Kristen Nuss, Taryn Kloth come “full circle” with dominant win at AVP Atlanta

It looked a bit different this time around. It was only two years ago that Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth won their first AVP tournament. They did so in Atlanta, coming out of the qualifier. They stunned the beach volleyball world, leaving themselves speechless in the process.

“I can’t even explain it,” Nuss said after that initial victory. “I don’t know what words will come out of my mouth, wow.”

It’s easy to explain now, just why Nuss and Kloth are so good. Nuss is arguably the best defensive player in the world, while Kloth has transitioned from indoors to beach with remarkable alacrity, a 6-foot-4 mobile blocker who sets well, sides out at better than anyone on the AVP — her .502 hitting percentage leads the Tour in 2023 — and is second on Tour in blocks per set (1.42). Their win total has climbed to nine when including Sunday’s romp in the finals of AVP Atlanta 2023, a 21-16, 21-12 victory over Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson that completed a perfect string of five consecutive sweeps.

Dain Blanton, commentating for ESPN2, compared them to a freight train. Though that freight train would be an awfully diminutive one, considering Nuss stands just 5-foot-6, the numbers from Atlanta are evidence enough that the metaphor is fitting. Kloth finished the tournament third in hitting percentage (.495), while Nuss led the field in digs (83) despite playing three less sets than No. 2 Humana-Paredes (74) and No. 3 Sarah Sponcil (70). If a team’s strategy was to avoid Nuss in the backcourt and instead target Kloth’s block, well, that wasn’t effective either, as Kloth’s 14 blocks were good for fourth in the tournament.

“Good job,” the ever-understated Drew Hamilton, coach of Nuss and Kloth, told his team after. “Y’all played well.”

Drew Hamilton, a man of few words, is interviewed by AVP emcee Mark Schuermann/Mpu Dinani photo

He’s the magician behind the scenes of this team, which has a case for the claim of the best defensive team in the world. Anytime Nuss and Kloth are handed a mic, which is often these days, with three wins in 2023 alone, they point to their soft-spoken coach as the answer. They did it in La Paz, Mexico, and again in Uberlandia, Brazil. Atlanta, of course, was no exception.

“That’s because of Drew,” Kloth said.

Not that you’ll hear him take any credit. He’s happy to remain in the shadows, the mysterious man behind the oversized Oakleys who has helped this team break the beach volleyball mold, building a world power not in Southern California, but in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That was the question most asked of this team, after they won their first title in Atlanta two years ago: Can they continue to develop into a truly elite team without regularly practicing and competing against elite teams?

Consider the question answered. And answered. And answered again — nine times and counting.

The freight train rolls on.

“Every one of these teams that play on the AVP is top notch,” Nuss said. “It’s fantastic to come out and compete with the top level in the world.”

And they are the best in the world. There is no doubting that. Humana-Paredes and Wilkerson were coming off an Elite16 win in Montreal. Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, who finished third, are the No. 2 ranked team in the world. Tying Cheng and Hughes for third in Atlanta was Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil, the world No. 7, who fell to Nuss and Kloth in Sunday morning’s semifinals (21-17, 21-18).

It took two years — less, really — for Nuss and Kloth to make the transition from the plucky and fun and speechless underdogs into the AVP’s most recent freight train. But Sunday afternoon in Atlanta was, as Camryn Irwin dubbed it on ESPN2, “a full circle moment.”

Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth celebrate their win in AVP Atlanta/Mpu Dinani photo

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