Jake Gibb spent the morning of August 20, 2018, going deep down a rabbit hole familiar to fathers across the globe: He was YouTubing, as he put it then, “how to run a legit soccer practice.”
He was doing this less than 12 hours after losing an epic Manhattan Beach Open to Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. He did this before returning to the USA Volleyball gym for a mid-morning lift despite playing six matches that weekend. He did this because this is exactly who Jake Gibb is, and who he has always been: Voracious competitor, steadfast family man.
The former he is putting to bed this weekend, in Cagliari, Italy, home of the 2021 World Tour Finals. It will be the final tournament in a storied career for Gibb, the final goodbye in a long list of farewells: final Olympic Games, final Olympic match, final bout with Dalhausser and Lucena, final AVP.
It’s as shocking to Gibb as it is to anyone that his career has been successful for this long. When he made the move from Utah to California in 2002, he did so with the unrealistic but pleasant notion that to carve out a financially stable career in this sport wasn’t for the far-fetched and dreamers.
“When I moved out in 2002, I didn’t have a full grasp on what AVP volleyball was,” Gibb said when we had him on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter in 2018, which we re-ran this week. “I moved out and I remember thinking ‘If I can just make it in the main draw, I can make a living and that would be sick.’
“So first of all, I didn’t understand the financial side of things, because in my mind, everybody that was playing pro, that’s how I saw it. I never did the numbers. Maybe it served me very well because if I’d have known what it would take to make a living in this sport, I’d have never tried. So that was my expectation coming into this sport: Man if I could be one of those 16-20 guys, let’s do this. That progressed.”
Oh, it progressed all right. It progressed into seven Sundays and a victory in 2004. It progressed into a Manhattan Beach Open title in 2005, the picture of which is still only one of two beach volleyball mementos currently hanging in his house in Costa Mesa. It progressed into the 2008 Olympics, the 2012 Olympics, the No. 1 ranking in the world at the end of that 2012 season. And it continued progressing from there: 23 more AVP victories, two more Olympic Games, one last FIVB gold, which cemented Gibb as the oldest to ever win an FIVB tournament, one lasting legacy etched.
“It’s all about team,” Gibb said in 2018. “Put the best team around you that you can and don’t look back. But you have to do your due diligence on finding that team: Do your work in finding the right coach, in finding the right partner, in finding the right strength coach, in finding the right agent — everything that’s going to allow you to go forward. You put your team around you and you put your full trust in that team, and you have no excuses.”
Gibb’s final team is perhaps the one for which he will be remembered most. After splitting with Casey Patterson in 2017, Gibb wasn’t sure how far into the future he’d play.
“After Rio, I had a thought of ‘I’m just going to play this year by year. If I’m still a top big man where I can still win, I’m going to keep playing because I love to play,” Gibb said in 2018. “That’s been my assessment to keep playing and going.”
The team he built — Christian Hartford in the gym, Tyler Hildebrand at USA Volleyball, Rich Lambourne as his coach, Taylor Crabb as his partner — kept him going, and going strong. As Gibb continued to be the rock he has always been, Crabb evolved into the defender so many knew he could be since he was dominating on the Baby Court at the Outrigger Canoe Club.
“It’s been really cool to watch Taylor’s progression,” Gibb said — and keep in mind, he said this three years ago. “I think he’s starting to realize how good he is, which is a really good thing for me because it’s one of those things: You have to test yourself against the best in the world. All of a sudden we’re going to Gstaad and he did some things there — ‘Oh, I can hang with [Paolo] Nicolai blocking, I can hang with the Norwegian guys.’
“He’s in that stage where he’s finding out what he can do and learning ‘I can do that, let’s see if I can go to that next step.’ He’s gaining confidence with every tournament and every win and every play, starting to understand how physical he can be.
“We always talk about Taylor quarterbacking the match. He’s similar to [Sean Rosenthal] in that they both have a deep understanding of the game and the chess match that goes on inside a match, just naturally. But the tough part is to bring it out of those guys, because neither of them talk a lot. But then you start to realize: ‘Hey man, what do you see here? Walk me through this. Make me be the big dumb athlete and you walk me through it.’ He does it all the time now.
“I remember against [Reid] Priddy and [Jeremy] Casebeer and Casebeer kept running back, and I’d end up blocking his angle, and Taylor would get frustrated. He was like ‘No matter what happens, take that side of the court!’ And I was like ‘It’s about time kid.’ Sure enough, the next play, he runs back and I made that move and I got a stuff block. I said ‘Just quarterback me kid! Walk me through it.’”
This weekend is one final ride for Crabb to walk Gibb through it. They’re off to a good start, those two, sweeping Latvians Edgars Tocs and Martins Plavins, 21-19, 21-16. At least three more matches remain.
Well, Jake Gibb, Olympian, AVP champion, family man, is alas taking the job for which he’s been training for so long: Full-time soccer dad.