At every tournament, Casey Patterson and his peers usually end up congregating at the same place. It’s not a clique, but it’s easy to spot the older players on the beach volleyball tour by looking into the athletes’ tent.
“We have our corner,” Patterson said. “We’re talking about soccer and diapers.” During the tournament, if one of the older pairs is in the final, “we call it ‘protecting the nest.’ We don’t want to lose to any of these younger guys.”
Patterson and Phil Dalhausser never envisioned being among the older set, the guys in that corner, talking about their kids. “I thought 39 was old in general,” Dalhausser said.
Here they are, though, both 39 with kids, and they can see the next phase of their careers kick in as this weekend’s Manhattan Beach Open essentially marks one year until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Dalhausser, a gold medalist in 2008, said definitively that this is his fourth and final Olympics run, and Patterson, a 2016 Olympian, said this is likely his last attempt as well.
“I’m not getting younger, and the world tour guys are getting younger,” Patterson said. “It’s getting harder and harder to dominate.”
Both cite traveling on the world tour as parents being a tough adjustment. Dalhausser has a 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Patterson has two sons and two daughters, ages 2 to 10. Dalhausser’s life is either jumping up for a block in the sand or bending his 6-foot-9 frame down to play with his daughter, Sophia.
“Right now, it’s just princesses and unicorns and pink and purple,” Dalhausser said.
The ironic part of this older-guy notion is that both players are enjoying some summer sizzle. Patterson and partner Chase Budinger enter Manhattan Beach fresh off a win in Hermosa Beach, Budinger’s first win on the AVP Tour, and, in May, the two made the finals of the Huntington Beach Open.
Dalhausser and longtime partner Nick Lucena won the New York City Open in June. They are tied with Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne as the top-ranked American teams in the latest FIVB Olympic rankings. Patterson and Budinger are the sixth-best U.S. duo.
Two U.S. men’s and women’s pairs can qualify for the 2020 Olympics, based on a points system in the two-year window leading up to Tokyo.
“It’s definitely a goal to medal there,” Dalhausser said. “We still have to qualify, which we’re in a pretty good spot. Our results, we’re not lighting the world on fire … but [it’s] looking all right. But the thing is, we’re having good tournaments at the bigger events.”
Dalhausser is going for a three-peat and his eighth Manhattan Beach win, which would match Karch Kiraly’s record. But time is nipping at his barefoot heels. He recently pulled out of a tournament in Poland because of an abdominal injury, and Lucena this year wondered if his partner was retiring.
Dalhausser said he probably won’t play internationally after 2020. Part of him is considering his post-career life, perhaps as a beach volleyball coach near his home in Orlando, Fla. Maybe then he can take time to appreciate his run.
“I’ve kept all my trophies,” Dalhausser said. “I’m not much of a trophy person, but for that reason, maybe one day, I’m going to go through [and look at them] and kind of reflect that way.”
Dalhausser points out that he and Patterson aren’t the oldest players on tour. Jake Gibb is 43 and John Hyden is 46. Patterson remembers being paired with the then-39-year-old Gibb and thinking that was over the sand-covered hill.
“I felt like it was almost embarrassing,” Patterson said. “[I thought,] 39 and still playing? What are you doing?”
Patterson is now that guy. He’s wears an ankle brace because he’s sustained so many twists and tweaks, and three years ago, he contracted Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes fatigue and inflammation, among other ailments. He said he’s rebounded physically and learned to manage the autoimmune disorder.
On the court, Patterson is content in a support role behind the blocking and hard hitting of Budinger, who has given Patterson renewed spirit and energy. Budinger took part in a funny AVP Twitter video last month in which Patterson’s 4-year-old daughter, Ray, “interviewed” players.
“Who’s your favorite player?” Ray asked Budinger.
“Well, that’s an easy one,” Budinger said. “That’s my partner, Casey Patterson.”
Nearby, her father laughed, from that corner of the athlete’s tent where the older guys hang out.