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Manhattan Beach's Klineman teams with Ross to win hometown's sand volleyball title

Alix Klineman remembers watching the Manhattan Beach Open every year as a kid. Now, a plaque with her name on it will be displayed forever along the Walk of Fame at the pier that stands five blocks from where she grew up.

Playing in front of her friends, family and an enthusiastic hometown crowd Sunday afternoon, the former Mira Costa High star and four-time Stanford All-American dug deep with two-time Olympic medalist April Ross to outlast reigning champion Brittany Hochevar and her partner Kelly Claes 27-25, 17-21, 17-15.

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"This is an incredible feeling ... I never imagined this would happen," said the 28-year-old Klineman, who led Mira Costa to three straight CIF state titles and was named the 2006 Gatorade national player of the year. "It means everything to win here and it's the coolest trophy because it'll be there forever — long after I'm done playing."

Hochevar and Claes were one point from victory at 14-13 when Klineman stuffed Hochevar to tie it. It took 32 serves after match point was reached for the duo dubbed the "A-Team" to prevail on a serve long by Claes.

The freeze has been a blessing and a curse for Ross and Klineman, who came within one point of victory in the Hermosa Beach Open before falling 17-15 in the third set to Summer Ross and Sarah Hughes in a one-and-a-half hour championship match July 29. The pair survived several lengthy matches to win the Austin Open in May and claimed the FIVB Dela Beach Open title in January in their first tournament together.

"We're getting used to this format ... but it's so gnarly," said the 36-year-old Ross, who powered USC to back-to-back NCAA indoor titles in 2002-03 and celebrated her third Manhattan Beach title, having previously won with Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2014 and Jennifer Fopma in 2015. "We have to whittle that down a bit, but Brittany and Kelly played an amazing match to the very end and they made us earn it."

Ross dug a tipped ball and finished the first set with a kill on the fifth set point. Claes served two aces in a row for a 19-14 lead in the second set and closed it out with a spike off the line. Claes finished with 32 kills, Hochevar had 14 digs, Ross had 29 kills and 15 digs, and Klineman added 22 kills.

"We came so close in Hermosa that I told myself 'We're not having the same thing happen,' " the younger member of the A-Team said while the theme song from the 1980s’ TV show blared over the loudspeaker. "I started [playing] on the beach when I was 6 so I've been aware of the plaques for a long time. It's a cool concept and this has been the center of our town."

Ross and Klineman earned their spot in the final by ousting fifth-seeded Larsen and Stockman 21-18, 21-16 earlier in the day. Ross had 18 kills, five digs and two aces, including a kill to end the first set, and Klineman added 13 kills, five digs and three aces, including a clean ace out of a timeout that gave the A-Team an early 6-1 lead in the second set.

Perhaps the most anticipated match of the tournament was the second women's semifinal pitting Hochevar and Claes against Betsy Flint and Emily Day, who had paired with Hochevar to win the previous two Manhattan Beach Opens. The clash of former partners was closely contested all the way, but Hochevar and Claes rallied from a 13-8 deficit in the second set to prevail 21-19, 21-19. Hochevar and Claes tied for third in Hermosa.

Ten minutes after capturing his seventh Manhattan Beach Open crown, Phil Dalhuasser still couldn't put his latest triumph into words.

He and Nick Luceno rallied to beat Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb 12-21, 22-20, 15-13 in Sunday's earlier men's final to win the AVP Tour's granddaddy event for the third time in four years. It was the pair's third AVP title this year following victories in Austin and New York City.

"I was very emotional afterwards because we had no business winning that match," said Dalhausser, who won three straight Manhattan Beach Opens from 2006-08 with Todd Rogers and teamed with Sean Rosenthal to take the prize in 2014. "It feels pretty sweet. We could've lost in the second round to the McKibbin brothers but I guess the theme of the week has been getting down early and coming back."

Crabb put on a defensive display in the first set — being credited with 12 digs — and finished with 27 kills and 28 digs while Gibb added 10 kills and four blocks, but it wasn't enough to deny Dalhausser (15 kills, seven blocks, three aces) and Lucena (18 kills and 16 digs).

"They played well enough to win," Lucena said. "Taylor was digging everything I did, but Phil took over at the end of the second set and in the third. Taylor had a swing for the match and missed it by six inches. Our goal was to get them out of system but it was tough. We finally got on Jake a little at the end."

Crabb and Gibb had two match points in the second set before Dalhuasser took over, leveling the score on a kill and a block, blocking Crabb to give his side a 21-20 lead and evening the match with a thunderous kill. The decisive set was tied 9-9 before Dalhausser and Lucena reeled off three in a row, capped by a let serve that dropped in front of Crabb. An ace up the middle by Gibb pulled the challengers to within one point at 14-13, but Lucena got a sideout and Dalhausser's emphatic block on Crabb sent him to his knees in elation and relief.

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"We've been playing a long time and we've experienced a lot of comebacks this year," Lucena said. "Here we were down 19-13 in the quarters and came back to win that game, so we showed a lot of grit."

Top-seeded Dalhausser and Lucena caught a break when second-seeded Theo Brunner and John Hyden had to default their semifinal match because of a calf injury suffered by Brunner. Crabb (15 kills) and Gibb (14 kills) had already secured their finals spot with a 21-16, 21-16 victory over Reid Priddy and Jeremy Casebeer.

The biggest ovation of the day went to 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Misty May-Treanor, who presented medals to youth champions in the intermission before the finals. The three-time Olympic gold medalist retired in 2012 as the winningest female in the history of beach volleyball with 112 career titles, including five in Manhattan Beach (all with Walsh Jennings).

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