The hard way: Gibb-Crabb make it all the way back to win AVP Austin championship

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AVP Austin men 2019-Taylor Crabb
Taylor Crabb hits against the block of Phil Dalhausser in the semifinal match/Robert Beck, AVP

“I don’t want to ever do that again,” Jake Gibb said. “That was brutal. That was a brutal tournament, in that kind of heat, we lost a lot of fluids and it’s going to take a couple days to recover.”

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AUSTIN, Texas — Jake Gibb, dripping with sweat, head covered in a wet towel, vowed never to lose in the first round again.

By the time he and Taylor Crabb hoisted their AVP Austin Open trophies after a 21-16, 21-16 defeat of Chaim Schalk and Jeremy Casebeer on Sunday afternoon, Gibb and Crabb had played seven matches in three days, four of which went to three sets.

Only once before in (recorded) AVP history has a team lost its first match and come all the way through the contenders bracket to win the title.

“I don’t want to ever do that again,” Gibb said. “That was brutal. That was a brutal tournament, in that kind of heat, we lost a lot of fluids and it’s going to take a couple days to recover.”

Top-seeded Gibb and Crabb had won the first AVP event of the season in Huntington Beach. But in a tournament chock-full of upsets, they were knocked in their first match Friday, losing No. 16 seed Paul Lotman and Gabe Ospina, who came through the qualifier.

Knowing the tough road Gibb and Crabb had traversed to get to the final, Schalk and Casebeer decided to target Gibb in their match Sunday, sending him almost every serve. In two sets, Gibb took 26 swings, topped only by Casebeer’s 32, but even the three days of grueling matches couldn’t slow the 43-year-old down.

Gibb had 15 kills, six blocks, and an ace.

“We train so we can push through this,” Gibb said. “I mean, I could go another two matches to be honest with you but I’m very tired at the same time.”

Crabb, on the other hand took 12 swings and had 11 kills and just one error to hit an incredible .833.

On the opposite side, Casebeer’s notoriously tough serve wasn’t finding the sand. He got just one ace, making six errors.

“Unfortunately I didn’t side out as well as I would have liked and they were passing really well, they stayed in-system a lot,” Casebeer said. “I thought we served pretty well, but they passed a little bit better, so we just couldn’t score like we did earlier in the tournament.”

“We were going to try to go at Jake and try to tire him out a little bit because he looked a little fatigued throughout the weekend at times when we were watching, so he managed to find another level and another gear and he was tough,” Schalk added. “He was hitting high hands and there’s not much you can do to stop that when he’s in system, so we needed to generate a little more on our serve.”

AVP Austin men 2019-Chaim Schalk
Chaim Schalk scrambles for a dig during the Austin final/Mpu Dinani, AVP

Leading up to the final, Casebeer and Schalk played the best volleyball of anyone at Krieg Fields. They stayed in the winners bracket throughout, never even losing a set and only letting their opponents score an average of 15 points.

“I was really happy with us. All our matches were in two and there were only a couple close sets,” Casebeer said. “We didn’t drop a set until the finals, and we had a few objectives coming into the tournament from Huntington — passing better serving tougher, and just kind of dialing in our sideout — and I thought we executed really well. Just frustrating not to play as well as we could have in the final match.”

“We didn’t really give up any runs all weekend until the final so it’s tough, finding a way to get over that a little quicker,” Schalk said. “We don’t like to give up more than one, that’s kind of like a little rule. Like give up one, that’s fine, it’s not happening twice. But it did a few times in this game and that’s the next thing, gotta end those runs and you’ve got to find a way to score those points back.”

A 16-21, 21-19, 15-13 victory over their rivals and No. 2 seeded team Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in the semifinals might have given Gibb and Crabb the extra shot of confidence they needed heading into the title match.

For the second AVP tournament in a row, these two teams, ranked No. 1 and 2 on tour, met in a match that wasn’t the final. Gibb said as soon as he and Crabb lost their first match of the tournament, the thought crossed his mind that they were now on Dalhausser’s and Lucena’s side of the bracket.

“It enters your mind, but you’re like, OK, we’ve got to grind through some other great teams, too,” Gibb said. “But it’s there and it’s more of a mental grind like, OK, I know that’s ahead of me, but let’s fight for these points.”

In Huntington two weeks ago, the two teams faced each other in the crossover match, which would determine who moves onto the semifinals. Naturally, that match, and the Austin semifinals, both went to three.

“They sideout so well and it’s so hard to score a real point off them,” Dalhausser said. “I can remember one mistake in transition by Taylor, but that’s it. I don’t remember any other, and that puts a lot of pressure on us to side out.”

Despite being only 6 feet tall, teams seem to avoid serving Crabb — the 2013 national indoor player of the year for Long Beach State — at all costs.

“I haven’t seen a defender like Taylor,” Dalhausser said. “I mean, Bruno (Oscar Schmidt of Brazil) 2015 was really good, but as far as digging balls, Taylor might be a little better than that, which is like, 2015 Bruno was ridiculous. To me, it’s those two guys.”

And Gibb …

Well, Gibb and Dalhausser have had a rivalry since the first time they played each other in 2004, in Austin, fittingly. Gibb played with Adam Jewell, beating Dalhausser and Lucena (then in the first generation of their partnership) in straight sets in the first round. Gibb and Jewell went on to win the tournament. It was Gibb’s first title.

Since then, however, Dalhausser and Lucena have won every AVP tournament in Austin, including both men’s first AVP title at the 2005 Austin Open. Then they did it again in 2017 and 2018 after reforming their partnership following many years competing with other people.

“Jake and I have had a rivalry since, I don’t even remember. Fourteen years and counting or whatever,” Dalhausser said. “We literally have played each other over 100 times … I would bet it’s over 100 times. We’ve had a rivalry forever.”

To be exact, Gibb and Dalhausser have played exactly 104 times in 16 seasons. Dalhausser leads the head-to-head series 69-35, but as of late the tide appear to be turning. Gibb, now with his 27-year-old partner Crabb, have won four of the last five meetings.

With the Austin victory on Sunday, Gibb and Crabb have won six AVP titles in 14 tournaments played together. On the FIVB tour, they’re the top-ranked American team, tied for No. 9 in the world.

While Gibb and Crabb are the undisputed top American team at this moment, the fourth semifinalist team of Tim Bomgren and Troy Field should not be overlooked. Despite being a brand-new partnership with just two tournaments under their belt, Bomgren and Field have posted back-to-back third-place finishes.

In the pairing, Bomgren, who has been a blocker in the majority of his recent partnerships, gets to play defense, and he’s loving it.

“Defense is awesome,” Bomgren said. “I’ve played it in years past, but I haven’t played it in a while and I’ve missed it. I love it. Just a different perspective when you’re on the defensive side.”

In the first semifinal on Sunday, Bomgren and Field were knocked out by Schalk and Casebeer, 21-14, 21-12. It marked the second time the two teams played in Austin, the first another straight set victory for Schalk and Casebeer, but in Huntington, Bomgren and Field came away with the win in the crossover.

“I’ve played Jeremy (Casebeer) eight times in the last nine tournaments,” Bomgren said. “There’s certainly some fun rivalry, and then Chaim was my partner last year, so we all get along really well but it’s really fun to play against those guys.”

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