Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser co-authored the latest and possibly the greatest chapter in Santa Barbara’s long and proud history as a host city of beach volleyball tournaments.
John Hyden and Brad Keenan had Rogers/Dalhausser, the world and Olympic champions, buried up to the tops of their skulls in the men’s final of the $200,000 AVP Crocs Cup Shootout at West Beach on Sunday afternoon. Another handful of sand would do it Hyden/Keenan had a 14-9 lead in the decisive third game of the match. They needed one more point to clinch the day’s second big upset. Two-time gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh had earlier lost in the women’s semifinals.
Even though they were the hometown favorites, nobody in the crowd of 3,000 thought Rogers/Dalhausser had a realistic chance, not even the principals themselves. “I knew we were going to lose,” Dalhausser said. Rogers, his 34-year-old bones aching from a weekend of jumping on the hard-packed sand, was ready to congratulate his opponents. “I would have been stoked for Brad winning his first tournament,” Rogers said. “They played well. I was tired.”
Rogers delayed the inevitable by hitting a side-out spike. Dalhausser went back to serve with the team trailing 10-14. He said his only hope was to “go out with a bang” by making Hyden/Keenan work for their winning point. “I thought I could stuff a couple balls and put pressure on them,” he said.
What happened next defies credibility. Dalhausser, whose brand has been transformed from “Thin Beast” to “Beijing Beast” by announcer Chris “Geeter” McGee, scored back-to-back points on stuff blocks. Then Keenan hit a ball off the top of the net and out of bounds, Dalhausser got another block, and it was deuce 14-14.
Rogers saved a match point at 14-15 when he poked a ball off the block of Keenan. Dalhausser came up with another block that tilted the match in his and Rogers’ favor for the first time at 16-15. It was 19-18 when a spike caromed off Rogers toward the harbor. “I saw a little air under it and thought I’d give it a chase,” Dalhausser said. Fully extended, he bumped the ball back over his head to Rogers, who assayed the situation and lofted a high ball over the net. That gave Dalhausser time to get back on his feet and run to the net where he smothered a ball off the hand of Hyden into the sand. Point, game, amazing match.
The final scores of this comeback for the ages were 16-21, 21-19, 20-18. “It’s just ridiculous,” Rogers said, still finding it hard to believe they won when the AVP’s Leonard Armato presented them with a ceremonial $20,000 check.
Reminded that he could sleep in his own bed tonight, the exhausted Rogers said, “My own bed, my own town, my own everything.”
“Everything” might be another word for the 28-year-old Dalhausser. He and Rogers have been in the winners’ circle 14 times this year and 34 times since they teamed up in 2006. “Thank God he’s my partner,” Rogers said.
In the women’s final, Jenny Johnson Jordan/Annett Davis defeated Jennifer Boss/April Ross, 21-16, 24-22. Johnson Jordan climbed the stairs to hug her mother Betsey and father, the legendary Olympian Rafer Johnson. “Thank you, Santa Barbara, we love it here,” Jenny told the crowd. “It means a lot for me to be able to win in front of my family.” She and Davis have played together for nine years and won 11 titles.
Boss/Ross were the semifinal victors over May-Treanor/Walsh in another tremendous three-setter, 21-18, 15-21, 20-18. The third game would have ended sooner but for some incredible saves at match point by May-Treanor. She and Walsh lost their second match in two weeks since the Olympics after putting together a 112-match winning streak.
Shortly after the No. 1-seeded women went down, the No. 2 team lost too, as Johnson Jordan/Davis ousted Nicole Branagh/Elaine Youngs in the semifinals, 21-18, 21-23, 15-12. Rogers/Dalhausser polished off the second-seeded Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal in the men’s semis, 28-26, 21-18.
Dax Holdren‘s last tournament in his hometown ended Sunday morning, when third-seeded Nick Lucena/Sean Scott outlasted Holdren/Will Strickland, 23-21, 18-21, 15-10. Hyden/Keenan, seeded No. 6, swept Lucena/Scott in the semifinals.
Holdren, who is retiring at the end of the year, received a commendation from Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum in a ceremony preceding the finals. Rogers, his former San Marcos High teammate and his first partner on the beach, testified that the best thing about Holdren is his love of his wife Jen and sons Kobe and Ellis. Holdren also received praise from Stein Metzger, his partner at the 2004 Olympics.
The AVP Crocs Cup Shootout series goes to San Francisco next weekend with the top 12 men’s and women’s teams from Santa Barbara. After that event, eight teams of each gender will get a shot at the Crocs Championship at the September 19-21 Manhattan Beach Open, which is being billed as the first $1 million beach volleyball tournament.