I know what you’re thinking; you don’t even have to say it. Another Phil and Todd column, really? Can’t you come up with anything more original than that, Hans? In fact, it’d probably be in my best interest to apologize before I even get started. You see, during the first two events I made it a point to inform every fan who approached me to discuss my writing that I was no longer going to allow the AVP to focus on one team and one team alone. Basically, I conveyed in crystal-clear fashion that my focus as an editorial columnist was going to be spreading the wealth among players instead of focusing every weekend on the “Top Seeds Advancing.” How many times have we all seen that title headlining avp.com? I dare you to count. And yet, here I am again, flushing my word down the proverbial toilet, with the Beast and Professor gracing the front page cover shot in typical fashion and a column mentioning other teams only in reference to when Phil and Todd crush them down.
Truth be told, I had zero intention of writing another column covering the world’s number one team; they’re just not flamboyant or interesting enough to produce an adequate amount of material each and every week. But then I stumbled upon an unobstructed corner of stadium court during the men’s final that allowed me to watch one of the most impressive single match performances in our sport’s history; and I clearly had no other choice than to talk about them. Simply put: Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers are playing on an entirely different level than every other team in the world right now. We collectively thought they were pretty amazing back in 2008 when they won Olympic gold and 15 open titles, but I doubt anyone could have predicted that two years later their game would be even better.
Most fans and writers involved in the sport assumed last season was a premonition of things to come: Rogers’ somewhat inconsistent play (still exceptional, relatively speaking) would inevitably lead to the split of the United States’ most prolific men’s beach volleyball duo since Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes back in 1996. Dalhausser would, of course, be faced with the ultimate decision: how does one replace the best defender in the world who averages a hitting percentage in the high .470s and essentially doubles as the team’s head coach? After all, there’s been extensive talk of 2010 being the start of Olympic World Cup qualifying, which unfortunately cannot be cleared up by anyone at the FIVB, so Phil’s decision for the future was not only relevant, it was also time-sensitive. He needed to know what direction he and Todd were headed, London or not? To make a long story short, Rogers made the decision for him, by telling Phil he’s in for the long haul and more importantly, by showing up in Florida with a spark in his eyes that perhaps hasn’t been seen since 2006 when they first united full-time.
I asked Rogers on the phone as he was boarding his flight to Shanghai what the difference is this year following their absolute dismantling of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the Santa Barbara finals: “I feel really good on defense this season, really fresh,” Rogers stated. “Last year I didn’t play as well on defense. I was digging the hard driven ball but if a guy was crisp with his shots, I wasn’t picking them up.”
Suspecting a certain level of burnout and fatigue last season following their Olympic win and subsequent media parade, I asked if his off-season was spent any differently, and if it was, whether it contributed positively to his attitude leading into 2010: “Up until this off-season, we really haven’t had an off-season as a team. After Beijing, we didn’t take any time off, and as soon as things settled down, we were right back at it with Hot Winter Nights and the [annual] exhibition in Brazil,” Rogers said, while also mentioning the negative effect non-stop volleyball had on both his mind and body. “It was always more mental than physical for me. I just wasn’t having fun last year, it was such a grind, and that ends up wearing you down.”
How does Todd feel about the game now, after finally receiving a few successive months to relax and spend time with his family? “I really enjoy the game again. I’m having a lot of fun out there,” Rogers confirmed.
And if you really examine their recent performances, it makes a lot of sense. They simply look like they’re having a great time: balling and playing a game they love instead of just trying to earn a couple of paychecks, which, to be honest, doesn’t bode well for the rest of the tour. In fact, only one match has taken place this year in which they didn’t feel great going in: third round of the winner’s bracket in Brasilia against Pedro Cunha and Thiago Barbosa, their only loss of 2010. Both woke up under the weather and played “to get through it” instead of “playing to win.” After sleeping the rest of the day and night following their subsequent contender’s bracket match against Gibb and Rosenthal at 4:30, which they won in two sets, Dalhausser and Rogers proceeded to steamroll through the world’s best competition from seventh to first and it started with a straight-set drubbing of 2009 World Champions Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann Saturday morning. But my point to all of this: Dalhausser and Rogers have only experienced one hiccup in three tournaments and that loss was health-related. They could very well be 21-0 this season as of this morning, instead of a measly 20-1.
Does the gigantic Thin Beast have anything to say about what is currently fueling him to perform as if every final is the third set against “Jaws” in Beijing? Not surprisingly, his answer wasn’t far off from his partner’s: “The last couple of years, we couldn’t follow a set practice schedule due to our non-existent off-season,” Dalhausser said. “This time our training wasn’t interrupted by injuries lasting longer than normal because we didn’t have the time to rest.”
Do gold medalists still sit down and write out goals for the season, especially after basically accomplishing everything there is to accomplish in the sport? You bet. “We set the goal of winning the FIVB points championship this season,” Dalhausser stated with conviction. “We’ve never played enough FIVB tournaments to be in the running, so this year we’ve got the opening to do it and we’ve established that as our main goal.”
The only AVP tournament Dalhausser and Rogers plan on missing to accomplish this feat is Virginia Beach from June 18-20, as they’ll be gallivanting across one of my favorite Eastern European cities, Prague, in the historic Czech Republic. Does Phil plan on closing out every final this season with an absolutely remarkable 10 stuff blocks and a hitting percentage of .500? Probably not. He plays one match at a time. And if that philosophy successfully lands him in the finals, he says his “desire to win ramps up more than 100 times” when the championship title is on the line. Hence his overall finals record of 49-15. Or a winning percentage of almost 77 percent.
Do his parents appreciate what he’s has been able to accomplish without playing Division I collegiate volleyball or growing up in Southern California? Absolutely. It wasn’t always that way, however, as beach volleyball can be a tough sell on even the most liberal-minded parents, but they slowly came around, and now cap off every victory they are fortunate enough to witness on TV with a celebratory bottle of wine. If Sunday comes with a slight buzz, it was most certainly a terrific day for the Dalhaussers, and after watching the first two AVP tournaments this season, my guess is I might need to contact Barefoot Wine for them to make sure they never run out.
Live, up-to-date scoring for the best team in the world as they compete in Shanghai, China can be found here. And as always, good luck to all American teams as they represent the United States and the AVP on international soil.