Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a lot of Tokyo Olympic coverage. We’ve gone over point breakdowns, potential scenarios, and detailed choice moments of the epic three-event series in Cancun. But who are these teams that we’re rooting for? What are their stories, and why should we care about them?
That, my friends, is what we’re doing here – learning a few deets on each team, getting to know them and their individual paths to the podium. What motivates them? Is this their first or fourth Olympic run? Pick a team, pick a storyline, pick a brother – it doesn’t matter to me, as long as you understand that each of these three teams are worth every bit of your time.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena
Even non-volleyball fans likely know the name Phil Dalhausser. His celebrity transcends the sport, and not just because he’s been in the game so long. Phil is a three-time Olympian going for his fourth. He won the 2008 Gold Medal with longtime partner and legend in his own right, Todd Rogers. Throw in his career 100 tournament wins, and you’ve got one of the best to ever hit the sand.
His partner Nick Lucena, though less decorated, also sits in the upper echelon of beach volleyball talent. He’s going for his second Olympics, his first having been Rio in 2016 with Phil. Nick almost qualified with partner Matt Fuerbringer in 2012; they were the 7th-ranked team in the world. But similar to this year, three teams were vying for two spots, and Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal just eeked him out in Olympic Ranking in the end.
Enough about these two separately. The beauty of this team lies in their partnership. These two buddies started their careers together at an AVP in 2003 close to home – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – and they decided to end the way they started: together. In 2015, after 11 years apart, they paired back up and went for Gold in Rio (where they finished with a 5th).
Throughout their friendship and partnership, both guys have stayed very realistic. It’s why Phil chose Rogers in 2006 and also why, before the Tokyo Olympic Qualification period, Nick blessed Phil leaving again to partner with the up-and-comer Taylor Crabb. This selfless move was out of true love and admiration for his friend; Nick worried that Phil wasn’t having fun anymore and would do better with the youngin’.
But, after consideration (and a phone call between Phil and Taylor), the vet chose to stick with his friend. Better to end a two-decade-long career with your two-decade-long pal. Plus – they both live in Florida, which means more time with their wives and children. I’m glad they stuck together, and I bet they are, too. Their familiar banter and ease of victory at the AVP Champions Cup last summer showed how much fun they were having. More than I’d ever seen, honestly.
If they qualify, this will be the last Olympics for Phil and Nick (but lucky for us, they’ve said they’ll likely continue on the AVP Tour). These over-the-hill buds are looking good for one of the two quota spots in Tokyo after a consistently strong showing at the Cancun Hub tournaments tied them in the Olympic Rankings with Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb. Not to mention their domination of the AVP Champion’s Cup Series; not only did they win two of three events and take home the Champion’s Cup, but they’re the first team to win an AVP event in which both players are 40+ years old.
Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb
With a middle name like Spiker, you’d think Jake Gibb came from a volleyball dynasty. But in reality, it’s his mother’s maiden name and a complete coincidence. Jake actually didn’t play volleyball until he was 21, opting for other sports instead. He’s the youngest of 11 kids (not a typo) and grew up in the cozy mountain town of Bountiful, Utah. Who’d have ever thought this small-town non-volleyballer would end up one of the best players in the country, even the world?
Jake’s volleyball career has been steady and admirable, especially considering he survived testicular and skin cancer. He’s the oldest person to win an international event, and he’ll be the oldest beach player at the Games if he qualifies. Tokyo would be Jake’s fourth Olympics also, a feat that only he and Phil could potentially claim (on the USA Men’s side, at least).
His partner has a very different story. Hailing from an athletic family and raised in Honolulu, HI, Taylor Crabb ate, slept, and breathed volleyball from a young age. He spent most days at the Outrigger Canoe Club’s famed “Baby Court” (a place that honed the beach skills of three of the six 2020 Olympic hopefuls in this article). Taylor’s early start in the sport led him to a couple of indoor volleyball State Championships at Punahou and the 2013 National Player of the Year award at Long Beach State.
Taylor began his professional beach career with his big brother Trevor, who had already established himself on the AVP and World Tours. Their breakout tournament at the 2015 AVP Manhattan Beach Open landed them a 3rd place finish, but more importantly, it introduced the beach volleyball world to the phenom that is Taylor Crabb. The brothers, who infamously did not get along, broke up at the end of the 2016 season.
Enter Jake. I’m not sure who picked up whom here – Jake had the proven track record while Taylor was this shiny new defender with loads of promise. The two, 16 years apart, could not be any more different on paper. Jake Gibb, father of two and two-time cancer survivor celebrates his wins with a kiss from his wife and a family bike ride. Taylor Crabb… well, let’s just say he celebrates the typical way someone in the mid-twenties would.
The seasoned vet and the wild-child newbie ended up being perfect for each other. Both are laid back and work really hard. Their partnership has grown in respect and affection. I guess it’s hard not to get along when you’re winning so often. Which this team has done since their impetus four years ago. Can they keep it up and secure Jake’s fourth and final Olympic Games? Will Taylor make the Olympics on his first try? Or will his big bro steal his spot?
Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb
Growing up, Trevor Crabb also played volleyball but prioritized basketball. He played for a year at a college in Seattle before transferring for volleyball. He took to volleyball like a duck to water – he played in the coveted Outside Hitter position at Long Beach State and then earned 2014 AVP Newcomer of the Year in his rookie year on Tour.
It took a few years for Trevor to win his first AVP, but the two wins he has are big-time. The first came in 2019 when he won the coveted spot on the Manhattan Beach Pier by winning the Manhattan Beach Open with Reid Priddy. And then he got his first AVP title with partner Tri Bourne at the final AVP Champions Cup Series event — The Porsche Cup.
But what’s Tri’s story? This youngest child in an ultra-athletic family (he’s named Tri because both of his parents are triathletes) wasn’t highly recruited at first. But with a push from longtime buddy and teammate Riley McKibbin, USC took a chance on Tri.
After a successful and well-rounded college career and a couple of seasons playing indoor overseas, Tri made his pro beach debut. He was the 2013 Newcomer of the Year, and just two years later, he was half of the 2015 AVP Team of the Year with Johnny Hyden. After the 2016 Games in Rio, Tri turned his sights to the next Olympic cycle. But an unexpected and devastating autoimmune disease took Tri out of the game for 18 months.
When Tri returned in mid-2018, most teams were set and unwilling to take a chance on his return. All except fellow Hawaiian native and braddah-from-anaddah-maddah (not to be confused with the actual brothers) Trevor Crabb. These two childhood friends teamed up for the final three events of the 2018 season and progressively finished higher, earning a 7th, 5th, and 3rd.
Their success prompted a Tokyo run together. These two relatively undersized blockers split-block, a method where both players block and play defense throughout the match. This is pretty rare on the professional circuit, but the two instinctual, wily, and in-sync athletes pulled it off. They earned an impressive 4th place at the 2019 World Champs and held the top USA Olympic spot for a year. But, as we know, they have some catching up to do to claim their ticket to the Games.
Also – if you’re wondering, Taylor and Trevor are buds again. Quarantine (and video games) brought them back together. So sweet. But their rivalry lives on; just check out the most recent Crabb Boil in Cancun.