TAVARES, Florida — Nick Lucena couldn’t help himself.
Once one of the best defenders of this generation of beach volleyball players, Lucena, who retired after AVP Atlanta earlier this summer, switched roles during this weekend’s AVP Pro Series in Central Florida to coaching duties, overseeing a triumphant run to the finals from Tri Bourne and John Hyden. And after a tremendous final between his team and Phil Dalhausser and Taylor Crabb, which went to Dalhausser and Crabb 21-18, 21-19, Lucena switched roles once more, taking the mic from AVP emcee Mark Schuermann, because he, and he alone, has the temerity to ask the question everyone else wanted asking.
“I wanted to ask the crowd and see if they wanted to see Phil play for another 18 months and make a run at the Paris Olympics,” said Lucena, one of Dalhausser’s longest friends as well as his partner for both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Who would want to see that? He’s still the best. Look at him smiling. He’s so happy right now!”
Dalhausser laughed and wagged his finger. No, no. He’s finished with international travel. But the question is fun, and it was, to be sure, the one on everyone’s minds. How could it not have been? Here was Dalhausser, at 42 years old, playing with a partner he had never played with, winning every single set of every single match. The last time he won a tournament with a clean slate? The 2018 Fort Lauderdale Major, with Lucena behind him. Here was Dalhausser, leading the field in both hitting percentage (.581) and aces (8). Here was Dalhausser, joining a list of just two other players — Kent Steffes and April Ross — who have won events with three partners in the same season, a stat unearthed by Schuermann.
And, of course, here was Dalhausser, doing what he has done for nearly two decades, giving all the credit to his partner.
“I didn’t have to do too much this weekend, playing with Taylor,” he said. “He’s so good at volleyball. It’s almost like we knew where we were at and everything was pretty smooth.”
It needed to be, too. Twice, Dalhausser and Crabb played Hyden and Bourne. Twice, they needed every point to win. In the quarterfinals — one of the better matches all season on the AVP — Dalhausser and Crabb would win, 27-25, 22-20, outlasting the former partners turned new again despite hitting nearly six percent worse. In the finals, which lived up to the billing, they withstood another .600-plus hitting match from Bourne, earning just enough to win 21-18, 21-19.
“When you have a player like Tri, you can go as far as the finals,” Hyden said. “And sometimes you play Phil.”
The fact that the two met one another in the finals, at the ages of 50 and 42, respectively, is absurd in a number of ways, foremost being that they’re still playing at all, second that they’re playing at an AVP championship level. Hyden finished the tournament third in both kills and digs and was playing in his first final since Hawai’i of 2019, when he and Theo Brunner fell in three sets — due largely, it should be noted, to the score freeze — to Crabb and Jake Gibb.
Many thought it was amazing then (and it was). Now, three years later, it’s well into the realms of preposterous.
“I’m gassed,” Hyden said with a laugh.
As he well should be.
Carly Kan, Jen Keddy win first titles
Phil Dalhausser and Taylor Crabb were not the only new partnership to win a title on Sunday afternoon.
Carly Kan and Jen Keddy had never played together prior to this weekend. Heck, they didn’t even have one another’s phone number. When Kan was in search of a partner for the final event of the year, she had to resort to Instagram sending a direct message to Keddy that read: “Hey, wanna do Florida? I think we’d be auto in.”
They were in, yes, seeded sixth. But as far as practice? There wouldn’t be much, just one prior to the start of play on Friday.
Like the men who won before them, it didn’t show.
Kan and Keddy ran the table in Central Florida, winning all five matches, finishing with a 21-17, 19-21, 15-11 victory over Emily Capers (formerly Emily Day) and Geena Urango.
“We’re still trying to process what just happened,” Keddy said. “It’s crazy. I’m shaking. I don’t even know what to say. We came in and we had no expectations, let’s go play volleyball, and we played volleyball.”
Indeed, and none played it better than Kan this weekend. The former Missouri indoor star who finished college career on the beach with Hawai’i led the field in hitting percentage (.546), hit over .800 in the final, and didn’t make a single error in that final match, a spectacular performance for the Hawai’i native.
“This means so much to me,” Kan said as the tears began to fall. “I can’t.”
She might not be able to process it just yet, but let it be known: Carly Kan and Jen Keddy are AVP champions.