SANDCAST: Adam Roberts, beach volleyball’s talent-finder

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Adam Roberts-SANDCAST-Travis Mewhirter-Tri Bourne
Tri Bourne, Adam Roberts, Travis Mewhirter

Lay out?

Was that what Adam Roberts’ friends said? He didn’t even know what that meant. So you just walked down by the ocean, put a blanket down, and … laid there?

Nope. Not Adam Roberts, this week’s guest on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

His whole life, then as it is now, had been based on movement. Raised in High Point, North Carolina, Roberts grew up on a steady diet of soccer, cross country, track and basketball, receiving offers from ACC schools to run the 800 meters but also an offer from Elon College, which was just 30 miles down the road, to play point guard on its basketball team.

He took the full ride to Elon, started every game in his last three years and earned All-Colonial Athletic Association honors. During breaks, however, he would live at his parents’ house in South Carolina, and it was there, rather than laying out, that he discovered volleyball, a game that was quite similar to basketball in its movements –- lots of quick lateral steps and explosive leaps –- but it was on a beach.

So he would play pickup beach volleyball every day over the summers, and it paid off with an eight-inch increase in his vertical leap in the gap between his sophomore and junior years. In his junior season, he was leaping so high that he won four dunk contests.

“I had tried everything, man,” he said in a previous interview. “I tried the strength shoes, the SuperCat Jump Machine. It wasn’t until I began training on the sand with a weighted vest that I saw that increase, so I just used it as a cross-training sport.”

Adam Roberts-SANDCAST
Adam Roberts plays defense at NVL Zuma Beach/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

And when he graduated with a dual-degree in business and economics, Roberts was good enough that he had some small-time offers to play basketball professionally in Europe. He wasn’t interested.

“I was way too into volleyball,” he said.

So he spurned the offers overseas and moved to Myrtle Beach, where his parents had built a three-bedroom house on the beach.

“I said ‘Sure I’ll live for free on the ocean and play beach volleyball.’  It has a full hot tub, fire pit, a really nice volleyball court on the property on the ocean,” Roberts said, laughing. “It’s a great set up and very conducive for guys to train in.”

It didn’t take long for word to spread of the Roberts House of Volleyball in South Carolina. For nearly a decade, players cycled in and out, drinking and playing volleyball, living a life many dream of but few realize.

And in the spring of 2003, when Roberts and his roommate, Matt Heath, a 6-foot-6 former collegiate soccer player turned blocker from Fort Myers, Florida, were playing in a tournament in south Florida, they happened across “a skinny white kid and a tall guy wearing steel-toed boots” that were damn good.

“That,” Roberts says, “is how I met Phil Dalhausser.”

Not long after, Dalhausser and the skinny, fiery white kid, Nick Lucena, moved to South Carolina.

They were going to become beach volleyball players.

“We would go out, I don’t know, probably on average four times a week,” Dalhausser said in a previous interview. “Adam pretty much ran the town so we’d drink for free. And those days we would roll out of bed at eleven or something like that and we’d stroll out to the courts at two.”

After the hangovers had been massaged and they were able to play, they’d head out to the court and train for a few hours and then, in between marathons of Halo, pore over film of Karch Kiraly and the greats at night.

“That house was volleyball one hundred percent of the time,” Heath said. “We’d be on a road trip discussing ‘Hey what do we do in this situation?’ It was just kind of an open forum and we just did a lot of homework on it. It was a good time. We all raised our level.”

But still, even in the Adam Roberts House of Volley, Dalhausser was different, “a freak,” Heath says, and he means it as the highest of compliments. “His improvement was meteoric, to be honest.”

When they popped in movies or played X-Box, Dalhausser would grab a volleyball and set to himself for all two hours.

“His concept was that he wanted really soft hands, almost that you couldn’t hear it coming in and out,” Roberts says. “That was his thing that he would set the ball so quietly that we could still watch the movie.”

During the winters, Dalhausser and Lucena would pick up shifts as substitute teachers and Roberts would help out with Showstopper, his parents’ dance competition production company. When it would be too cold to play on the beach, they took to the basketball courts, joining men’s leagues and dominating pickup games. And it was there –- not during passing drills or watching Dalhausser set to himself during movies or winning tournaments over the summer –- that Roberts knew just how limitless Dalhausser’s potential was.

“I had seen some good athletes, Division I basketball athletes, but when I saw Phil’s touch on the basketball court – he could dribble, he had a good hook shot, he could bring the ball up the court. I was like ‘Wow,’ ” Roberts said. “We played in a winter league, Nick is flying all over the court. I was like ‘Man he is fast. Wow, these guys, especially Phil – their potential is limitless.’

“I had always equated beach volleyball with touch. You kinda have to shoot 70 percent as a basketball player from the free-throw line to be a good beach volleyball player. The reasons being, I don’t think Shaq could play beach volleyball because he couldn’t set. But Phil had this touch. He’s a different breed. Even to this day, being one of his best friends, knowing so much about him, I think you could do sports psychology just on Phil. He’s just so laid back, so chill. You read these books and stories about Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan and their whole life goal was to win a gold medal and be a world champion and MVP, and that’s not Phil.”

Dalhausser’s story is by now well-documented, as is Lucena’s. Roberts’ though, has not received the proper amount of ink. This was the man who all but discovered arguably the greatest beach player of his generation and the partner who helped get him there.

He has played in more AVP events than anyone on tour, including John Hyden. Just as he did with Dalhausser, he develops talent, sometimes traveling the world to do so, working with Marty Lorenz and Brian Cook, Brad Lawson and Eric Zaun, and now 23-year-old Spencer Sauter, a blocker out of Penn State with every indication of being a main draw mainstay.

This is what Roberts does. He plucks talent. Grooms it. Succeeds with it.

Anything but standing still.

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