Nick Lucena
Nick Lucena

Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena finished third in Olympics beach volleyball qualification. To the casual observer in America’s win-or-it-doesn’t-count mindset, that might not mean much. If you take into consideration the fact that Dalhausser made the partner switch to Lucena barely a year ago, about a third of the way into the qualification process, it is most impressive.

2000 gold medalist/NBC analyst Dain Blanton is one who thinks that the pair will contend for gold.

“If they put their game together they can win it all,” Blanton declared. “ … I expect them to be in the mix and on the medal stand.”

Other than a single 17th in Moscow this year, Dalhausser/Lucena have finished fifth or better in every event since they reunited last August. Given the extraordinary level of competition on the world tour (an unprecedented 13 different teams have won gold in 2016), they have shown impressive consistency.

“We’ve been having some good results, and the Olympics will be just another tournament,” Lucena said. “We’ll try and play well and be consistent, but there are about 15 teams that could win the tournament. This is the toughest competition I’ve seen my whole career.”

Dalhausser, 36, is a 6-foot-9 blocker,. He grew up in Ormond Beach, Fla, near Daytona Beach, and lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif. He earned a business degree from the University of Central Florida in 2002, where he was named MVP of his club volleyball team. Dalhausser is married to pro beach player Jennifer Dalhausser (formerly Corral) and they have two children.

Lucena, also 36, is a 6-1 defender. The Florida State graduate is also married to a beach pro, Brooke Niles, the Florida State beach coach. They and their son live in Tallahassee.

“Our first step is trying to get out of pool,” Lucena said. “It’s like any Grand Slam we play, our first goal is to get out of pool. In the single-elimination tournament, we can’t control who we play, or when we play them, but hopefully we can make a run and put ourselves into medal contention.

“Obviously if we get there we want to win, but it’s going to be tough. We know we’re capable of winning, I think there have been eight or 10 different winners on the world tour this year, which is just crazy. There’s a lot of teams that are capable of winning.”

Dalhausser/Lucena’s story began in 2003, when the pair moved to South Carolina to compete professionally on the East coast following graduation. They qualified for several main draws, culminating in their first win in Austin 2005. Dalhausser is arguably the best blocker and server on the AVP tour, as well as one of the best setters, so it wasn’t long before several of the top defenders sought to woo Dalhausser away from Lucena.

In 2006 Dalhausser began his well-known partnership with Todd Rogers, and they won the 2008 beach gold medal in Beijing. Dalhausser split with Rogers following a ninth in the London Olympics in 2012, partnering with Sean Rosenthal in 2013.

Meanwhile, Lucena had partnered with Sean Scott, and then Matt Fuerbringer, also going to Rio as an assistant coach on the USA men’s indoor team.

Lucena and Fuerbringer had the dubious distinction of being the best team not to qualify for London 2012, as the pair finished seventh in the world rankings, but were edged by Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal and the Olympic quota system.

Dalhausser/Rosenthal had never dominated the world stage as expected for the most physically dominant blocker/defender combination of the time. In 2015, while dealing with an abdominal oblique injury, Dalhausser surprised the volleyball world by making the mid-Olympic qualification move to reunite with Lucena.

Dalhausser/Lucena silenced the critics in rapid fashion, finishing third in Olympic qualification despite playing four or more events less than most of their competition.

“If they’re healthy, there’s no doubt in my mind that they will be vying for a medal,” said Rogers, recently retired from the AVP and now the Cal Poly coach. “Phil is still an absolute monster at the net and at the service line, and Nick is arguably one of the fastest defenders maybe of all time. If Nick can side out consistently, that team’s going to be really tough to beat.”

The Brazilians, the Americans, and the Dutch are likely the class of the field and most likely to contend for medals. Within those six teams two teams stand out a hair more than the others; Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil, and Dalhausser/Lucena. Many hope for a USA-Brazil final, because as Rogers says, “There’s nothing sweeter than beating Brazil in Brazil.” 

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