When Alix Klineman won her first AVP Manhattan Beach Open title last year, the woman who handed her the trophy actually had worked at the pro beach volleyball player's elementary school.
“It’s a big thrill,” said Klineman as she gets ready to see her name emblazoned on a plaque on the Manhattan Beach Pier. She, partner April Ross, along with 2018 title holders Ross and Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena will be honored tomorrow, Aug. 15, in the Walk of Fame ceremony in Manhattan Beach.
“I grew up really close to the tournament," said Klineman. "You get to go from just being a spectator to a player able to do it in my hometown and last year which is really cool, too.
Klineman said all her friends and family were there.
“I truly felt like I was at home,” said Klineman.
Since turning pro full-time in 2017, Klineman has competed in 35 events and has won 11 of them. After a slow start her first season, she is one of the premier players domestically and internationally.
Klineman was a local legend on the indoor volleyball courts at Mira Cost High School until she made the move to the sand just two years ago. And now, her pairing with veteran player Ross puts her firmly in the mix to represent the U.S. in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But, first: another title is at stake as the pair readies for what the AVP calls "the Super Bowl of beach volleyball" as the Gold Series comes to Manhattan Beach this coming weekend, April 16-18.
This year she heads to the tournament with five wins on the AVP Tour and FIVB World Tour.
“It’s been a really good summer, a really good partnership so far,” partner Ross said. “To hold the No. 1 spot in the world is a huge honor and we definitely would love to work on solidifying that if possible.”
If Klineman wins again in Manhattan Beach, she will win back-to-back titles in addition to winning six pro titles on the two main pro tours for the first time in a calendar year.
“It’s getting better for sure,” Klineman said of her pro career. “I don’t ever feel like I’ve totally got it. It’s a work in progress. I think it is how it is in any sport at any level, but it’s definitely been exciting.”
Klineman said teaming up with Ross and having the experience of veteran coach Jen Kessy have really helped her develop.
All of the 11 professional wins came in the past two years. She has played alongside Ross in 27 of those tour stops. They have played in 14 finals together and finished in the top 10 in all but one of those events.
Klineman has amassed more than $200,000 in winnings over that time.
Making the jump from indoors to the beach game took some hard decisions that are now paying off.
“I knew that I could play at that level pretty consistently,” Klineman said of playing indoors and then moving to the two-person beach game.
“To be a rookie again and to be uncomfortable and not very good—it’s a weird transition. I finally feel like I’m getting to a point where I’m playing at a pretty high level for most of the time.”
What motivated her was the goal of playing in the Olympics.
“My dream has always been to play in the Olympics and I believed for a long time I could do that on the indoor side and it got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t making that much progress towards that goal.”
She decided to make the switch. At first, some of those around her did not think it was the right decision.
“I didn’t want to wait until I was kind of declining and not at my peak form. I wanted to play my best on the beach, but at the same time I wanted to give indoor my full effort. I only really knew indoor, but I had this curiosity about the beach and what I could do there. It is hard thing to know when to walk away, when to take that new risk.”
Ross and Klineman will be the No. 1 seeded team trying to win back-to-back titles.
“It would be great to get up there again with Alix and obviously I want to get my name up there on the pier as many times as possible,” said Ross, who is looking to win in Manhattan Beach for the fourth time, but win two titles with the same partner for the first time.
Ross spoke about Klineman’s abilities and what drew her to partner with her.
“I could see the potential she had physically," said Ross of Klineman. "It was really important to me to sit down with her and talk to her about her work ethic. What she wanted from the sport after leaving indoor and like kind of why she was embarking on this.”
While Klineman said she is focused on improving her blocking, Ross was impressed with Klineman's offensive skills.
“The biggest thing over the last couple of years is how much she has improved on offense," said Ross. "She has always had the capability but, I just feel like, especially when she is in the system, she is really hard to stop.”
“Alix is a great player and with her high contact point she has the ability to create extreme angles when hitting the ball,” said former Manhattan Beach Open champion and Hermosa Beach resident Emily Day of Klineman.
One thing the pair are focused on is representing the United States in the 2020 Toyko Summer Olympics and right now are the leading team, but until they clinch a spot they need to just keep piling up points internationally.
“When I think about what I hoped I feel like, I’m living that out,” Klineman said of playing for a spot in the Olympics and realizing her dream. “Now I have the best partner in the U.S. playing next to me. I’m just chasing my dreams. We’re going after it with all that we have.”
“I know that her big, big goal is going to the Olympics and if anything, it has more meaning to me because I know how special it is,” said Ross, who has a bronze medal with Kerry Walsh Jennings from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Ross appreciates the intensity her new partner Klineman brings.
“To be partnered with somebody you get along with and I really like how intense she is,” Ross said. “I like how intense we can be on the court together and we can laugh off the court and have a good time also. Enjoying the journey is a really big thing for me. I feel like partnering with Alix is a big part of allowing me to do that.”
While they have few things they share in common, their differences do not hold them back.
“We get along real good and we generally like the same things—we like to travel and we like to eat good food—but just our taste on things and our opinions on things are very different,” Ross said. “I would say we are more different than we are similar. For whatever reason, our tastes our different. We watch very different TV shows, read different books.”
But they both like winning and hope to make it two in a row in Manhattan Beach.
“That would be so special to win that again,” Klineman said. “I’m not sure there is tournament I look forward to more than Manhattan Beach.”