(L-R) Sean Rosenthal and Phil Dalhausser hold their trophies aloft after winning the men's final of the FIVB Smart Grand Slam at Foro Italico on June 23, 2013 in Rome, Italy.
|Phil Dalhausser blocks a shot during his semifinal match at
the AVP Crocs San Francisco Open on Aug. 16, 2009.
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Looking at them now, Olympian beach volleyball partners Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal don’t seem to be much different.
For sure, Dalhausser is taller. And Rosenthal does wear his cap backwards. Dalhausser is the blocker. And Rosenthal does spend a lot of time in the sand as the digger.
On the court, though, their demeanor seems the same. They are both quiet. Polite, even.
But in a tale spanning two coasts, the stories of the young lives of Dalhausser and Rosenthal couldn’t be more different.
Dalhausser, 33, was raised in Ormond Beach, Fla., a suburb of Daytona Beach. He went to high school, earned a college degree, had a job painting stripes on Florida highways and eventually became a professional volleyball player and Olympic gold medalist.
“Growing up, I had it about as normal as it gets,” Dalhausser said.
Rosenthal, 33, was raised in Redondo Beach, Calif. With six siblings and a single mother on welfare, his daily existence differed greatly from that of most teenagers.
At 14, he was rolling out of bed between 3:45 a.m. and 5 a.m. to go to work. By the time other high school students were reaching for their alarms, Rosenthal already had spent several hours laying fiber-optic cables in office buildings.
Eventually, Rosenthal switched from regular school to continuation school, in part because it started later in the day and also because his grades and credits slipped as a freshman. But after school, life got fun. He’d hit the beach and play volleyball. And eventually, he became a professional volleyball player and U.S. Olympian.
Rosenthal saw that a good life was about making the right choices.
“I’ve seen a lot, and I could have easily chosen any direction I wanted,” Rosenthal said Thursday at the FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam, part of the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, Calif. “But I pretty much saw what I didn’t want. Now, I play sports for a living. I’ve been watching sports since I was 2 years old. And it’s what I found that I love."
At the end of last season, Dalhausser and Rosenthal made a big choice: they both left longtime partners and decided to play together. It was a major move in beach volleyball. Their team has won two of the seven FIVB tournaments this season, more than any other team. They were seeded fourth and ranked 11th in the FIVB 2013 season rankings entering the Long Beach Grand Slam. Going into Saturday’s semifinal, they are 5-0 in the tournament.
The ultimate goal, they said, is to make the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. The goal right now, however, is to continue adapting to the new pairing.
Dalhausser left longtime partner Todd Rogers, 39, with whom he won the Olympic gold in 2008. They were one of the most dominant and successful teams in volleyball and had played together for seven years.
|Sean Rosenthal hits a shot at the AVP Crocs Manhattan Beach
Open on July 18, 2009 in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Rogers has said he wanted to cut back on international competition. Dalhausser said he needed a change.
“I moved to the right side, which is a big deal in volleyball because the angles are different, and the setting is tougher, it’s just all different,” Dalhausser said. “Sean is a left-side defender, and I thought that would be the perfect transition for me to move on to for the second part of my career. And we are doing alright."
Rosenthal and Jake Gibb, 37, had also played together for seven years, including two Olympic Games. In 2012, they won the FIVB World Tour Championship.
“Jake was a little surprised,” Rosenthal said. “We had our best year last year. But I couldn’t say no to Phil because, in my eyes, he’s the best player in the world. If I can get in and get my game in sync with his, I feel that we can be the best team in the world."
Gibb and his new partner, Casey Patterson, 33, are ranked No. 4 in the world and seeded No. 1 in the event this week in Long Beach.
“But it’s great to see Jake and Casey doing so well,” Rosenthal said. “For a month or so after I told him I was (switching partners), I helped him out. I went to a couple of practices and helped him with who he should play with, and obviously, he made the right choice with Casey."
This is the first time in a decade that the FIVB has held a tournament in the United States. Both Rosenthal and Dalhausser live in Southern California, so they have loved playing at home in front of friends and family.
Rosenthal has a following of fans from his hometown beach area called, “Rosie’s Raiders."
“I live 20 minutes from here, so I’m sleeping in my own bed tonight,” said Rosenthal, who owns a home in Redondo Beach.
Rosenthal said he and his girlfriend, former beach volleyball player Kayce Matthess, are expecting a child Dec. 27.
Dalhausser, and his wife, Jennifer, have a 7-week old baby, Sebastian. They live in Thousand Oaks, about an hour or so away from Long Beach.
All the travel on the tour can be hard on family life, but Rosenthal says all-in-all, it’s a pretty good life.
“We have the best office in the world,” he said, standing in front of the Pacific Ocean. “I go into a timeout box in Paris, and look out and say, ‘Hey, there’s the Eiffel Tower. Things could be worse.’ I love the game; I love the freedom.”
Maryann Hudson is a freelance writer from Pasadena, Calif. She was previously an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2012 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.