2018-04-30 16:00:00 CET

Sand, Mario Bros & books

Know how books and video games helped Americans Hochevar and Claes to win their first World Tour medal

Claes (left) and Hochevar celebrate one of their seven victories in China last week (Photocredit: FIVB)Claes (left) and Hochevar celebrate one of their seven victories in China last week (Photocredit: FIVB)

How long does it take to build a competitive beach volleyball team? Well, if you ask Americans Brittany Hochevar and Kelly Claes, they’ll probably tell you that Iif you’re willing to put your heart on it, it shouldn’t take that long.

After all, the 36-year-old defender Brittany and the 22-year-old blocker Kelly joined forces just a month ago, after most of US’s women’s teams were rebuilt, but they were the first to achieve a good result.

Last week, they won seven out of nine matches in the World Tour four-star in Xiamen, China, to claim the silver medal, the first podium placement for both of them on the international scene.

“The key was that we put our heads down and went to work,” Hochevar told beachmajorseries.com. “We stayed in our lane and only concerned ourselves with ourselves, and that was building a strong foundation by feeling each other out on and off the court. We didn't even have an external goal in mind, we were more concerned with how we were coming together as a team.”

🥈in Xiamen 4⭐️ Beyond stoked about my first fivb finals appearance. @britthochevar you're such a stud on and off the court and it was so fun fighting our way through the qualifier to the finals!! So proud of you ❤️ Thanks El Jefe for helping us get dialed in before the event and scouting from across the world 😂 @hetitor Thank you so much @zawa5 @cappochiro and @pnoyes25 for all the support and laughs this week as well as the @fivbbeachvolleyball for an awesome event ❤️ Also, shout out to my amazing sponsors for helping me do what I love 🏐 @thewilsonvb @masimopersonalhealth @intelliskin @alsaenergy ~~~~Trusting in Him down this new path and loving the journey He's put me on~~~~ #StayFearless #HisGlory

879 Likes, 26 Comments - Kelly Claes (@kellyclaes3) on Instagram: "🥈in Xiamen 4⭐️ Beyond stoked about my first fivb finals appearance. @britthochevar you're such a..."

And putting two players with such different profiles together and having the team working in an eye blink might, indeed, be a challenging task. While Hochevar is a World Tour veteran with 74 tournaments under her belt and a fiery personality, Claes, who displays more of a laid back behavior, was a dominant force in college beach volleyball, but has played in only 14 international tournaments to date.

The task of integrating herself with a partner so different stayed in the back of Hochevar’s mind until she had an insight. Inspired by the American movie “Bull Durham”, where a veteran baseball catcher is tasked with mentoring a much younger pitcher, the defender decided to experiment something new with Claes.

“If I didn't get to know her and we didn’t start speaking each other’s language this would be really hard with a 14-year age gap,” she added. “So I suggested that we give each other ‘downtime activities’ that bring us into the same world. Last week I gave her a book (The Barbarian Way) to read and she gave me three levels of the new school Mario Nintendo Switch videogame I had to pass. As they say in the movie, we aren't like a ‘martian talking to a fungo’ anymore.”

Cleas and Hochevar during one of their matches in Xiamen (Photocredit: FIVB)Cleas and Hochevar during one of their matches in Xiamen (Photocredit: FIVB)

To be together, Claes and Hochevar had to give up on meaningful partnerships for both of them. The blocker, who had just split with Sara Hughes, with whom she played for seven years and won back-to-back college championships dropping only one set in 48 matches in the second season, decided to partner with a veteran and Hochevar just seemed the right option.

“This partner change feels great to me, it wasn’t something I was expecting, but right now I am happy with the partner I am with,” Claes told us. “I had so many options, but when I sat myself down and truly thought about what kind of person I wanted to share the court with, I knew I wanted someone with that fiery and passionate spirit. Brittany embodies the person I want to share the court with and after getting to know her during this tournament I know I made the right choice.”

Hochevar, on the other hand, had to part ways with Emily Day, her partner in the 2017 season. The team didn’t have such a long history together as Claes and Hughes did and had limited international success, but the great home achievements they had had together, winning four out of eight AVP tournaments in their only season, didn’t make the decision any easier.

“It was hard, for sure, how do you walk away from the team of the year?” the veteran questioned. “It was the trade deadline for our sport in the strategy of Olympic positioning. Kelly called me and I recognized that as the appropriate risk at the right time if I wanted to remain in the company of the world’s best.”

So proud of this fresh new team in staying the course to the Finals. We put our head down and went to work. Took it one ball at a time and enjoyed the micro moments. We had some massive battles from qualifier on and I'm here to tell you @kellyclaes3 is the real deal folks! @hetitor - always appreciate all you do, from training camp to scouting reports a world away. Now time to recover and reload as the eyes are forward @fivbbeachvolleyball Huntington Beach, CA next week. So much love for the support. Thank you! @yard_strength #owntheprocess #cultureovertactics #silvermedal #godstiming #justB #timeless #thelastarrow #thebarbarianway @erwinmcmanus

776 Likes, 27 Comments - Brittany Hochevar (@britthochevar) on Instagram: "So proud of this fresh new team in staying the course to the Finals. We put our head down and went..."

The early success of the team was not anticipated by themselves and apparently not by many people in their country either. When the new American formations were revealed after the 2018 Fort Lauderdale Major, all the focus was on the new team of Sara Hughes and Summer Ross and in the reunion of Rio 2016 Olympians Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat.

“I am used to being overlooked and I don’t mind it,” Hochevar stated. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else believes, it’s what you believe. Everybody likes to talk about the grind, but few actually find value in it. We didn't really talk about it much other than what we were going to do about it.”

After the early success in China, the Americans are ready to hit the sand again this week, now in a more familiar place for both of them. As the World Tour heads to Huntington Beach, California, for another four-star event, Hochevar and Claes will play in front of their home fans, but all they care about is about giving the next step forward in the process of building their team.

“The Huntington Beach tournament will be something special as we compete for the first time at home,” Claes acknowledges. “Grabbing a silver medal in China was an amazing feat that allowed us to know where we stand as a team. Our chemistry is getting better every day and each practice brings us closer together. Having a partner who is willing to go the extra step to get to know me better makes me want to go 200 per cent on the court because I know that is her mentality too.”

Keep up the good work, ladies!

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