A lot has changed. Nothing has changed.
There’s been coronavirus. Lockdowns. Quarantine. Economic upheaval. Some sports. Scratch that. No sports. The postponement, cancellation, and revival of the AVP Tour, which became a three-tournament series coined AVP Champions Cup.
Five times in the past two seasons have those two teams played in AVP finals, with two other meetings coming in quarterfinals and another two in semifinals.
Why should the Monster Hydro Cup, the first in the AVP Champions Cup, be any different? At this point in their rivalry, the best in the sport domestically, the results are a toss-up. The score Sunday in Long Beach, California, reflected as much: 21-19, 13-21, 15-13 in Dalhausser’s and Lucena’s favor.
“You respect them as a team, they’re one of the best teams in the world, you expect it to go three and it’s exactly what it was,” said Lucena, who beat Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb in Sunday’s semifinal, 21-13, 21-16. “That’s how it should be.”
In six of nine meetings since 2018, the match has gone the full three sets. Though there was no crowd to enjoy it in the present, plenty tuned into the Amazon Prime broadcast to watch the latest chapter in the series.
“We’ve played them so many times that we’re trying to figure out this new chess match going on,” said Crabb, who has been named the AVP’s best defender in three of the past four seasons. “What are they changing this time? What are we changing this time? Just figuring it out as the game goes.”
Like any chess match, there weren’t any major changes. Little that would be perceptible to the eyes outside of each team’s respective box, anyway. Afterwards, when asked what he might have learned from the match, Gibb just laughed.
Learn? From another bout with Dalhausser?
“If I learned anything, I would be shocked,” said Gibb, who beat Chaim Schalk and Chase Budinger, 19-21, 21-15, 15-13 in the semifinal. “I’ve played them 100 times.”
That goes back to 2004, their first meeting. Austin, Texas. Dalhausser was playing with Lucena then, too. He and Gibb both had hair. Both were tall, gangly, and green.
“People were asking if I saw my lookalike,” Gibb said of that 2004 match. “I’ve been dealing with that for 15 years.”
So no, nothing major has changed, no lightbulb moment had. After Dalhausser went on-two more often than usual, they turned up the serving pressure. Crabb switched from his float to a jump serve. Gibb did a better job covering Crabb on blocks, and Crabb did the same for Gibb. The result was a 21-13 second set that looked little to nothing like the first. Dalhausser and Lucena countered back in the third, as they do.
“Defensively I thought we were applying pressure,” Lucena said. “We put them in the spots we wanted. That’s one of the best side out teams — Jake’s been siding out his whole life. Everyone serves him. Taylor’s been playing at an unbelievable level the past few years. Taylor got in a rhythm in the second, Jake’s always in a rhythm. It’s more how we side out or how I side out. If we do that, we’re in the game.”
It kept both teams in the game until 12-12, little more than one side out after the next. When nothing normal was happening, it came down to the weird: Lucena blocking Gibb on a broken play in transition, sealing the scramble point that ultimately made the difference.
So maybe some things have changed. Instead of Dalhausser, who blocked more balls than any player in this tournament, providing the clutch swat, it was Lucena.
Even Gibb, fresh off the loss, had to laugh about it afterwards.
“It’s fun matches,” the 44-year-old said. “I can’t believe how happy I am to be here. For us, we’re just stoked.”