Although their partnership dissolved after the Olympics last year, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal were a very strong team each of the seven years they played together on the domestic and international tours. In this article from August 2006, VBM explores the partnership in its first year.
AVP announcer Chris “Geeter” McGee has referred to the team of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal as “the odd couple.”
On the surface, that might seem like a correct moniker. The 30-year-old Gibb is the youngest of 11 children his mother (school teacher) and father (physician) raised in Bountiful, Utah.
Gibb, who has a twin brother, Coleman, graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in business and didn’t start playing the beach game until the age of 21.
Rosenthal, on the other hand, has been around the beach scene since his childhood days, qualifying for the main draw of an AVP event at the age of 16 with longtime friend and mentor Dale Smith. Rosenthal, a Redondo Beach, Cailf., native who grew up on welfare as one of seven children and saw his mother, Laura Hurlburt, battle drug issues, used to help Smith install computer data cables well into the morning hours (1 a.m. to 8 a.m.) and then go to a continuation school designed for students who had jobs later the same morning.
While coming from two distinctly different backgrounds, Gibb and Rosenthal have come together to form a partnership that is anything but odd. Their personalities mesh perfectly – Gibb with his more outgoing and intense style and Rosenthal, or “Rosie” as he’s known by fans, with his quiet and reserved, yet friendly demeanor.
Their skills on the court have also come together to form one of the AVP’s top men’s combos this season. The duo, fueled by Gibb’s big block and Rosenthal’s strong defense, started by winning the season-opening Ft. Lauderdale Open, taking second in Tempe, and finishing in the top 5 in four of the first five AVP events. They kicked off the 2006 campaign with a 20-game winning streak.
“I’ve heard the odd couple thing quite a bit,” said Gibb, the 2005 AVP men’s most valuable player after winning the points title with Stein Metzger. “But Rosie is a real easy guy to play with. He’s so athletic and he can make up any mistakes I make because he’s so quick. He’s the most low-key guy I’ve ever been around. He’s the exact opposite of Stein, and Stein and I got along great. This is a totally different dynamic. Rosie is the easiest guy I’ve ever played with.”
The 6’7” Gibb, who played with Rosenthal in two matches at last year’s Las Vegas Shootout, can remember going against Rosenthal and former partner Larry Witt in year’s past and not hearing much from the other side of the net.
“Larry and Rosie would go through a tournament without talking to each other,” laughed Gibb.
Rosenthal, who said he started training in a formal gym setting for the first time in his career this past off-season, has seen Gibb’s emotion rub off on him.
“I’m kind of quiet and go about my business,” said the 26-year-old Rosenthal, already in his seventh AVP season. “I’m not that easy to fire up and get super crazy. But having that on your side, helps you fire up.”
For the 6’4” Rosenthal, experience has been his biggest ally.
“My experience has helped me improve each year,” said Rosenthal, who has three career titles to his credit. “I’ve grown up a good amount. I still think I have quite a bit more growing up to do. I’m not quite where I want to be. I’d say I’ve grown up a good amount with a good amount to go.”
Growing up was something Rosenthal did fast at a young age.
“I grew up on welfare and there were drugs around from my mom’s friends when they would come by. I’ve seen my fair share of stuff,” said Rosenthal. “But I never saw them do stuff when I was younger and my mom never left us alone.”
Rosenthal said his childhood wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds on paper.
“I grew up on the beach, so it never felt like it was tough growing up. I didn’t know any other way,” said Rosenthal, who has kept his hair grown out at the urging of his girlfriend, Jill Dorsey.
“My mom wasn’t an out of control drug user. My mom raised seven kids by herself. She kept clothes on our back and food in the house. She was always there. She wouldn’t go out partying all night. She did her job. She’s been clean for a year and a half. I talk to her every day. I always told her she was going to do it.”
Sports were something Rosenthal became involved in at a young age.
“I always played little league and other sports,” said Rosenthal. “I’ve always had sports in me.”
By being around the beach scene for so long, Rosenthal possesses an analytical tool that Gibb is thankful the team has.
“Sean has a feel for the game that not many people have,” said Gibb, also in his seventh AVP season. “He has a sense for things. He’ll tell me a guy is going to shoot here and we’ll serve and it happens. I tell him to talk to me about that stuff. He doesn’t talk enough. He’s really knowledgeable about volleyball.”
“He’s never told me that,” chuckled Rosenthal when told about the compliment Gibb paid him. “All I’ve done is play beach. I’ve been here a little while now and picked up a few things.”
Gibb and Rosenthal, both avid golfers, have also benefited from the coaching of 1996 Olympic silver medalist and sport great Mike Dodd.
“Having Mike as our coach is huge,” said Gibb, who has six career AVP titles. “It’s not only his volleyball knowledge but his knowledge of human nature. We are both eager to learn.”
“It’s great to have him on our side,” said Rosenthal. “I’m excited not only about his experience and knowledge, but the fact he focuses on just us. A lot of coaches have two or three teams. You can trust anything he says. He’s a great guy to have around.”
Gibb, whose wife of six years, Jane, recently ran a 26-mile marathon, feels the fact both he and Rosenthal do not have heavy indoor resumes is a mark in their favor.
“I’m 30-years-old and I feel I’m still on the upswing,” said Gibb. “Some say at that age you are at your peak. I don’t feel that way. I got such a late start in volleyball, I don’t have the swings on my arm or the jumps on my knees that other guys have. I feel younger than I am. I’m still learning about myself.”
One thing the two quickly learned about each other is their desire to be at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as one of the U.S. men’s teams.
“The Olympics was one of Jake’s priorities and it’s kind of always been my goal,” said Rosenthal. “I think it’s time. I think we’re ready to go for it.”
That thinking is why Gibb is so fired up about his partnership with Rosenthal.
“There are so many things, but I think being in one purpose, whatever that is, has helped us,” said Gibb. “A lot of guys have different goals. Sean and I are in the same place. We want to win every tournament and be the best we can be.”
And there’s nothing odd about that.
Originally published in August 2006