ORLANDO, Fla. — Christmas is not for another 24 days, yet this weekend for AVP Central Florida, beach volleyball fans can open their YouTube streams or beach chairs in Tavares and receive the gift for which they’ve been penning letters to Santa for years:
Phil Dalhausser partnering up with Taylor Crabb.
It’s possible, likely even, that this weekend’s AVP Pro Series in Central Florida will mark the only time the two will ever play together, this in spite many in the beach community positing that a Dalhausser-Crabb combination would have made for the best American team for the past five years. We’ll never know, of course, and Dalhausser enjoyed immense success with his good friend and longtime partner, Nick Lucena, while Crabb qualified for the Tokyo Olympics himself with Jake Gibb. Regardless of the inevitable “what could have been” discussions, the tantalizing wait is just one day away, as Crabb and Dalhausser enter the season’s final event as the No. 2 seed.
“Personally I never thought it was going to happen, just because of how our careers lined up,” Crabb said of the partnership (if you can call a one-event pairing a partnership). “But if you ever get a chance to play with Phil, you better say yes. It should be on everyone’s bucket list if you’re any sort of volleyball fan or player.”
A number of players this season have been able to check “Playing with Phil Dalhausser” off their bucket lists this season, beginning with Andy Benesh, who was, interestingly, slated to play with Lucena, in Austin. After a win in Texas, Dalhausser provided a similar bucket list moment for Casey Patterson, who has comically noted, on a number of occasions, that he would play with particular intensity in any King of the Beach event in which he was paired for a match with Dalhausser, in hopes of impressing him to the point of wooing him for a full-time pairing. While that never came to fruition entirely, Patterson played four events with Dalhausser this season, winning in New Orleans. John Sutton, too, a good friend of Dalhausser’s, defended behind the Thin Beast in Denver, Fort Lauderdale, and Manhattan Beach.
But of all the shuffles made by Dalhausser this season — 2022 marks a career-high for partners in a single year for the 42-year-old blocker, not including Hot Winter Nights and King of the Beach events — none have a higher appeal for fans than his teaming with Crabb.
“I think Taylor and Phil is a partnership that every fan has wanted to see at some point,” Tri Bourne said. “Kind of like how fans get excited to see multiple all-stars team up in the NBA.”
Bourne, too, is mixing it up to end the season, reuniting with his former long-time partner, John Hyden. Now 50 years old, Hyden was Bourne’s first partner as a professional, nearly qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The final event they played was the 2016 World Tour Finals in Toronto, in which they’d win bronze, beating Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk, who was competing for Canada at the time and is the No. 1 seed with Theo Brunner in Central Florida. What followed that off-season, however, has been well documented: Bourne was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was forced to sit out for nearly two full seasons. When he returned, he did so with Trevor Crabb, a team that will in all likelihood remain together through at least the Paris Olympics.
“I think Hyden and I have a good story,” Bourne said. “I’m pretty grateful to get an opportunity to play in one more event with him. It’s also cool to try and show people that he’s still got it at 50.”
Fittingly, Hyden moving to Bourne prompted yet another season-ending mix-up in Central Florida, as Hyden’s partner on the AVP this season, Logan Webber, turned to Seain Cook, which left Webber’s new longterm partner, Evan Cory, on the hunt. Cory scooped up Marty Lorenz and topped the scrambled together team off perfectly by hiring Brad Conners to serve as the team’s coach.
“To be able to finish off the year with someone like Marty is awesome because the expectation to perform is still there but the reality is we haven’t practiced at all, we have played one tournament together, so we know each other, but the usual gripes of a partnership aren’t usually present in that first week or so of training,” said Cory, who began the year with Bill Kolinske, played in Chicago with Dave Palm, and then hit the Beach Pro Tour with Webber. “You are just trying to do your best and help each other out the best that you can. I’m super excited because we flowed pretty well together last year in our one tournament and I’m ready to build off of our one win in a Big Money Tour and hopefully turn that into some wins on the Pro Tour.”
The myriad switches extend to the women’s side as well, which is as open as any small draw AVP this year. With the Volleyball World Torquay Elite 16 pulling away Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, and Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, and Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil choosing to end the season early, it’s the new team of Geena Urango and Emily Day who top the seeding in their first tournament together.
Third-seeded Molly Turner and Kaitlyn Malaney are playing in just their second tournament — the first being a third-place finish at AVP Huntington Beach a few weeks ago — as are Hailey Harward and Kelly Reeves, Megan Rice and Carly Wopat, Iya Lindahl and Tiffany Creamer, Cici Agraz, and last-minute adds Avery Poppinga and Marine Kinna, who replaced Allie Wheeler and Deahna Kraft, who pulled out due to illness.
Both Carly Kan and Jen Keddy are playing in their first tournament together, as are Megan Gebhard and Nicci Reinking, who competed on court one for Long Beach State and subbed in for Chelsea Rice, who is sick. Carly Skjodt and Katie Dickens are playing just their third tournament as a team; same goes for Kahlee York and Macy Jerger. Tani Stephens and Cici Agraz feel almost like a veteran team — playing in their fourth tournament of the year.
The result of all these mix-ups and weird and exciting new pairings is an event that is as much a treat for the fans as it is for the players. There is, as Cory mentioned, little pressure when competing with someone new for the first time, particularly with little practice together. And there’s a sort of ribbon atop this event, the metaphorical finish line after a year that for some began as early as March’s Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Tlaxcala, Mexico.
“It seems like everyone is a bit more relaxed heading into it with all the switches and the awkward period of time where we are all supposed to be resting and prepping for the next year,” Cory said. “For me, it’s been great, as I haven’t had the stress of training every day to get ready with a partner so I’m coming into this week pretty excited and ready to roll.”
Regardless of what it may seem, however, the event is far from a light and jovial holiday affair. As Crabb will be the first to tell you: It’s still an AVP.
“I guarantee when everyone steps on the court it will be all business,” he said. “You still get an AVP win on your record, so people will be going hard and coming for us.”