LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Phil Dalhausser boarded a flight to Seattle in early August, bound for an AVP tournament, he found a familiar figure in the seat beside him: Sean Rosenthal.
It was the first time they’d seen each other since Dalhausser decided to end their two-year partnership and make a run for Rio with former partner Nick Lucena, with whom he started his career in 2003.
“It was a little awkward for the first two minutes, and then we got to talking about sports and video games,” Dalhausser said in advance of this week’s World Series of Beach Volleyball (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, semifinals) and Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, finals)). “And then we started playing Monopoly on my phone, so it was all good after that.”
Dalhausser, a two-time Olympian who won gold in Beijing with Todd Rogers, suffered an oblique injury May 28 while playing in Moscow. After a week of rest and three more rebuilding his strength, Dalhausser returned to competition with Rosenthal in Yokohama, Japan. The duo was eliminated in the round of 16 on July 24.
When Dalhausser flew home to California after the tournament, he found an email from Lucena expressing his interest in playing together again. It had been on Dalhausser’s mind, too.
“I always envisioned finishing my career with Nick,” Dalhausser said. The two first met while attending college in Florida and lived together in South Carolina before moving to California to focus on their beach volleyball careers.
For Rosenthal, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian with Jake Gibb, the split was unexpected. He quickly teamed up with Lucena’s former partner, Theo Brunner.
“I mean, it’s beach volleyball, and it does happen,” Rosenthal said. “The only thing was the timing of it, and they didn’t give us any heads up.”
Dalhausser and Rosenthal, both 35, won three FIVB events in their first year together in 2013 and then three more in 2014, more than any other pair. They had not made the semifinals of an FIVB World Tour event since last August’s World Series of Beach Volleyball, which they won.
The switch means both pairs will start from scratch in the Olympic qualification process and must compete in 12 FIVB events before June 12, 2016. The weight of the swap falls hardest on Brunner, who was part of the second-ranked American team in Olympic qualifying with Lucena, behind Gibb and Casey Patterson.
Two AVP events in Seattle and Manhattan Beach served as warm-ups for both partnerships before this week’s FIVB World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, where both will strive to earn points toward Olympic qualification.
Dalhausser and Lucena finished second in Seattle and first in Manhattan Beach, while Brunner and Rosenthal finished fifth and seventh. Though the results do not factor into Olympic qualification, it gave Rosenthal an idea of the workload that awaits.
“We’ve got a long, bumpy road ahead of us,” he said. “If we’d had a start at the beginning of the year, I think we’d be right there battling teams for first and second spots. [Those] weren’t the exact finishes we want, but it was good to maybe get those losses now.”
Dalhausser and Rosenthal could be on opposite sides of the net this week for the first time since their split.
“We were kind of hoping to get a shot in Seattle or Manhattan, but we didn’t match up in the brackets,” Rosenthal said. “But hopefully we match up here. It would be cool to knock them out.”