U.S. Beach Volleyball Teams Beginning Run to Tokyo

By B.J. Hoeptner Evans (bj.evans@usav.org) | May 18, 2018, 8 a.m. (ET)
Beach volleyball player Phil Dalhausser sets the ball for partner Nick Lucena
Phil Dalhausser sets the ball for his partner Nick Lucena,
 

The 2018 international beach volleyball season has already brought its share of surprises, and it is only May.

A year before qualifying begins for the 2020 Olympic Games, teams began jockeying for position with several new partnerships.

The season got off to a strong start when the new team of April Ross and Alix Klineman won its first FIVB event at the FIVB four-star in The Hague, Netherlands.

Then, at the Fort Lauderdale Major tournament (Feb. 27-March 4), an FIVB five-star event, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena took gold and Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross won bronze.

A few weeks later, Summer Ross and Sara Hughes joined forces. That started the dominoes falling as Sweat re-teamed with her 2016 Olympic partner Lauren Fendrick for one event and Hughes’ former partner Kelly Claes paired with Brittany Hochevar.

Sweat ended her season at the FIVB four-star event in Huntington Beach, Calif., where she and Fendrick finished tied for seventh. Then Sweat had surgery on her rotator cuff.

Hochevar’s former partner, Emily Day, picked up Betsi Flint. Olympian Nicole Branagh re-teamed with four-time Olympic medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is healthy after surgeries on her shoulder and ankle.

Hochevar, who is in her 14th year of playing pro beach volleyball, took the long view of the partner restructuring.

“A lot of the teams that were constructed knew what they could do together. They were tested,” she said. “Now it’s, ‘How can you find that edge to position yourself for the Olympics.’ It was basically the trade deadline. The cards fell where they did.”

The men’s side has had less movement, but still has interesting teams to watch. Dalhausser and Lucena remain the U.S. team to beat. They are making Florida their training home as both players grew up there.

Other top men’s teams from 2017 are Jake Gibb / Taylor Crabb, John Hyden / Theo Brunner, Bill Kolinske / Miles Evans and Stafford Slick / Casey Patterson.

Sean Rosenthal made news when he partnered with former NBA player Chase Budinger. Trevor Crabb and John Mayer found success in their first FIVB event as the won the three-star in Lucerne, Switzerland.

FIVB WORLD RANKINGS (of teams currently playing together as of May 14)

WOMEN
27. April Ross/Alix Klineman
59. Kerri Walsh Jennings/Nicole Branagh
63. Emily Stockman/Kelley Larsen
78. Summer Ross/Sara Hughes
83. Amanda Dowdy/Irene Pollock
102. Brittany Hochevar/Kelly Claes
111. Kelly Reeves/Brittany Howard
137. Kim Smith/Mackenzie Ponnet
174. Betsi Flint/Emily Day

MEN
1. Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena
17. Jake Gibb/Taylor Crabb
36. John Hyden/Theo Brunner
38. Bill Kolinske/Miles Evans
58. Stafford Slick/Casey Patterson
63. Ryan Doherty/Billy Allen
91. John Mayer/Trevor Crabb
123. Chase Frishman/Avery Drost
126. Reid Priddy/Troy Field
T187. Reid Priddy / Jeremy Casebeer
T187. Sean Rosenthal/Chase Budinger

STORY LINES
Kerri Walsh Jennings, 39, is looking to make her sixth straight Olympic team in 2020 and is competing with Nicole Branagh, 39, who is hoping to make her second. Both players live and train in Southern California and are also married with children.

Phil Dalhausser, 38, is looking to make his third straight Olympic team with Nick Lucena, 38, who is looking to make his second. Dalhausser and Lucena now live with their wives and children and train in Florida, away from beach volleyball’s hub in Southern California.

Olympian Lauren Fendrick, 36, found herself without a partner at the beginning of 2018 and has played with three different partners this season. She recently announced that she will be playing the AVP event in Austin with Sarah Sponcil, who won the NCAA Championship this year with UCLA.

Sara Hughes, 23, and Summer Ross, 25, both have a lot of international experience despite their young ages, making this young team one to watch.

Brothers Trevor (28) and Taylor (26) Crabb used to play together, but have found more success since splitting up.

UPCOMING MAJOR INTERNATIONAL EVENTS

May 16-20: Itapema four-star
June 20-24: Ostrava four-star
June 27-July 1: Warsaw four-star
July 4-8: Espinho four-star
July 10-15: Gstaad Major five-star
July 25-29: Tokyo four-star
July 31-Aug. 5: Vienna Major five-star
Aug. 8-12: Moscow four-star
Oct. 10-14: Yangzou four-star