The last time Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena played together at the Manhattan Beach Open, they ended up in second place — but that was 10 years ago. Now, they're partners again, and hoping to one-up their previous Manhattan Beach finish.
Dalhausser and Lucena were teammates for three seasons, but broke off in 2006 when Todd Rogers recruited Dalhausser to play with him. Dalhausser would win a gold medal with Rogers at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and Lucena has remained a consistent force on the AVP tour.
"There were no hard feelings," Lucena said. "I knew it was inevitable. Phil was probably the best blocker coming up and there were a handful of defenders that wanted to play with him. I thought we did well that year, but it was a no-brainer to play with Todd."
They've been close since their college days — Dalhausser went to Central Florida, while Lucena attended Florida State.
"Since he lived in Tallahassee and I lived in Orlando, we would hang out on the weekends, just playing volleyball, really," Dalhausser said.
Shortly after graduating, the duo went from volleyball buddies to roommates.
"We never really hung out socially, I guess, until we moved up to South Carolina together," Dalhausser said. "We spent every single minute together because we lived together, practiced together."
The move to South Carolina was to compete professionally on the East Coast. They roomed with two other players, and remember those days fondly.
"One of the guys' parents had an amazing house right on the beach there, so it was free rent," Dalhausser said. "It was just a perfect recipe for debauchery and idiocy."
To make ends meet as their volleyball careers were taking off, they worked as substitute teachers, though without quite as much patience and control as they exhibit on the sand.
"We substituted one time in back-to-back rooms, and all I hear is, 'Sit down! Sit in your seat!' I look out the door and Phil is just yelling," Lucena said. "He's kind of quiet, but when he's teaching, he doesn't put up with anything."
Even after Dalhausser paired with Rogers, he and Lucena continued to hang out as though nothing had changed. They trained together, lived in the same house in Santa Monica for a brief period, and enjoyed their fair amount of video games — particularly Halo and Call of Duty. Their new game of choice is Clash of Clans, which Dalhausser admits is "really, really nerdy."
Lucena even introduced Dalhausser to the woman who would become his wife. Jennifer Dalhausser competed in qualifiers this year at Manhattan Beach.
Less than a month ago, Phil Dalhausser and his most recent partner, Sean Rosenthal, went their separate ways, and Lucena decided to reach out about reuniting.
"I just shot him an email about maybe playing in the future, and it ended up happening sooner than I thought," Lucena said.
In their return to action, the duo finished second at the Seattle Open, and they got off to a strong start Friday at the Manhattan Beach Open, winning their first match, 21-13, 21-17, and their second match, 21-14, 21-17. They're still adjusting, but both believe they're better now than they were a decade ago.
"We were just athletes," Dalhausser said. "We hit every single ball, we didn't have a game plan."
"Yeah, we're 10 times the players that we were 10 years ago," Lucena added. "We have more strategy now."