Beach Volleyball

Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb
Getty Images

Crabb brothers, once beach volleyball partners, now rivals for Olympic spot

Leave a comment

Trevor Crabb and Taylor Crabb began this Olympic cycle as beach volleyball partners. The brothers are now rivals, competing against one another for an Olympic berth.

“It’s a good story, how it ended,” Trevor said of their breakup.

The climax came at the first AVP event after the 2016 Olympics (the Crabbs didn’t qualify for Rio). Trevor, 26, and Taylor, 24, reached the semifinals in Chicago, two match wins from their first title together.

Trevor said they were required to attend a sponsor-thrown player party on the Saturday night before the final four. He left the gathering early to rest before the last day of the tournament.

“Taylor ended up staying out all night and partying,” Trevor said, laughing. “I show up the next morning to the player tent, and I see him, and I could just tell that he was completely hung over.”

Taylor confirmed the story. They were swept out of the semifinals 21-12, 21-16 in what turned out to be their last match as partners.

“That was kind of the tipping point right then,” Trevor said. “We just got annihilated in the semis and were totally just yelling at each other the whole match.”

The Crabbs flew back to Redondo Beach, Calif., where they share a home.

“[Trevor] was sitting on the couch, and I walked to him,” Taylor said. “I said, hey, I think we should play with separate partners going forward. He says, yeah, sounds good. That was it.

“At that point we weren’t talking at all. While we were playing together, we strictly played volleyball together and that’s it. We didn’t hang out. We didn’t do anything together.”

They broke the news to their parents.

“I was disappointed that they chose not to [keep playing together], but I think it’s helped them grow,” said Paula Crabb, a longtime champion canoe racer who just started her 44th year as a physical education teacher at Honolulu’s Punahou School, which produced Barack Obama.

“I was there when he was,” she said of Obama, who graduated in 1979. “He was on the basketball team. I didn’t teach him, though.”

Though Taylor was out too late in Chicago, he won the breakup.

After that AVP event, he connected with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb, who was looking for a new partner after playing with Casey Patterson in Rio. Though Gibb was 40, he was still one of the best U.S. blockers and, importantly for Taylor, had a bevy of FIVB points to earn automatic entry into events.

Trevor had no partner immediately lined up. He played with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and John Mayer before teaming with childhood friend Tri Bourne, with whom he’s now making a Tokyo 2020 run.

Paula, who has the summers off from teaching, now splits time watching each son’s matches. Sometimes they play at the same time on different courts. She doesn’t keep close track of Olympic qualifying, but she knows both are in the running.

“It would be great if both of them did,” get to Tokyo, she said. “Both following their dreams. If one did, that’s great, too. I’ll take anything right now.”

This weekend’s season-ending FIVB World Tour Finals could prove critical for the Crabbs and their new partners. They are among three U.S. teams chasing a maximum of two Olympic spots.

Olympic qualifying, which began last year, runs into June, but the 2020 season schedule hasn’t been set yet. The World Tour Finals, which award the maximum qualifying points among annual tournaments, could be the last five-star-level event before the Tokyo Games.

Right now, Trevor and Bourne lead the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with 5,600 points in 11 tournaments. In second place: 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his partner, Nick Lucena, with 4,880. In third: Taylor and Gibb with 4,260.

A caveat: Trevor and Bourne have played 11 tournaments. Dalhausser and Lucena and Taylor and Gibb have each played nine. Come the Olympic qualifying cutoff in June, each team’s 12 best results are counted. Going by average points gained so far, Dalhausser and Lucena are in the lead (542 per event), followed by Trevor and Bourne (509) and Taylor and Gibb (473). The U.S. teams must also attain a certain international ranking to qualify. That’s not guaranteed and could create more complications.

Taylor and Gibb were in better position at the start of 2019, but they haven’t made any semifinals this international season. Meanwhile, Trevor and Bourne made a stunning run to the world championships semifinals to boost their stock.

But last month, Bourne broke his right hand celebrating a match win. He hit the referee stand with his fists, but it wasn’t padded like he expected. They had to forfeit out of the five-star event. Bourne is playing left-handed this week. They lost their first match 21-13, 21-13 on Thursday.

The Crabbs could become the second set of brothers or sisters to play on different beach volleyball teams at an Olympics, according to Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen. German twins Christoph and Markus Dieckmann had different partners in 2004.

Two sets of Olympic siblings played together with decent success — the Austrian Schwaiger sisters and the Swiss Laciga brothers, the latter known for not talking to each other during a decade-long run.

“Because every time one made a suggestion to the other, they’d imploded, they figured it was best not to say anything,” Misty May-Treanor wrote in her book.

Taylor and Trevor said they have been on good terms for the last year and a half, once things cooled over.

“Our relationship’s better than it’s ever been,” Taylor said. “It’s great for both of our careers and our games that we don’t have that extra baggage and tension and stress from playing with each other.”

And if only one of them can make the Olympic team?

“If it does come down to us two battling it out for that last spot, I’m happy that it’s with them,” Taylor said. “If they do happen to get it, I’ll be proud of them either way. I grew up with Tri, too.”

Gibb, at 44, is in the twilight of his career. Taylor could very well be looking for a new partner after Tokyo. Both brothers said they are open to partnering up again. It would certainly make it easier on mom flying from Hawaii to watch their matches.

“I’m just hoping there’s still a day where they can get back together,” Paula said.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Race for Olympic beach volleyball spots heats up World Tour Finals

Getty Images
Leave a comment

April Ross and Alix Klineman can all but wrap up an Olympic beach volleyball berth this weekend. For Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, a strong finish at the FIVB World Tour Finals in Rome may prove crucial for Tokyo 2020 hopes.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage Saturday (6 a.m. ET quarterfinals and 12 p.m. semifinals) and same-day finals coverage Sunday at 12 p.m. NBCSN airs coverage Sunday at 11 p.m.

The international season ends with a bucket of Olympic qualifying points available. There will be more tournaments in the fall, winter and spring before the Olympic qualifying cutoff date of June 14, but the majority of next season’s schedule has not been announced.

“It’s so uncertain right now,” NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong said. “You need to lock in points as soon as possible. We don’t know how many events there are going to be next year.”

And there might not be any events with as many Olympic qualifying points at stake as the World Tour Finals, which carries five-star-level status. Only the biennial world championships, which took place earlier this season, had greater ramifications.

A maximum of two U.S. pairs per gender can qualify for the Tokyo Games.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, her new partner as of two years ago, are ranked No. 1 in the world. With the World Tour Finals, they will reach the requirement of 12 events played to be eligible for the Olympics.

They already have 8,160 Olympic qualifying points, which is 1,280 better than the next-best U.S. team of Walsh Jennings and Sweat.

Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion who split with Ross after their Rio Olympic bronze medals, paired with Sweat about a year ago. They have been up and down but grinded through qualifying matches to reach main draws all season.

They have a 580-point lead for the second and final U.S. Olympic spot over the No. 3 American team of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil.

Both pairs have met the 12-tournament requirement, which means each is playing to replace their lowest-scoring result so far. Teams can play as many tournaments as they like in the Olympic qualifying window, but only their 12 best points results count.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat are looking to drop a 480-point score. Claes and Sponcil want to drop a 240-point score, which means they can finish lower than Walsh Jennings and Sweat this weekend and still gain on them in the qualifying standings.

The World Tour Finals winners get 1,200 points, a significant increase over a four-star event (800 points) and a three-star event (600 points).

On the men’s side, three pairs are also in the running for two Olympic spots. The teams include 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and brothers playing with different partners — Taylor Crabb with Jake Gibb and Trevor Crabb with Tri Bourne.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

FIVB
Leave a comment

HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split