FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour

Long Beach Grand Slam | 18 - 23 August 2015


Press release

Unique Student Champions

American national collegiate champions Kelly Claes (left) and Sara Hughes will be playing in their first FIVB World Tour event Tuesday at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach.

Long Beach, Calif., USA, August 17, 2015 - Collegiate Beach Volleyball is on the rise in the United States and this week's qualifying tournament at the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball will feature the 2015 American collegiate champions - Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes from the University of Southern California.

While the pair will start competing Tuesday in their first-ever FIVB World Tour event together, Claes and Hughes have been playing competitively together since March with appearances in collegiate, international, domestic and continental tournaments.  To prepare for the US$800,000 ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball, Claes and Hughes competed this past weekend in the "famed" American domestic stop in Manhattan Beach (Calif.) where they placed ninth by winning three of five matches.

Claes and Hughes started the 2015 season by leading USC to an undefeated season (28-0) and the school's first Beach Volleyball team championship in early May at Gulf Shores, Ala.  Claes and Hughes completed the season with a 44-3 match record and won the collegiate pairs championship to mark the third straight year that a Trojan pair won the national crown.

Later in May, Claes, Hughes and other USC players traveled for two weeks through Europe (Italy, Slovenia and Austria) to compete in tournaments.  At the start of the trip, Claes and Hughes won the Bibione Beach Volleyball Marathon in Italy (May 16) by defeating Italy's Greta Cicolari, a London 2012 Olympic quarter-finalist, and Francesca Giogoli for the gold medal.

A week later in Slovenia, Claes and Hughes posted a 6-0 match mark in leading USC to the Ljubljana Intercontinental Beach Clash title by defeating Europe 25-23 in the three-day (May 20-22) pairs tournament where eight Trojan teams played tandems from Slovenia, the Slovak Republic, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, and Italy.

In June, Claes and Hughes won all four of their matches in USA Volleyball's NORCECA qualifier in Hermosa Beach, Calif.  With an undefeated record, Claes and Hughes earned the first pick for future NORCECA stops starting with last weekend's event in North Bay, Canada.

Claes and Hughes won four of five matches in Canada with their lone setback in the semi-finals to former USC All-American Bibiana Candelas and her Mexican partner Ana Rios in three sets.  Claes and Hughes bounced back to win the bronze medal by defeating Canada's Julie Gordon and Brandie Wilkerson.

In between the NORCECA qualifier and the Canadian event, Claes and Hughes posted a 6-2 match mark to place third in an American domestic event in New York (July 16-19) where the current Trojan players met former USC All-Americans April Ross and Jen Kessy in back-to-back matches.  It was not the London 2012 Olympic silver medal winners as a team as Ross and Kessy were playing in New York with different partners.

After losing to Ross and Jen Fopma in their opening New York match, Claes and Hughes won four-straight contests in the contender's bracket.  The fourth victory was a two-set win over Ross and Fopma to send Claes and Hughes to the semi-finals where Kessy and Emily Day posted a three-set win to advance to the finals.

While the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball is Claes and Hughes first FIVB World Tour, the two have teamed to capture bronze medals at age groups world championships with a combined 14-2 match mark.  The first bronze was at the 2013 FIVB under-19 worlds at Porto, Portugal.  The next year in Cyprus, Claes and Hughes placed third in the under-21 worlds championships.

Here is a “Q&A” with Claes and Hughes.

Question - You will be playing in your first "FIVB World Tour" event.  How excited are you and what are your expectations?

Kelly Claes - I am thrilled to death for this opportunity.  We are just beginning our journey at this level and we are working our butts off to break through.  The more opportunities we get to play against these great teams, the more confidence we are going to get.”

Q - This is your second "FIVB World Tour" event after playing initially in 2012 when you were 17.  You lost a country quota match to another American team.  This time, you are in the qualifier.  Will the experience this time feel different since you are in the qualifier playing with a partner that you have experience with?

Sara Hughes - “Yes, I believe this experience will feel different for me because Kelly and I have been playing for over two years together.  We have started to develop a great sense of chemistry and rhythm on the court.  When playing in 2012, I only had about two practices with the partner I competed with.  I am excited to compete and play against some of the best volleyball players in the world with Kelly

Q - You are considered FIVB World Tour "rookies", but your team has been playing competitively together since March at collegiate, European, domestic and NORCECA events.  Do you feel like rookies?

Claes - “We are defiantly the new kids on the block.  I’ve read descriptions of us as the ‘young guns’.  I’ll take it!  You’re only a rookie your first time.”
Hughes - “I don't necessarily mind being called “rookies” for this particular event.  It is understandable because this in our first FIVB World Tour together.  This is the ultimate challenge for us as we try to compete at the highest level of international beach volleyball.  We are honored to be given this opportunity and we are ready to take every advantage we have to get better.”

Q - Speaking of playing collegiately, how does the collegiate competition compare with the teams you play internationally?

Claes - “The older girls have a different game, as well as international teams we’ve played.  Collegiately, we see more ‘basic’ volleyball.  Pass, set, hit, on almost every contact and almost always a standing float.  Internationally we find more option balls, hitting it over on the first contact, and teams swinging on every set; good or bad.  I feel like international teams are more aggressive than college teams we’ve played but that comes with more experience and confidence.”
Hughes - “I think the level of play in the most distinguishing factor between collegiate and international players.  International players are so much more physical and make the game seem faster.  You really have to learn to control the tempo of the game internationally because teams take advantage if you aren’t playing your best volleyball.  They come after every ball with quickness, force, and power.”

Q - You finished third earlier this season at a domestic event in New York where you eliminated April Ross's team in the quarter-finals before losing in the semi-finals to Jen Kessy's team.  Both Ross and Kessy are USC alums and were silver medals winners at the London 2012 Olympic Games.  How did it feel to play against Ross and Kessy with a win over one and a three-set setback to the other?

Claes - “I’m not going to lie I was extremely nervous the first match against both teams.  But I have a great partner that I know is going to fight with me till the end.  It was an amazing experience seeing first hand that we can compete at such a high level.”
Hughes - “It was amazing competing against April and Jen in the AVP on main stadium in New York.  It was an experience I will never forget.  They are two of the top Beach Volleyball players in the world and having the opportunity to play against them made me want to compete with more teams at their level.”

Q - What's next for the Claes/Hughes partnership?  Any other international events this season?  Will you team together next spring to defend your NCAA championship?

Claes - “We will be traveling to Cuba for a NORCECA event the last week of August and possibly another NORCEC event in Florida in a month or so.  Because of NCAA regulations, we won’t be able to compete in any other AVP events this year.  We will be staying together to compete for the first NCAA Beach Volleyball Collegiate Championships and we are very excited.”
Hughes - “Kelly and I are going to continue to train hard in the weight room and improve on every aspect of our game as the collegiate season approaches.  Due to school starting we are restricted on the amount of tournaments we can play but we will still be competing in a few more NORCECA events this season.  Kelly and I are excited to get back to training at USC but more importantly we are ready to train hard with our team because without their help we wouldn’t have a championship to defend.”

Q - Qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is not possible, but what about 2020 in Tokyo?

Claes - “The 2020 Olympics are definitely our long term goal.  But right now, we have two years of college National Championships to think about and finishing our degrees.  We are pumped to play in as many international and domestic events as possible to get as much experience as we can.”
Hughes - “2016 is still undecided and Kelly and I are going to continue to work as hard as we can to pursue high-level opportunities in volleyball as if there are no barriers we can’t knock down together.”

Q - Anything else to add?

Claes - “We are excited to go out and show the world what we can do!  I absolutely love this game.  Having all the pressure on you, touching the ball every play, not having a coach in your ear strategizing for you.  It’s a chess match that you and your partner have to play.  Your poker face needs to be on at all times or your opponent will read you like a book.  And above all else, the best part about this game is that I don’t have to wear shoes.”
Hughes - “We know if we are going to compete at the highest level and be successful at this highest stage we have a lot to learn and improve upon.  We are ready to take on any challenge and take advantage of all that USA Volleyball has gratefully give us.”

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