Beach Volleyball World Championships Tlaxcala 2023 - News


The American star celebrates a point during the Tokyo Olympics

Challenges have never scared Alix Klineman away from anything. If that were the case, she would have never left a stable and successful volleyball career behind at the age of 27 and moved to the sand to pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic champion, a goal she accomplished just four years into her beach experience.

Nearly two years after the last time she stepped on the sand to play an official match, the American star is set to return to international competition and, as it had to be, is ready to face numerous challenges on her path as she tries to make another Olympic run.

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Alix and former partner April Ross appeared in just a single international tournament after their victory at the Tokyo Olympics, in 2021, before their lives changed significantly. The 41-year-old April played in two Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour events in 2022, but has since shifted to coaching and is set to become a mother next month. The 33-year-old Alix took some time off after Tokyo to heal an injured shoulder and then decided to start a family too, having given birth to her first son, Theo, last June.

Coming back to the sport was always in the back of her mind, but it was far from a sure thing when she paused training to prepare for Theo’s birth. There was a big motivation for a quick return with the 2023 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship set to be played in Tlaxcala, Mexico, from October 6-15, looming in the near future, but also some questions and uncertainty, which were quickly replaced by a sparkle in the eyes and the desire to overcome another challenge.

“I had the idea that maybe I would try to return in time for World Championships, but I also wanted to first see how I felt,” Alix told Volleyball World. “A month or so postpartum, I started to feel the itch to get back out there and see what I could do and at that point, I started exploring what a path back to volleyball would look like. I also love a challenge, for me the bigger the better, so I think the difficulty of it all also was part of what made me want to do it.”


Alix sets during her most recent international tournment, the 2021 FIVB World Tour Finals

The Olympic champion was back exercising six weeks after becoming a mother and, one week later, was back on the sand, touching the ball again. With that step cleared, the next one was to secure a partner.

With April out of the picture, Alix turned to 25-year-old Hailey Harward, who graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in 2022 and has had some solid results at both the Beach Pro Tour and the American AVP over the last two seasons.

“Last summer I had a chance to train with Hailey,” Alix recalled. “It was an insignificant practice, but I remember being really impressed with her athleticism, her attitude and her on-court presence. I continued to train throughout my pregnancy and as I considered who I might try to play with when I returned, she was always in the back of my mind. Not only is she really talented already, I think she has a lot of potential and it's exciting to partner with someone that I think will continue to get better and better.”

Back on the sand and with a partner secured, Alix was in a position to make her comeback, but Harward and her didn’t have enough entry points to qualify for the World Championship. That was resolved with the Americans getting one of the three wildcards awarded by the organizers and securing a spot in Pool K, alongside Germany’s Svenja Müller/Cinja Tillmann, Brazil’s Tainá Bigi/Victoria Lopes and China’s Jie Dong/Fan Wang.

Getting to compete against the best teams in the world in Mexico was not only a big motivation for Alix’s comeback but also is a key step for her to pursue the main goal she set for her return –qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“When I thought about coming back, I knew if I wanted any sort of chance to make a run, I had to play in World Championships,” Alix, who took silver at the 2019 World Championship, explained. “It's a bit intimidating going into such a big tournament knowing that I'm still not back in peak playing form. A month ago, I was seriously worried I wouldn't be ready and I felt a lot of pressure to not let Hailey down and also fear that my body wouldn't progress fast enough. But I've made a lot of progress in the last couple of months and I'm hopeful that I will continue to feel better and better on the court. I'm excited to get back to competing and I'm really honored and grateful for the opportunity to compete at the World Championships. It'll be a fun test to see what we can accomplish in such a short time together.”

Alix and Harward will make their team debut one week before the World Championship, at the Paris Elite16, from September 27-October 1, and they know that entering the race to qualify for next year’s Olympics so late, they have no time to waste.

Besides earning a spot in the top-17 of the FIVB Olympic Rankings, they still have to be one of the two best-ranked American team on the list in June 2024, when the qualification ends. That, she knows, will be a hard task as compatriots Taryn Kloth/Kristen Nuss and Kelly Cheng/Sara Hughes are currently ranked third and fourth, with 6,980 and 6,680 points, respectively.

“Obviously, there are two American teams that have had a really successful qualification period up until this point,” she analyzed. “It makes for a huge challenge to return to the sport this late during qualification and to have a limited amount of time to try to pass those teams. I thought a lot about whether it still felt worth it to try, and I think I'd rather give it a shot and see where I end up rather than just write myself off. You never know unless you try.”

There’s still one last challenge that Alix will have to face in her return (and for several more years if she continues to play after Paris), but that’s the one that makes her the happiest to take on. Taking care of little Theo while pursuing her dreams on the sand hasn’t been easy, but, with baby steps, the American is progressing on that too.

“Being a mother and an athlete is a much more intense challenge than I anticipated,” she commented. “I don't think I ever realized the amount of planning and organization it would take just to be able to attend things like practice, weights or physical therapy. While it can be really nice to get out of the house and dedicate some time to myself, I also feel anxious and guilty at times for leaving my son. The other component that has been really challenging is just how tired and depleted I have felt training. It's been a total learning experience, and I do feel like I'm figuring out little things along the way, but at the end of the day, being a mom is a 24/7 job and there are no days off.”

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