ and the fact that it actually happened feels so special and surreal. I’m just so proud of our team and so grateful for everyone who helps us get here.”
The gold medal was the fourth for American women in the seven Olympics that have included beach volleyball.
“April and Alix played an incredible game and we knew that they were going to,” Clancy said. “April is a very experienced athlete, this is her third grand final, so we knew that we had to bring our best and we fought.”
The 31-year-old Klineman graduated from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach in 2007. She was selected as the 2006 Gatorade National Player of the Year after leading the Mustangs to their third consecutive state championship.
Klineman was the 2010 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year as a Stanford senior, then played indoor volleyball professionally in Italy from 2011-2015 and Brazil from 2015-17.
Klineman switched to beach volleyball in 2017 due to the physical toll of playing on a hard surface and to help her achieve her goal of competing in the Olympics.
Klineman was selected as the Association of Volleyball Professionals Rookie of the Year in 2017 and became playing partners with Ross at the end of that year.
Ross was the 1999 Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior at Newport Harbor High School, led USC to the 2002 and 2003 NCAA championships and won the 2003 Honda Award as the top collegiate women’s volleyball player.
Ross played professional indoor volleyball in Puerto Rico from 2004-06 then switched to beach volleyball in 2006.
Ross is the second USC alumnus to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Games, joining Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, the winner of the men’s 200 meters. USC has won at least one gold medal at every Summer Olympics since 1912.