Tokyo Olympics

USC's Kelly Claes and UCLA's Sarah Sponcil Get Third Beach Volleyball Win

The Trojan-Bruin team is the youngest-ever U.S. beach volleyball pairing.

Sarah Sponcil stretches out for the ball
Petros Giannakouris/AP

Team USA’s beach volleyball team of USC’s Kelly Claes and UCLA’s Sarah Sponcil took on Brazil Thursday afternoon at the start of Day 8 of the Tokyo Olympics. 

The U.S. now has two women's beach volleyball teams with perfect 3-0 streaks at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as newcomers Claes and Sponcil downed the Brazilian pair of Ana Patrícia Silva Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti Barbossa Silva in three sets: 17-21, 21-19, 15-11.

They'll play again Saturday against Canada in the Round of 16. Click here to stream.

Claes and Sponcil essentially went point-for-point in set one, until Ana Patricia/Rebecca widened the gap; the second set played out similarly, but ended in the Americans' favor. Team USA opened the third set with a solid lead, up 5 points at 6-1. Brazil improved their game, but couldn't overcome the deficit.    

Although Claes and Sponcil had already qualified for the round of 16, their win vaulted them to the top of Pool D -- just above the second-place Brazilians. 

Team USA beach volleyball team Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil moved to 2-0 in pool play with a win over Kenya’s Gaudencia Makokha and Brackcides Khadambi

They won their opening match in three sets before defeating a team from Kenya, 21-8, 21-6. 

Since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996, it has been forced to rely on players who switched over after playing indoors in college and perhaps even beyond in European or Brazilian professional leagues. But the varsity beach volleyball program has given Claes, 25, and Sponcil, 24, an option that wasn’t available to their predecessors.

Men still don’t have a college beach program in the U.S.

The Americans hope that by starting on the beach earlier, they can get back to dominating the sport as they did when Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor were winning three straight Olympic gold medals. In Rio de Janiero, Walsh Jennings and Costa Mesa’s April Ross took bronze for the only American medal — the worst U.S. haul ever.

“It’s been really cool to see just the pendulum of beach volleyball around the world how it’s kind of shifted,” Claes said. “The U.S. has kind of been at the forefront for so long with Misty and Kerri. And then I think the rest of the world kind of caught up and passed us. With the NCAA, there’s going to be this huge new generation of amazing athletes. And I think we’re going to make that kind of push back.”

Sponcil said that when she was growing up in Phoenix, younger girls would compete indoors in school and maybe have a chance to play on the beach only in the summer. There were no beach volleyball clubs in the area; now there are 10 or more.

Team USA beach volleyball team Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil moved to 2-0 in pool play with a win over Kenya’s Gaudencia Makokha and Brackcides Khadambi

“The girls are starting a lot younger. It’s crazy,” she said. “And people are just choosing that as their sport. So it’s really cool that so many girls are going beach from the get-go, and they’re going to be that much better when they get to college and professional.”

Claes and Sponcil each won back-to-back NCAA titles while in school.

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