The Journal Gazette
Saturday, July 24, 2021 1:00 am


Akers finds missing piece in team

Luers grad eager to coach US pair

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Though she's now a veteran coach at the Olympics, this time is a little stranger for Bishop Luers graduate Angie (Harris) Akers.

After coaching The Netherlands beach volleyball team to a ninth-place finish in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, her contract expired when the Tokyo games were postponed last summer. That allowed her to join the U.S. team of April Ross and Alix Klineman, the world's No. 2 team.

“These Olympics are drastically different because of COVID, which was expected,” Akers said in an email. “Everything from self-imposed quarantines to masks to mandatory daily testing protocols and everything else in between has made this an extremely unique experience. We are vigilant and doing our best to stay safe.”

The former Bishop Luers basketball and volleyball star who still holds 10 women's volleyball records at Notre Dame, earned rookie-of-the-year honors on the AVP beach volleyball circuit in 2002. She and teammate Tyra Turner reached as high as No. 5 in the world in 2009, but a knee injury forced Akers to retire in 2014.

After six years living in the Netherlands traveling the international circuit, Akers fulfilled a promise to her husband, former Notre Dame football player Jeremy Akers, and last year they moved home to Redondo Beach, California. The contract of Ross and Klineman's coach, Jen Kessy, had also expired.

“She has a much different coaching style than Jen and that took a while to get used to,” Ross told Volleyball Magazine. “She's much more analytical and stats driven and kind of system driven; … Angie made our minds work in a different way and it took a little bit of adjusting for sure and we're still adjusting to it.”

The team was known throughout volleyball as “The A Team” before Akers signed on, and now they are often called “The Triple A Team.” Ross and Klineman have dominated the American tour, winning 10 of 18 tournaments and have maintained their No. 2 world ranking. It's also very much a player-driven system.

“With April and Alix, every decision is made and owned by them,” Akers said. “I serve as another voice and possible challenger to their held thoughts and beliefs, but ultimately, everything comes down to them owning their game and experience.”

Akers, 45, believes she's a much better coach than she was in 2016, mostly because of her experiences the past five years. She's worked hard and quickly the last year to understand her players and their tendencies.

“Going back to the Olympics and this time representing USA has felt much different,” she said. “It was a very cool experience to go to Rio with Team Netherlands, but there was something missing and I am certain that something was not representing my own country. Being part of Team USA is electric and incredibly exciting! Plus, I know what to expect so I feel way more prepared in many ways.”

The Americans open pool play today against China.

17% unvaccinated in US contingent

About 100 of the 613 U.S. athletes descending on Tokyo for the Olympics are unvaccinated, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee's medical chief said hours before Friday night's opening ceremony.

Medical director Jonathan Finnoff said 567 of the American athletes had filled out their health histories as they prepared for the trip, and estimated 83% had replied they were vaccinated.

Nationally, 56.3% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The IOC has estimated around 85% of residents of the Olympic Village are vaccinated. So far, two American athletes – beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb and Kara Eaker, an alternate on the gymnastics team – are known to have tested positive. The IOC has reported 13 positives among all athletes in Japan.

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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