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U.S.’ top two beach volleyball teams meet in world championships semifinals

Kelly Cheng Sara Hughes Taryn Kloth Kristen Nuss

Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng of United States (L) and Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth of United States (R) react after the Quarterfinals women’s Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Finals at Aspire Zone in Doha,Qatar on 28 January 2023. (Photo by Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

The best women’s beach volleyball team in the world will be determined Sunday. The best team in the U.S. will arguably be decided Saturday.

Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss play Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes in the world championships semifinals in Mexico for a spot in Sunday’s gold-medal match.

It is the deepest into an Olympics or worlds that two U.S. women’s or men’s teams will meet since Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings beat April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the 2012 Olympic final in the former’s last match together.

Kloth and Nuss are second in the world rankings and third in global Olympic qualifying, recently moving one spot ahead of Cheng and Hughes on each list. Those two teams are now extremely likely to earn the two U.S. Olympic spots for 2024.

Since Olympic beach volleyball debuted in 1996, there has usually been one clear top U.S. women’s team.

It was May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings for a decade (aside from when each player took a break), then Walsh Jennings and Ross and then Ross and Alix Klineman, the Tokyo gold medalists.

This is the first time that a U.S. women’s team without Walsh Jennings or Ross made the final four of an Olympics or worlds since 2004 (h/t @TeamUSATracker).

Ross and Klineman haven’t played together since October 2021 with each player taking maternity leave. Ross, at 41, may be done playing internationally.

It appeared the torch would be passed last fall after Cheng (née Claes) and Hughes, once considered the U.S. heirs, reunited after four years apart.

They won their first four tournaments together through January’s FIVB World Tour Finals.

Kloth and Nuss, former LSU teammates, began 2023 having to go through qualifying to earn main draw spots at international tournaments.

They earned their first top-level international title at the end of April — as the ninth seed. They beat Cheng and Hughes (for the first time in their fifth try, according to and then Olympic silver medalists Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy of Australia in the last two matches of that event.

Kloth and Nuss added two more domestic AVP titles this summer, again beating Cheng and Hughes. They were runners-up at the last two top-level international events leading up to worlds.

At worlds, Kloth and Nuss won their first five matches in two-set sweeps before being pushed to three in Friday’s quarterfinals. Cheng and Hughes lost their group play finale, then dropped a set in their round of 32 and round of 16 matches before a quarterfinals sweep.

Now, Cheng and Hughes, eliminated before the semifinals of their last three international events, have the chance to re-establish themselves as the top Americans and, possibly, best in the world over the next two days.

In the men’s tournament, reigning Olympic and world champions Anders Mol and Christian Sørum of Norway were ousted in Friday’s quarterfinals by Czechs Ondřej Perušič and David Schweiner.

That ended a streak off 11 consecutive World Tour semifinals for the Norwegians dating back more than one year.

In Saturday’s semis, the Czechs play Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb, who entered worlds ranked third among American teams in Olympic qualifying.

Since partnering at the start of 2023, Brunner and Crabb’s best finish in three top-level international tournaments was 13th.

It’s the first time the U.S. has three combined men’s and women’s teams in the semifinals of an Olympics or worlds since 2003.