Phil Dalhausser and partner Nick Lucena were one of the hottest teams on the FIVB tour in 2016, with four gold, three silver, and one bronze medal in 2016. Their Olympic run ended in fifth place after Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt were upset in pool play, setting up a quarterfinal showdown rather than a medal-round match. Both Alison/Bruno and the strong winds in Rio got the best of the Americans that day last August.
The 6-foot-9 Dalhausser is one of the pre-eminent big men on tour, earning individual accolades for Best Blocker (2006-08, 2010, 2012, 2014, Best Hitter 2007-10, Best Offensive Player 2008-2010, 2012, Best Server 2014, Best Setter 2009-12, 2014-16, and Most Outstanding 2010, 2013, 2014.
We got a chance to chat with him as he and Lucena prepared for the FIVB season opener in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., February 7-12.
VBM: How was your off-season?
Dalhausser: “The off season was really long but it didn’t seem too long.”
VBM: Do you feel like the season is too long?
Dalhausser: “When we start in February, yes. Last year we started in February as well, but this year is a little different because after February, we have three months until our next tournament, so it puts a wrench into the training season. Usually we’re trying to build up.”
VBM: How did you spend your time off?
Dalhausser: “Just hung out with the kids, they’re 3 (Sebastian) and 2 (Sofia), so it’s a lot of fun these days. (Pauses) And then sometimes not so fun (chuckles). Just caught up and made up for some lost time.”
VBM: Did you get a chance to take the kids on any trips?
Dalhausser: “We went to my parents’ house in Florida for a couple of weeks, but in general, I’m on the road so much that (traveling) is the last thing I want to do.”
VBM: What is your schedule like for this year?
Dalhausser: “We’ll play all of the five-star FIVB events this year, including the world championships. We’re waiting on the AVP player contracts, I’ve heard that they’re in the works and we should have them shortly.”
VBM: What kinds of things does coach Paul Baxter have you and Nick working on?
Dalhausser: “Personally, I’m working on my passing. I feel it’s the weakest part of my game.”
VBM: Last time the FIVB tour was in Fort Lauderdale, it was the World Tour Finals in 2015. You had a spectacular win against Brouwer/Meeuwsen in the semifinals, but came up flat against Alison/Bruno in the finals.
Dalhausser: “We lost some steam coming in. The week before, we were in China, I got back to L.A. on Sunday, flew to Fort Lauderdale on Monday, and started playing on Tuesday. By the finals on Sunday, we were just mentally and physically spent.”
“With that said, those guys played really high-level volleyball, I’m not trying to take anything away from them.”
VBM: Does that give you extra motivation for this year?
Dalhausser: “I don’t need any extra motivation. Anytime we play a FIVB on home soil, we have home court advantage, so I like to protect that.”
VBM: What did you and Nick take away from Rio? Was it just a tough draw that you had to play Alison/Bruno in the quarterfinals in tough windy conditions?
Dalhausser: “Obviously, Rio was a bummer. It wasn’t ideal to play Alison and Bruno in the quarters. But that’s one of the negatives when it comes to pool play. The Olympics is the biggest tournament we’ll ever play in, but it’s just a long, drawn-out tournament.
“The only difference is that you play one match every two days, and honestly, it’s kind of long and boring. On your days off you don’t want to do too much and wear yourself out, and really, it’s mentally draining. You play a match, and then have two days to think about your next match.
“I wish I could have played a little better in that quarterfinal. It would have been a higher level of volleyball if there hadn’t been 35 mile-an-hour winds. That’s too bad, because I think it would have been a really good tight match. I don’t think it was an interesting match to watch. Wind just lowers the level, for sure.”
VBM: At age 36, what have you learned about yourself that you didn’t know at 26?
Dalhausser: “A lot. One, getting old sucks. There are a lot more aches and pains involved, and more stretching, and rolling out, and taking care of your body, and more warming up. At 26, I could have peppered a little bit, and been ready to go. I wish that were the case these days, but unfortunately, it’s not.”
“I don’t know that there’s one thing that I could say that I’ve learned over the years, but the biggest thing is that I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes.”
VBM: Where do you store your gold medal from Beijing?
Dalhausser: “At home, I store it in a case. For the longest time I just had it in my nightstand.”
VBM: Do you think the Olympic qualification process is too long?
Dalhausser: “I do think it’s too long. A team can have a good 2015 season that will set them up for the Olympics. I think that 2016 points should be worth more than 2015 points. You shouldn’t get the same amount of points for winning an event in 2015 than you do in 2016. To me it just doesn’t make any sense.
“I think the country-quota rule is stupid. It’s a dated rule that was made for back when there would have been 20 different Brazilian teams on tour. Now the world has caught up. There are so many good teams out of Europe, I’m not so sure we need a country quota system any more, and it makes it a closed system.
“There’s no other sport that limits the amount of countries participating. Can you imagine if tennis only allowed four players from one country? Or surfing, or golf? It should be the best of the best. If Brazil has the 10 best teams, then so be it. I don’t think that would be the case. They should just get rid of it.”