SANDCAST: Sean Rosenthal and the absurd standards of being Superman

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AVP Chicago 2018 Friday-AVP-Chicago-Sean Rosenthal
Sean Rosenthal makes an athletic dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

It was almost as if Sean Rosenthal didn’t believe the words that had just come out of his mouth.

“Leaving Jake (Gibb) for Phil (Dalhausser),” he said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “might have been the worst volleyball decision of my career.”

He smiled, laughed. Then said it again, as if to cement it into reality what he had just admitted.

Rosenthal’s partnership with Dalhausser was a fascinating and staggeringly successful one, though the reactions to it, including Rosenthal’s own, are complicated. By conventional standards, they were the best team in the world, winning their first event together in 2013, piling on two more Grand Slam golds. Rosenthal had never won that many tournaments on the world tour in a single year. And then he did it again, as he and Dalhausser tacked on three more FIVB golds in 2014 during a run of four consecutive finals appearances in Stavanger, Gstaad, The Hague and Long Beach.

Less than a month later, they won the Manhattan Beach Open.

For two straight seasons, they were the leading gold medalists on the world tour and also took home the biggest domestic tournament.

By any human standard, the partnership was incredibly successful. But Rosenthal isn’t considered human. No, this is the Son of Jorel, the kid from Krypton. This is Superman we’re talking about here, and Superman doesn’t live by the mortal standards of the rest of us.

“For two years, we were the best team in the world,” Rosenthal said of his partnership with Dalhausser. “I think a little bit of it is because we didn’t win as many tournaments on the AVP as we were expected, but we won a lot on the world tour. Leaving Jake for Phil was the worst volleyball decision of my career. It’s crazy, it’s hard to say, but I think it might be true.”

It might be true not because Rosenthal and Dalhausser were disappointing – they played together two years, they were the best team in the world for two years, they won more events than any other team on Earth for two years – but because Rosenthal and Gibb were just that good, with the potential to be even better. They had just won the FIVB Team of the Year. Rosenthal, in an era of Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti, of Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, of Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil, was named the best player in the world.

Even after the FIVB season finished in 2012, they followed it up with a win in Santa Barbara during the AVP’s truncated, two-event revival season under Donald Sun.

And then Rosenthal gave Gibb the call. He had already been in touch with Dalhausser. He knew, no matter what happened in Santa Barbara, he was going with Dalhausser for the next season.

“[Phil] was just like, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to play together next season?’” recalled Rosenthal. “And I was just like, ‘Uh, yeah.’ If your boss comes up to you and asks you, ‘Do you want a raise?’ It’s not like, ‘No, I’m good where I’m at.’ It’s kind of one of those things, not only from prize money but sponsor money, which went way up, too. Got Red Bull and UnderArmour and a couple others, like Smart Car, which were basically through Phil.”

But would he do it again?

“I’d probably do it again,” Rosenthal said. He’d do it again because Dalhausser is a name that belongs in discussions with those of Kiraly and Smith and Stoklos and Steffes, the best the game has ever seen. He’d do it again because, even with a rash of injuries and awful timing for those injuries, no team in the world could claim to have been better.

Such is the standard of Sean Rosenthal. When finishing as the top on the world tour is cause for questioning a partnership change.

We are now in the final act of Rosenthal’s brilliant career, one in which he has accumulated more than 20 wins, compiled a resume that will rank him amongst the all-time greats and won with a playing style that will immortalize him in the South Bay community.

His focus is still on volleyball, yes, but it’s turned more to his kids, constant bundles of energy. It’s turned to taking some time off. Golfing. Enjoying beach volleyball for what it is – a wonderful sport, an incredible way to make a career. Perhaps most important, a way to get the kids out of the house and spend some energy.

“We all,” Rosenthal said, “need to get down to the beach and practice. The kids. Me.”

One generation of Rosenthal is gradually fading out. The next charges in.

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