2018-11-20 09:10:00 CET

The future is now for Claes and Sponcil

The Americans realize they have tons of potential together, but they want to reach it rather sooner than later

Sponcil and Claes stepped into the podium in their first tournament together (Photocredit: FIVB)Sponcil and Claes stepped into the podium in their first tournament together (Photocredit: FIVB)

When 23-year-old Kelly Claes and 22-year-old Sarah Sponcil decided to join forces in October, it was extremely easy to notice the potential of the new team. The young Americans are not unaware of how high their ceiling can be, but at the same time they want to be the best they can, they want to do it fast.

As they decided to pair up right at the start of the qualification process to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Claes and Sponcil know they have no time to waste if they want to represent their country in the Japanese capital in less than two years. So, they had no option but to fully embrace the process.

“It’s hard to think so far ahead, but that’s certainly the goal,” Sponcil acknowledged. “For me personally and us as a team, the goal should always be willing to get better and to learn. I feel like the faster we can do that, the points and everything else will come from doing that. Everyone is going to be looking at that, but I feel that if we’re focused on us and how we’re going to get better and fine tune these things, we’re not going to have to worry about that and it will come, if it comes.”

Claes won back-to-back bronze medals in Youth World Championships with former partner Sara Hughes (Photocredit: FIVB)Claes won back-to-back bronze medals in Youth World Championships with former partner Sara Hughes (Photocredit: FIVB)

A key part of team building is related to developing chemistry between the players. Outside the courts it has been a smooth process as Claes and Sponcil have a natural connection as both have played college beach volleyball in California and have similar ages.

When they get to the sand, their goal is to establish and open communication channel and focus on what is best for the team, even if it means not always saying the nicest of the words to each other.

“Chemistry is a huge part of this game and she’s very easy to hang out with on and off the court, so it’s been very nice so far,” Claes told beachmajorseries.com. “On the court, we are trying not to be afraid to offend each other because that’s a struggle sometimes with teams. You’re not criticizing the other person, you’re trying to make them better because you want this team to be better and sometimes it can be kind of an emotional and critical state, so we are just trying to be as open as possible about it.”

If both Claes and Sponcil are relatively unexperienced in the World Tour, combining for just 29 tournaments among them, they have benefited from recent short-term partnerships with some veterans in the international scene.

Sponcil debuted in the Beach Major Series last August in Vienna with veteran Lauren Fendrick (Photocredit: FIVB)Sponcil debuted in the Beach Major Series last August in Vienna with veteran Lauren Fendrick (Photocredit: FIVB)

While Claes has played two tournaments with three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and spent most the season with Brittany Hochevar, Sponcil has shared the courts with Lauren Fendrick, a Rio 2016 Olympian and a silver medalist of the 2017 World Championships.

“I was just coming right out of college and this past summer was a huge learning experience,” Sponcil reflects. “Coming with Lauren and traveling to Tokyo and trying all these different things, it allowed me to open my eyes to this whole new world. Everyone is better, stronger and faster, so I had to learn pretty quickly and I’m grateful for being with Lauren when I was, she taught me so much.”

The first results indicate the new partnership is heading into the right direction. Claes and Sponcil kicked their off team with a bronze medal at the World Tour three-star event in Qinzhou and followed it up with a ninth-place finish in the four-star tournament in Las Vegas after a three-set battle in the Round of 16 with Brazilians Carolina Salgado and Maria Elisa Antonelli.

“I think we figured out a lot of things already, but we still have a ton to work on,” Claes added. “We’re trying to be aggressive in every play and go for things and if we make errors, we just brush them off and learn from them. We just want to be there for each other in every play and have fun together. Right now, we’re trying to put all those little pieces together.”

Leaving China with a Bronze🥉, a lot of laughs, and some amazing stories😊 Great first tournament with @kellyclaes! And thank you @usabeach for another great opportunity! Now back to school to learn some cool things🤓✏️

1,875 Likes, 33 Comments - Sarah Sponcil (@smsponcil) on Instagram: "Leaving China with a Bronze🥉, a lot of laughs, and some amazing stories😊 Great first tournament..."

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