In this handout image provided by AVP, Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser compete in the final during the Wilson Cup on July 26, 2020 in Long Beach, California.
Phil Dalhausser isn’t going to lie.
The longtime beach volleyball star and Olympic gold medalist actually had a pretty great spring and summer without the travel and the schedule that comes with a regular non-COVID season.
“I got to hang out with my kids (ages 6 and 7), I was teacher-daddy, or daddy-teacher, which I enjoyed, for the most part,” said Dalhausser, 40, from Ormond Beach, Florida. “Sometimes it was a little tough, but we were able to go to Yosemite after the three weeks of AVP play. I’ve always wanted to go on a summer family vacation, and I got to do that. I’m a homebody. I like being at home, so for me it was great.”
That said, the three-time Olympian was still grateful when the AVP announced it would hold the Champions Cup, a mini-season consisting of three tournaments on consecutive weekends beginning in July in California. It was the first opportunity to play in a major event since March, when the FIVB season started in Doha, Qatar, and then abruptly ended because of the coronavirus.
In the first AVP tournament, the Monster Hydro Cup, the top-seeded Dalhausser and teammate Nick Lucena beat fellow Olympian Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb for the win, then they defeated the duo again the following weekend for the gold medal in the Wilson Cup.
It was Dalhausser’s 100th career tournament win, making him just the fifth men’s beach volleyball player to reach that milestone. Although he downplayed the historical significance by noting that some of the legendary Brazilian players, such as Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego, don’t have their Brazilian tour wins included in their totals, he still admitted it was nice to reach that mark.
“It was definitely pretty cool,” said Dalhausser, who also reached the final of the third AVP tournament. “I’m not one to toot my own horn, so I’ll just say that it was pretty cool.”
A few months ago no one knew if they’d have the opportunity to play again this season or not.
Dalhausser and Lucena opened the season in an FIVB 4-star tournament in Doha and finished in fifth place. While there things were already starting to shut down across the world, but they continued on to Sydney to get ready for the next tournament on the schedule. After spending a night in a hotel the athletes were on their way to the airport to board a flight to the Gold Coast when they learned the tournament had been canceled.
“So we changed our flight to come home,” Dalhausser said. “We flew literally around the world for one tournament.”
As April turned into May and then June, Dalhausser decided with nothing on the horizon he’d hold some youth camps at his academy in Florida, but just as they started to fill spaces the AVP announced the Champions Cup to begin on July 18. The announcement also coincided with the spike in cases in Florida, so he canceled the camps and started getting ready to play again.
The competition environment was anything but normal.
Dalhausser had to get tested in Florida before he left, then everyone was tested every Monday once they were on location. The matches were held on courts built in the parking lot of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, social distancing was required and masks had to be worn unless playing.
The balls were sanitized frequently and, of course, there were no fans.
With a few rumblings about more tournaments to come but nothing certain as of now, Dalhausser’s 100th win may well end up being the highlight of his 2020 season.
He still remembers his first win 15 years ago and, interestingly enough, three of the four people on the court for win No. 100 were there for win No. 1.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “It was 2005 in Austin, Texas, and Nick and I played Jake (Gibb) and Stein (Metzger), and I just remember it being so much fun. Actually before, I remember being very anxious to get on the court and play because we were waiting around for a little while. Nick came up to me and asked, ‘Man, is it crazy we’re in the finals?’ I don’t know if this changed in my head over the last 15 years but I remember saying, ‘We belong in the finals,’ to him. And I remember feeling like we really belonged in the finals. I don’t know where that came from or if that’s something I made up, because you know how memories can shift in your head as time goes by. But I like to think it’s true.”
Dalhausser would go on to win the Olympic gold medal in 2008 with longtime partner Todd Rogers, and the two returned for trip No. 2 in 2012 and tied for ninth. Dalhausser went for a third time and tied for fifth in Rio while playing with Lucena, with whom he rose through the ranks in Florida and said he always envisioned ending his career with.
They’ll try to return one last time in 2021.
Dalhausser said last year that he planned to retire from international competition after this summer, but the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 pushed those plans back.
And that’s OK.
“I mean, I have another year to get stronger,” he said. “There’s always a bright side to every situation. Another year to get stronger, and I’m doing some coaching now and I find my technique is better. Maybe another year of coaching will make me even better. I had the plan in my head to be done after this year, and obviously nothing ever goes as planned, or at least rarely. That’s probably the downside of it, along with being gone more often for another year. But it is what it is; all you can do is roll with it. No point in doing anything else.”