April Ross cemented her place in beach volleyball history over the summer, capturing gold along with partner Alix Klineman during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The top of the podium had long eluded the American star, with Ross winning silver and bronze at the 2012 and 2016 Games, respectively. For most athletes, securing the medal trifecta would signal a logical end to a remarkable career. But not for Ross.

At 39 years old, the American superstar says she is not yet ready to step off the sand.

“I considered retiring [after Tokyo],” Ross admits. “I accomplished my biggest goal — all the goals I have in volleyball.”

While the Costa Mesa native says she always thought she would move onto something else, Ross says right now, “I just feel like I’m playing such good volleyball and physically, I feel great.

“I still feel very young and just can’t wrap my head around the idea of walking away while I’m still competitive.”

Ross’ enduring drive means fans may be treated to a fourth Olympic run from the beach volleyball icon, with her sights set on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“I’m going to continue playing and Paris is only three years away, so going to give it all I have,” says Ross. “And if it’s in the cards, [I’ll] go to Paris.”

The 2024 Olympics, however, Ross says, will “for sure” mark the end of her career, with the Team USA star already starting to envision her life post-volleyball.

Winning gold in Tokyo

The Tokyo Summer Games marked the apex of Ross’ career, a culmination of two previous Olympic campaigns with two different partners.

Ross entered the 2012 London Olympics as the No. 4 seed alongside partner Jennifer Kessy. The duo pulled off an upset over the No. 1-seeded Brazil team to set up a gold-medal match against Team USA giants Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Ross ultimately fell to her American teammates in her Olympic debut, heading home with a still-impressive silver medal.

“My first one, I thought it was a one-time deal,” says Ross, adding that growing up, she never thought the Olympics were an “attainable goal.” After three Olympic appearances, the awe still hasn’t worn off, with Ross calling the tournament both the pinnacle and an honor.

Ross made her second Olympic appearance as Walsh-Jennings’ partner, with the team ultimately capturing bronze in Rio de Janeiro.

“My second one, I was like, ‘OK, this is amazing. Playing with Kerri. We’re going to win gold,’” admits Ross. After falling short of her goal in 2016, Ross says she “didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Regrouping, Ross linked up with a relative beach volleyball newcomer in Klineman at the end of 2017. The unexpected grouping paid off, with the Americans dominating the competition in Tokyo. Ross and Klineman only dropped one set throughout the seven-match 2021 Olympic competition, defeating Australia in the final to clinch gold.

The feat was made even more impressive given the atmosphere surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, with no spectators permitted on the premise amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The no fans was a little bit weird, visually. Just the fact that we would be in the stadium and the stands were empty,” says Ross. “I think had they put banners up so that you couldn’t see the empty seats or something it wouldn’t be so weird, but literally seeing the empty seats was strange.”

As the competition went on, Ross remembers more media and people from the delegation being allowed into the stands, culminating in a final she describes as “pretty loud” with “a lot of chanting.”

The moment was understandably significant for Ross, who says having one more chance at gold was “so big” for her.

“In the moment, I felt pretty calm, pretty prepared,” recalls Ross. “I had a lot of nerves. But I just wanted it really badly.”

The A-Team origin story

Given Ross and Klineman’s dominance, it’s hard to believe that Tokyo marked the duo’s first major tournament together and that Klineman was only a few years into her beach volleyball career. The 32-year-old only left her indoor volleyball career in 2017 to pursue a run on the sand with Ross. Teaming with Klineman was a decision the veteran Ross did not make lightly.

“For me, playing with Jen Kessy and playing with Kerri Walsh- Jennings, it was kind of a no-brainer,” said Ross. “Playing with Alix Klineman, she was new to the beach. She was very physical, but she had zero experience.

“Obviously it turned out great,” Ross says, “but I was just basing it on intangibles. Her mentality is so strong. Her attitude is so good and her work ethic is awesome.”

The team claimed their first AVP Pro Volleyball Tour win in 2018, kicking off a run of victories leading to the 2020 Summer Games.

Still, it wasn’t all easy. In a sport that is so dependent on communication and trust both on and off the court, Klineman and Ross had to quickly develop their chemistry as partners.

“That’s why it was a little bit risky to pick Alix, because I didn’t know how much time I was going to have with her, to build up those instincts and to know what she’s thinking when she’s on the court. How she’s going to move, how she’s going to react to different plays, so that I can play around her and we can play together as a team.”

Though Ross was aware of the gamble she was making, she could also see Klineman’s incredible potential and raw talent.

“I wanted to pick somebody I thought I could win a gold medal with, and it panned out.”

Growing the game

Ross’ success, along with the careers of Team USA stars May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, has boosted beach volleyball’s popularity in America and globally.

“People love watching volleyball,” says Ross. “It’s my favorite sport to watch as well as play.”

Along with a growing fanbase, beach volleyball is also enjoying a steady progression in global competition.

“The level keeps getting better, in international beach volleyball for sure,” she says. “People keep putting money into their federations. And so, I think the level has gone up a ton.”

According to AVP, the NCAA saw a 400 percent increase in beach volleyball participation from 2011 to 2019. With excitement around beach volleyball growing, Ross has seen different avenues opening for fan engagement, including sports memorabilia.

“I collect stuff from my journey and the people that I’ve been with. I have autographed stuff of me and Jen and me and Kerri and me and Alix and yeah, I think it’s really cool and the community around women’s sports is growing,” says Ross. “There’s such a market for it, and I think there’s a lot of momentum behind it.”

Partnering with the Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, a platform connecting fans directly to items from their favorite sports icons, Ross sees an additional opportunity to engage with supporters. The Olympian has posted for sale, among other valuables, her signed closing ceremony and media jacket.

The burgeoning market for women’s sports memorabilia is something Ross hopes will progress the sport and inspire the next generation of athletes.

“It just creates more inspiration for them to want to reach that level,” says Ross of young athletes, “to pursue their goals and see these female athletes put in a position and a level that’s looked up to as much as some of the top male players.”

While Ross is unsure of what her future holds off the sand, she is committed to developing the game, saying, “I do want to stay in sports and help young people going forward.”

(Editor’s note: The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.)

The A-Team continues to win.

After winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month, April Ross and Alix Klineman are champions in the AVP once more. The partners won the Manhattan Beach Open on Sunday, defeating Eily Day and Betsi Flint in straight sets.

Ross and Klineman went 4-0 in the tournament. Ross is now a four-time Manhattan Beach champion, having also won it in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

Following the win, the two admitted they were still recovering from the Olympics.

“We were really exhausted,” Ross told VolleyballMag. “It hit me harder in the finals how special this is so, ‘Let’s see how we do.’

“The adrenaline went from 10 to 100.”

“Honestly, I’m not sure what my expectations for this week were,” Klineman said. “It’s been such a roller coaster winning gold in Tokyo, and we didn’t feel super sharp coming into this weekend. The crowd was amazing, and we took it point by point and it feels amazing to get our names on the pier again.”

Alix Klineman and April Ross dominated Wednesday’s beach volleyball semifinal, downing Switzerland in straight sets.

The commanding 21–12, 21–11 win earned Klineman and Ross a spot in the gold-medal match.

Ross credited the duo’s focused preparation for their stellar semifinal performance.

“I think we were just fired up,” she said afterward.

Klineman and Ross will face Australia on Thursday at 10:30 pm ET for Olympic gold. Ross, who already has silver and bronze medals from the 2012 and 2016 Games, will look to add gold to her collection and complete the Olympic trifecta.

April Ross and Alix Klineman are on to the beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo.

The duo sent defending Olympic champion Laura Ludwig and partner Maggie Kozuch home in straight sets on Tuesday in the quarterfinals, winning by scores of 21-19, 21-19.

The win for Ross means that she is the last woman with an Olympic medal left in the beach volleyball pool.

In 2012, she won silver with partner Jennifer Kessy. In 2016, won bronze with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

A win against Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre on Thursday would automatically get both Ross and Klineman at least a silver medal, with the chance to win gold.

April Ross and Alix Klineman kicked off their quest for beach volleyball gold with a commanding showing against China.

The American duo defeated Xue Chen and Wang Xinxin in straight sets, winning the first set 21-17 and the second 21-19.

Sunday’s victory marks Klineman’s first-ever Olympic appearance.

“It just feels so good to get a win under our belt,” said Klineman after her Olympic debut.

Tokyo is Ross’ third Summer Games, having won silver in London and bronze in Rio.

Ross and Klineman will continue their podium run when they face Spain on Tuesday.

April Ross fell in love with volleyball twice.

There was the time she first played on a competitive indoor team, before her freshman year of high school, when Ross says she was “for sure the worst person in the gym” but craved the challenge and the thrill of getting better.

Then there was the time volleyball found her, a few years after she had graduated from college and was fed up with the isolation of playing professionally in Puerto Rico. In fact, Ross was intent on giving up the sport entirely. She had plans to go back to school and get a job.

And unexpectedly, she got a call from a former teammate at USC: Would Ross give beach volleyball a shot, partner with her and help her qualify for the AVP Tour?

“I was like, ‘I’ll try it. I’m not very good,’” Ross said.

“And I just loved the culture. I loved the people. I loved the idea that I might get to see the world because that was always my No. 1 goal growing up, to travel and see the world. So I just dove in, like, let’s see where this takes me now.”

For Ross, who’s now a favorite to win gold with partner Alex Klineman in Tokyo, her third Olympic Games in beach volleyball, those memories matter. The successes and the failures, the doubts and the joys over the years have given Ross a unique perspective heading into what could be her final act.

Ross is playing in her third Olympics, after winning silver and bronze in 2012 and 2016. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

In a way, Ross’ mental preparation for this Olympics run began during her sophomore year of college.

The No. 1 indoor volleyball recruit out of high school in Newport Beach, Calif., Ross chose USC and excelled immediately. She played a key role in the Trojans’ run to the 2001 Final Four and was named the National Freshman of the Year. As Ross’ national profile grew, so too did the expectations.

Soon after Ross began her sophomore year, however, she lost her mother to breast cancer. And suddenly, none of those material achievements mattered.

“I was devastated, but I kept playing and didn’t understand anything about the grieving process and the impact on a psychological level,” she said. “It was just, go through it and deal with it the best that I can.”

Ross started sleeping through her 8 a.m. classes, partying more and paying less attention to her general well-being. Her grades suffered, to the point where she nearly lost her NCAA volleyball eligibility. She mostly kept it together on the court, earning second-team All-American honors that season, but her health eventually caught up to her. Ross sprained her ankle in the Elite Eight and USC missed out on a return trip to the Final Four.

“It really came down to: If my mom was still here, how would she want me to be reacting?” Ross said. “Would she want me to be doing all of this or would she want me to be responsible and uphold the values that she instilled in me, which were taking care of school, giving my all to volleyball and taking care of myself? So it was just a shift in perspective, and it was really powerful for me.

“It definitely changed the trajectory of my college career and played a big part in my future success.”

Ross started keeping a paper schedule, which she still uses to this day. She tracked the times of her classes and workouts, she set a strict lights-out at 11 p.m. and wake-up at 7, and she started cooking healthy foods, just like her mom used to do for her.

The change in routine paid off. In her final two seasons at USC, Ross led the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA championships. Her senior year, she won the Honda Sports Award as the nation’s top collegiate player in volleyball.

The lessons Ross picked up in college kept her grounded during the early years of her professional life, when the uncertainty about her future nearly drove her from the sport altogether. And the experiences Ross had at her first two Olympics, winning silver in London in 2012 and bronze in Rio in 2016, have only clarified her journey at this stage of her career.

“In the first one, I was just super stoked that we were able to qualify. I didn’t have any expectations for us, really, and then we ended up in the gold medal match,” said Ross, who partnered with Jennifer Kessy in London and Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio. “It was afterwards that I wish I had done things a little bit differently, had higher expectations for myself, prepared a little bit better.

“So going into Rio, I took those lessons to the extreme in a way, over-corrected and had that sole expectation of winning the gold medal. I was hyper-focused and didn’t do anything that was really fun or outside of training and kind of missed the Olympic experience.”

Ross, 39, knows this could be her last Olympics. From years of gaining perspective, she also recognizes she’s more at peace with her career than she’s ever been, and that might be the key to finally winning gold.

“That’s the goal, and the vision of that happening is very motivating and exciting. But at the same time, knowing that sports and life are full of uncertainty,” Ross said.

When she steps onto the sand in Tokyo for her and Klineman’s first match over the weekend, Ross won’t be looking too far ahead. She’ll enjoy every point, every set, every win and every loss, because this is what she loves to do.

“The only things we can control are our attitudes and our preparation,” she said. “The gold medal is not the end all, be all of everything in life, and we’ll be OK no matter what.”

Happy New Year’s, squad. We don’t need to tell you that 2020 was the worst. But in a tough year for everyone, and a bumpy year for sports, the world’s best and brightest still found a way to break records, win trophies, lead movements, and inspire fans.

So while we’re all ready to wave 2020 goodbye, here are 20 things that happened in women’s sports that didn’t totally suck.

1. The WNBA signed a groundbreaking CBA

It’s hard to remember now, but the year got off to a sparkling start when the WNBA announced a historic new Collective Bargaining Agreement. With a significant salary bump, fully-paid maternity leave, improved travel arrangements, increased investments in marketing, and a future 50-50 revenue split, the new eight-year CBA was not just a momentous achievement for the league and its players, but a watershed moment in women’s sports.

2. And the Wubble rewrote the athlete-activist script

There will never be another “Wubble” (we hope). But what the players did this season inside their Florida bubble changed sports forever. From a season-opening moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor, to a nationally-aired roundtable on politics and race, the W made social justice an integral part of its season. Players wore jerseys honoring victims of racial violence, endorsed a US Senate candidate, and spearheaded voter registration campaigns, all while putting on a show on the hardwood, night in and night out.

3. They weren’t alone in answering the call

Athletes everywhere found their voices this summer. Sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, protests against racial injustice spread from the streets of Minneapolis to the tennis courts of New York, with female athletes everywhere leading the charge. Many, like Coco Gauff and Simone Manuel, spoke out at rallies and through social media. Others, like Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, were vindicated after being punished for protesting earlier in their careers. Together, they reset the expectations of what athletes can do.

4. Naomi Osaka talked the talk, walked the walk

One of those athletes who rose to the moment was Naomi Osaka, the once-reticent superstar who in 2020 transformed herself into an outspoken activist. Osaka first led a player strike at the Western & Southern Open before winning the US Open while donning a series of seven masks, each one honoring a Black American killed by police or in an act of racial profiling. Osaka said ahead of time she needed to win every match to present every mask, and she did just that, claiming her third major title in three years while reaffirming her status as tennis’ best young player.

5. Women’s sports bucked the trend 

Sports viewership was down everywhere this year—everywhere, that is, except women’s sports. The NWSL became the first major team sports league to return to play, staging a Covid-free Challenge Cup en route to a 500% increase in television viewership on the year. WNBA regular season viewership was likewise up 68% for the regular season, while Athletes Unlimited brought softball to television, and NBC picked up FAWSL games from across the pond. In a year when sports viewership was down everywhere else, women’s sports showed up and showed out.

6. The Houston Dash won a trophy

The Challenge Cup was one small step for team sports, one giant leap for the Houston Dash. The oft-derided underdogs from H-Town played with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulders for most of the Cup, winning the club’s first-ever major trophy before double-fisting Budweisers in a celebration fit for Queens.

7. Kristie Mewis won the year

Her post-Challenge Cup shenanigans sent the internet into a tizzy (see above), while her remarkable return to the USWNT after more than six years away had many of us in tears. No athlete better encapsulated the meaning of perseverance in 2020 than Kristie Mewis, whose 2,722 days between USWNT goals was both a national team record and the epitome of grit.

8. Sabrina Ionescu cemented her status as triple-double queen

Her first WNBA season might have been cut short by injury, but let’s not forget all that Ionescu did in 2020. Already the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple doubles, she became the first college basketball player ever (men’s or women’s) to collect 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career—on the very same day she spoke at the memorial service for her mentor Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.

9. A’ja Wilson made the leap 

We all knew A’ja Wilson was going to be a WNBA superstar. We just didn’t know when. But in year three, the 24-year-old made the leap, winning league MVP en route to leading the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA Finals. Watching her and Breanna Stewart first duel for the MVP and then for the title, it’s safe to say the league is in very good hands.

10. Christine Sinclair scored goal No. 185

Canadian legend Christine Sinclair etched her name into the history books this January when she scored international goal No. 185 at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, passing Abby Wambach for the most all-time. At 37 years old, Sinclair is the most-capped international footballer playing today (with 296 national team appearances), and is still going strong heading into next summer’s Olympics.

11. Sarah Fuller kicked her way into history

The feel-good story of the year was none other than Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller. First, she led the Commodores soccer team to their first SEC Tournament title since 1994. A week later, she became the first woman to play in a Power Five conference football game when she kicked off for the Vanderbilt team. Two weeks later, she knocked home two PATs to become the first woman to score in a Power Five game, inspiring countless fans while expertly laying waste to the trolls of Twitter.

12. We started a podcast!

We’re going to throw ourselves a high-five for this one. The Just Women’s Sports podcast debuted at #1 in sports and #16 overall, and just 20 episodes in, we’re cruising past 750,000 downloads at last check. This wouldn’t be possible without all you faithful listeners. Thank you, thank you, thank you—and rest assured, more pods are coming in 2021.

13. Alex Morgan became a mom 

Our very first podcast guest was none other than Alex Morgan, USWNT superstar and, as of May, a first-time mom. Her daughter Charlie accompanied Morgan abroad as she suited up for Tottenham Hotspur this fall, where the two-time World Cup champ barely missed a beat in her return to play. Recording two goals in five appearances for the club, Morgan is on track to lead the USWNT in Tokyo next summer.

14. Sue Bird got two rings

In a year of surprises, Sue Bird reminded us that some things never change. At 40 years old, she’s still one of the best floor generals in the WNBA, leading the Seattle Storm to their fourth league title inside the WNBA bubble while also playing a pivotal role in the league’s social justice efforts. Adding to her jewelry collection, Sue Bird also got engaged to fellow superstar Megan Rapinoe. Name a more anticipated post-Covid wedding. Spoiler alert, you can’t.

15. Cat Osterman proved age is just a number 

Pitching legend Cat Osterman likewise spent 2020 proving that age is just a number. After coming out of retirement in 2018 in the hopes of earning a spot on Team USA, Osterman casually pitched her way to the first-ever Athletes Unlimited individual title, fanning a good number of players who grew up watching Osterman play. 37 years old and still the best in the world, Osterman is on a mission to win Olympic gold in Tokyo.

16. April Ross and Alix Klineman showed they’re Olympic-ready

In a condensed season, Ross and Klineman swept the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup, winning all 12 of their matches over three weekends of competition. After winning bronze with Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2016, Ross and her new partner now look poised to enter next summer’s Olympics as the favorites to take home gold.

17. The NWSL announced not one, but two expansions

Already the longest-running professional women’s soccer league ever in the U.S., the NWSL looks poised to achieve even greater heights as it expands its footprint with two additional clubs. Racing Louisville FC will begin play in 2021, while Angel City FC, led by a superstar ownership featuring Natalie Portman, Alexis Ohanian, Serena Williams, and many others, will kick off in 2022. High-profile investors signal a new era of growth for the NWSL, and you better believe we’re ready for take off.

18. The LPGA proved its future is already here

All four 2020 LPGA majors were won by first-time major winners. Sophia Popov’s British Open win may have been the most unique, as the 304th-ranked player had been caddying for a friend just a few weeks before, but in each of the year’s majors, the LPGA’s parity was on display. As the year concludes, eight of the top ten ranked players are 27 or younger, and the future of the tour has never looked brighter.

19. Vivianne Miedema put the football world on notice

Speaking of future superstars: at 24 years old, Vivianne Miedema has already scored more international goals (70) for the Netherlands than any other player before her, on either the women’s or men’s teams. And this year, she became the all-time leading goalscorer in FA Women’s Super League history, with 53 goals (and counting) in only 55 appearances for Arsenal. Look for the Dutch striker to be a star at next summer’s Olympics.

20. Tara VanDerveer won game No. 1099

With a 104-61 win over Pacific on December 15th, longtime Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer passed the Pat Summitt for the most victories in Division I history. It may have come in an empty gym, but nothing could diminish the importance of VanDerveer’s achievement. “I really hope Pat Summitt is looking down and saying, ‘Good job, Tara. Keep it going,'” said VanDerveer after the game. With Stanford 7-0 and ranked No. 1, VanDerveer looks ready to add to her tally as well as her trophy case in 2021.


2020 is over. But as we look back on a year like no other, it seems only right to take a peek at what’s to come, and no sporting event in 2021 will be bigger than the Tokyo Olympics.

Next summer’s Olympics will provide the first opportunity for the world to come together since the pandemic began. No matter what happens, it’s bound to be historic, with so many pre-Olympics storylines already swirling. What will organizers do to keep everyone safe? How will athletes use the stage to drive social change, especially after the US said there will be no punishments for protesting?

And then there’s the question of who wins all the medals.

Needless to say, there will be drama, exultation, disappointment and relief, and Just Women’s Sports will be there to cover it all. Be sure to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled this winter and spring, as we’ll be rolling out special coverage starting in January. And trust us, you won’t want to miss what we’ve got cooking up.