For April Ross, being in the semifinals of an Olympic beach volleyball tournament is a familiar feeling. But she says she and teammate Alix Klineman are still thrilled by the success — and aren't getting ahead of themselves.
"The field is so strong and there's been a lot of upsets and we just go into every match ready to battle," Ross, a medalist in both the 2012 and 2016 Games, told reporters on Tuesday after she and Klineman defeated Germany to advance closer to the gold medal game.
They are now two wins away from the podium.
"You have to earn it every step of the way," Ross, 39, said. "It's not like, 'Oh I have a medal so I know how to do it.' It's like we just have to fight really, really hard. And the level, it's higher every quad and competition's so high. So we're stoked to still be in."
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She and Klineman, 31, told PEOPLE that while winning is a pretty powerful motivator, they work not to let their focus drift too far from the next contest.
"The way we talk about it is just one match at a time and really focus on what we need to do, what we need to do against them," Klineman said. "I think the key in my opinion is really staying in the present moment, staying grounded and just what we're doing in that match."
And in the downtime between matches, Klineman told PEOPLE. "I have some group chats with my friends back home, which is just nice to kind of get my mind off of volleyball and find out what other people are doing at home."
"Staying motivated is really easy at this point, this stage in the game," she said with a laugh. "I mean, we can pretty much taste the medal."
Klineman added, "So we're trying to get the best combination of rest and getting away from the game, but also preparing as much as we can and recovering as hard as we can."
Defeating Germany was its own challenge, Ross admits: "That's a super-strong German team and we have so much respect for them."
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But the Americans persevered by "just trusting in our abilities as a team and what we do," she said, "and we did a lot of preparation and kind of stuck with what we wanted to do."
Klineman, for her part, said she has learned a lot from working with Ross, with whom she partnered in 2017.
"I just see how motivated and driven she is in all aspects of her life, whether it's like reading some book about how to have a better mindset or how listen[ing] to podcasts about recovering better," she said. "She's just always trying to be at her best. And so I don't think it's a coincidence that she's been here three times."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.