Phil Dalhausser

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
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Phil Dalhausser is fifth U.S. man to win 100 beach volleyball titles

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Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena remain perfect since beach volleyball’s return amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 40-year-olds won their second AVP Champions Cup tournament in as many weeks, giving the 2008 Olympic champion Dalhausser his 100th career tournament title.

They beat fellow Tokyo Olympic hopefuls Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb in a second straight Sunday final, this time 21-9, 21-15 in Long Beach, Calif.

“I’m just grateful that I can make a living playing the sport, and to have 100 pro wins, that’s pretty darn cool,” Dalhausser said on Amazon Prime.

Earlier, April Ross and Alix Klineman won a second straight women’s title, beating Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 21-15, 21-19 in a battle of the world’s top two teams. NBCSN airs coverage of the finals on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

Dalhausser became the seventh U.S.  player, and fifth man, to reach 100 titles, according to Bvbinfo.com. The leaderboard:

1. Karch Kiraly (148)
2. Sinjin Smith (139)
3. Kerri Walsh Jennings (135)
4. Randy Stoklos (122)
5. Misty May-Treanor (112)
6. Kent Steffes (110)
7. Phil Dalhausser (100)

Dalhausser owns 59 AVP titles. Most came with 2008 Olympic champion partner Todd Rogers before they broke up after the 2012 London Games. The last two with Lucena came on consecutive weekends on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

“It’s been about the same, two little angry guys I’m dealing with,” the 6-foot-9 Dalhausser joked of Lucena, his first partner with whom he reunited, and Rogers. Dalhausser said last year that he plans to retire from international play after the Tokyo Olympics, which have since been postponed to 2021.

The three-week AVP Champions Cup marks the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March.

Dalhausser and Lucena, Gibb and Crabb and Tri Bourne and Crabb’s older brother, Trevor, will battle next year for two U.S. Olympic men’s spots.

Dalhausser and Lucena rank third more than halfway through qualifying, but they still have one more tournament to count, while the other teams can only count a result in place of a worse previous result.

Dalhausser and Lucena would both break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, according to Olympedia.org. As would the 44-year-old Gibb. And Walsh Jennings, 41.

AVP results do not count toward Olympic qualifying. The schedule has not been set for the resumption of top-level international tournaments that count in Olympic qualifying.

MORE: The team that plans to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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Correction: An earlier version of this post didn’t specify that the career wins list didn’t include international players.

Will Kerri Walsh Jennings qualify for Tokyo? Olympic beach volleyball questions linger during break

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
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The race for beach volleyball spots was among the most compelling across U.S. Olympic qualifying when the coronavirus pandemic halted competition.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time gold medalist, and new partner Brooke Sweat held a small lead for the second and final women’s berth. Three men’s teams, including 2008 Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, were tightly battling for two spots.

It shaped up to be a pivotal spring. Now, uncertainty. Not only when will tournaments resume, but also how will the Olympic qualification process be amended.

Under the original rankings system, a team counted its top 12 finishes in tournaments from Sept. 1, 2018 to June 14, 2020. Nearly all of the top teams reached the 12-tournament minimum, meaning they were competing in 2020 to improve on their lowest results.

The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has not announced what changes will be made now that the Olympics are postponed until 2021. Obstacles are plenty once sports resume, starting with rescheduling tournaments and/or determining a 2021 schedule.

“Is it going to be fewer events to qualify, or is it going to be more events to qualify?” NBC Olympics analyst Kevin Wong said. “There’s still a lot of question marks about that.”

Wong believes that Walsh Jennings might gain the most from the extra year. Even though, at 41, she is older than any previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

“In general, the delay helps the more mature athletes, the older athletes, and it hurts the younger athletes,” Wong said. “Older athletes, they know their bodies better. They’ve played more. There’s more muscle memory there and more in the data banks. So, they’re going to be able to refine.”

April Ross and Alix Klineman, the 2019 World silver medalists, had a nearly insurmountable cushion for the first of two U.S. Olympic spots when sports were halted.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat were in second place, 320 points ahead of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil. Claes, 24, and Sponcil, 23, are closer in age to Walsh Jennings’ three children than the legend herself.

Top teams average more than 550 points per tournament. Claes and Sponcil benefit in that their 11th- and 12th-best scores (400 points each) are lower than those of Walsh Jennings and Sweat (480 points each). If and when Claes and Sponcil put up strong results in future tournaments, they would gain more points by throwing out lower scores.

“Sarah and Kelly, each tournament they’re learning new things,” Wong said. “This [canceling tournaments] is the kind of the thing where you’re taking away their biggest opportunities to grow and get better.”

The U.S. men’s standings:

Taylor Crabb/Jake Gibb — 6,680 points
Trevor Crabb/Tri Bourne — 6,360 points
Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena — 5,840 points (in 11 events)

The Crabbs are brothers who formerly played together. Gibb, 44, is three years older than the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history. Bourne, after just missing the Rio Olympics, went nearly two years between events due to an autoimmune disease.

Dalhausser, who earned gold with Todd Rogers in 2008, has been the top American for the last decade-plus. He mulled retirement in 2018. Dalhausser said last year that he planned to make 2020 his last international season.

Plans change.

“More than ever, this is a time where motivation becomes a thing,” Wong said.

If Dalhausser and Lucena move forward, they will likely pass Crabb and Bourne for second place once they play their 12th event in Olympic qualifying. Dalhausser and Lucena average 530 points per event. Adding another one of those would put them into second place by 10 points.

The Olympic favorites established themselves the last two seasons. Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum on the men’s side. Ross and Klineman and Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes for the women.

“But I think this delay brings more uncertainty,” Wong said. “There was a pretty proven pecking order on the women’s side, and now you have a lot of time to think. I also think, though, that [Ross and Klineman] were a little banged up early in this year. I think, if this has more fortuitous timing for anyone, it would be them.”

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Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is postponed

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U.S. beach volleyball players Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil learned about five hours before their scheduled flight to Australia that this week’s FIVB World Tour event in Gold Coast, carrying significant Olympic qualifying points, was postponed due to coronavirus concerns. They didn’t board.

Olympians Phil Dalhausser was already in Australia.

“The Coronavirus has officially affected the beach volleyball world,” was posted on the 2008 Olympic gold medalist Dalhausser’s Instagram. “Unfortunately the Australian tourney was suppose to start in a few days and most teams are already here.”

Efforts to reach Dalhausser, who is paired with Nick Lucena, have been unsuccessful, but he posted on Instagram over the weekend that he was touring Sydney.

Claes and Sponcil and Dalhausser and Lucena share this: They are the third-ranked U.S. pairs in women’s and men’s Olympic qualifying. The top two U.S. pairs per gender come a June 15 cutoff qualify for the Tokyo Games, unless the qualification procedures are changed given the coronavirus’ impact. Points are crucial for those teams just off the bubble.

The Gold Coast event was mid-level, given a three-star rating on a scale of one to five. The top two U.S. pairs per gender either didn’t enter the event or withdrew before scheduled flights.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, the three-time Olympic champion who is ranked second in Olympic qualifying with Brooke Sweat, posted that they and other U.S. teams decided collectively on Friday to withdraw from the Australia event.

“People had departing flights within hours of our decision,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ Instagram. “It was extremely hard for all of us because we were each weighing our Olympic dreams & professional livelihood against a global pandemic and National State of Emergency in our home country. No athlete should ever be in that situation.”

Claes and Sponcil and Dalhausser and Lucena, the latter having just played a four-star event in Doha, were still on the entry list on Saturday afternoon. The FIVB said preventative measures had been planned to protect those at the event, but it was ultimately postponed.

“The FIVB and the organizers recognize that there are international travel limitations and other restrictions in different parts of the world that impact the ability of some of the participants to take part in the event,” according to a press release. “The health of athletes, officials and fans is the FIVB’s top priority, and the mutual decision to postpone the event was made in the best interests of all parties.”

Previously, four-star events scheduled this spring in China (two of them) and Mexico had been postponed or canceled. That made the points offered in Australia more valuable for Olympic qualifying, which takes each pair’s top 12 finishes from Sept. 1, 2018 to June 14, 2020 with greater weight given to higher-starred events.

That timeline and process could change.

“The FIVB, working in close collaboration with the IOC, is evaluating how to adapt the Olympic qualification for beach volleyball in order to preserve the technical balance and protect the athletes in light of the recent event postponements,” according to an FIVB statement Monday.

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