From June until the beginning of August, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena have been forging a path to try to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
With that much time together, even 39-year-old veterans can learn a thing or two.
“What do I tell you what we learned? Nine weeks, we’re never going to do it again, I’ll tell you that,” Lucena said. “More than two weeks? That’s it. We’re too old to be on the road for nine weeks. We’re both pushing 40 and we’re playing a bunch of 20-year-olds. We learned that we grinded it out, got some good finishes for Tokyo, but we’ve got to get our bodies back. We’ve been banged up all the time.”
Ah, but there’s an oasis ahead in the desert. The jewel of the AVP Tour awaits in the Gold Series Manhattan Beach Open, going up Aug. 16-18, and the top two American teams – Dalhausser and Lucena on the men’s side and April Ross and Alix Klineman in the women’s draw – will be there to defend the titles they captured in 2018.
Both defending champions will start the weekend by seeing their new plaques on the Manhattan Pier. Then they’ll go out and try to win again. In Dalhausser and Lucena’s case, they’re shooting for a third consecutive Manhattan crown.
“That’s our next goal. That would be sweet,” Lucena said. “We’re going to do the ceremonies, that’s pretty cool and we’ll be grateful for that and see if we can get another one. If this guy gets another one, he gets closer to Karch so he’s all excited about that.”
Dalhausser has won seven Manhattan titles, three shy of the 10 won by Karch Kiraly.
The duo is coming off a fourth-place finish in the FIVB Vienna Major. Though they reached the semifinals and didn’t come away with a medal, they did exorcize one demon: They defeated archrivals Robert Meeuwsen and Alex Brouwer of the Netherlands after three straight thrashings in less than a month against the Dutch Olympians.
That finish pushed Dalhausser and Lucena into a tie for No. 12 in the world rankings. If they stay in that spot, they’ll qualify for a position for Tokyo. They have AVP tournaments left in Chicago and Hawaii, but want the World Tour Finals in Rome to be their final major international tournament of the year.
“If that’s the case, we’re looking good for the Olympics and we don’t have to play in Mexico in November,” Dalhausser said. “That’s the ultimate goal because to think about training all the way through November, I think I’d rather stab myself in the eye with an ice pick. That’s going to be the motivation for Rome. The prize money will be the cherry on top but we’ll try to get those points, so no November.”
For many others, the Olympic dream continues, and not even the lure of Manhattan can crush it for Americans who have decided to bypass the beach and go on to Moscow instead.
On the men’s side, Jake Gibb (a three-time Manhattan winner) and Taylor Crabb plus Billy Allen and Stafford Slick will remain on the international tour along with Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, Kelly Larsen and Emily Stockman, and Brooke Sweat.
But Manhattan will be infused with some international flavor as well. Newly crowned world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who reached the AVP Huntington Beach Open final, will play in Manhattan plus Chicago over Labor Day weekend.
Canadian Brandie Wilkerson will play in her third AVP event of the season, this time with Sara Hughes.
And though the international scene beckons, the AVP teams will be homesick.
“We love coming here and playing in Vienna,” Claes said. “The venue’s amazing, the people are just so excited about beach volleyball so it’s fun to play in front of a crowd like that. It’s left us very hungry because we’ve worked out a lot of kinks that we wanted to work out for awhile. Which is very exciting but frustrating because I know we have a lot more.”
But wouldn’t they rather play in Manhattan than Moscow?
“I wish,” Claes said.
It’s as simple as that.