ALBANY — Team USA, the top-ranked tandem in the world, rallied behind a kill from April Ross and a block by Alix Klineman to pull out a 20-18 victory over upset-minded Czech Republic in the third and deciding game of the Aurora Games beach volleyball championship match Sunday before a crowd of 3,291 at Times Union Center.
Team USA won the first game 21-18, but lost the second game 21-19, setting up a 15-point finale. But that deciding game was extended because the victor had to win by two points.
The beach volleyball competition was the sixth event in the week-long women’s athletic festival between Team Americas and Team World. The volleyball win was the icing on the cake as Team Americas won the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Trophy awarded to the overall winning team. Team Americas won five of the six events. And there was some ig news about the future of the event.
At the awards ceremony, event organizers announced that the Aurora Games will return to the Times Union Center in both 2021 and 2023. Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy also hinted that a year-round training facility could be in the works for Albany as part of the agreement for the Aurora Games to return.
“I am so thrilled that the Aurora Games will return to Albany in 2021 and 2023,” McCoy said. “These inaugural games have served as an inspiration to our young women, and there were history-making moments like 14-year-old figure skater Alysa Liu completing a quadruple Lutz, the first U.S. woman to successfully do so in a competition. The Aurora Games have gotten off to a great start, and I look forward to them growing in the future.”
Aurora Games founder and executive producer Jerry Solomon said future Aurora Games could include more sports and more athletes. He, like McCoy, said talks were in the works about that possible year-round training facility here.
“The women who competed here in Albany showed why they’re some of the best athletes in the world and demonstrated why they deserve an exclusive platform to showcase their outstanding talents,” Solomon said.
“They put the Aurora Games on the map nationally and internationally. The athletes also took the time to participate in youth sports clinics and workshops on women’s empowerment, giving young girls and women the opportunity to meet their sports idols and Olympic idols one-on-one. We will take the learnings from this inaugural event to continue to grow the Aurora Games in future years.”
Klineman, a 29-year-old seven-time Association of Volleyball Professionals champion out of Stanford, used her 6-foot-5 size to dominate the net.
She recorded eight kills in the first game and tacked on nine more in the second-game loss to the Czech Republic.
In the championship game, the Czech Republic took a 7-4 lead, and the game was eventually knotted at 15-all before both teams kept trading the lead. Melissa Hurmana-Parades recorded three kills in a row for her team to tie the score at 18-18 before Ross, a 37-year-old multiple Olympic medalist, put down a kill to give Team USA a 19-18 lead. Klineman then clinched the match with a block at the net.
“This was a no-brainer to come here with a chance to support women’s sports,” said Klineman. “These are some of the best teams in the world that we played. Getting the crowd behind us was a big boost. In the end, we wouldn’t have considered the Czech Republic winning an upset, because they are a great team, but this was a nice way to win.”
“When the crowd start chanting for us, I told Alix that the fans really are behind us and we better win this,” Ross said.
Team USA defeated second-ranked Team Canada 15-9, 15-10 in the first semifinal, earning a spot in the finals against Team Czech Republic, which beat Team Switzerland 15-12, 15-9 in the other semi. The semifinals were best-of-three 15-point matches.
Team Canada won the consolation match 21-23, 21-17, 15-10. Both the consolation and championship matches were best-of-three, 21-point matches.
McCoy, Solomon and Times Union Center General Manager Bob Belber said they were extremely satisfied with the first Aurora Games and were looking forward to its return for at least the next two Games.
Solomon said the best thing about the Aurora Games for him was seeing generations of women from age 8 to 80 coming to the Times Union Center to support women’s sports. He also said there “seems to be a real interest” in starting a training facility here.
The Aurora Games included tennis, gymnastics, basketball, ice hockey, figure skating and beach volleyball. It drew around 20,000 fans for the six days.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.