A few months ago, I was reading a book called Barbarian Days, written by a writer, William Finnegan, whom I’d never heard of prior to reading but who quickly jumped to the top of my lengthy list of favorite writers, up there with Mitch Albom. I was so enamored with his writing that whenever I sat down to read the book, I’d keep a notebook handy and jot down many of his brilliant phrases, one of which was when he described a friend of his possessing a “powerful inwardness.” I jotted that description down with the sole intent of using it to describe an exceptional yet quiet athlete, one who doesn’t seek the spotlight but who has it nonetheless because he or she is just too damn good not to have it. And then I met Phil Dalhausser on the eighth episode of SANDCAST, and I found my guy.
Dalhausser possesses a certain powerful inwardness like no other person I’ve met, though Sean Rosenthal is a close second. He’s quiet but not antisocial; strays from media attention yet still commands a massive audience; is arguably the most talented blocker — or outright player — in beach volleyball history yet you’ll never hear him declare that.
I noticed this the first time I met him, at my first AVP event in New Orleans in 2015. He was wearing an Under Armour shirt that mentioned Baltimore, and I used that as an excuse — any excuse — to ask him for a photo, because “Hey! The crab on your shirt matches my crab tattoo and isn’t that neat!” He acquiesced, and I could see how much he didn’t want to stop and take the picture, but he did because he’s Phil Dalhausser, and as much as he seems to dislike being fawned upon by fans, he understands his role as an ambassador for the game and he’s just a good person. He took the picture. He even kinda sorta smiled in his own Phil way. And then he made the finals, because he’s Phil.
I had seen Dalhausser play prior to that. I’m easily sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole, but there’s something entirely different about watching him in person that makes you realize just how ridiculous he is. It’s difficult, even, to see this from the stands, when you’re a safe distance from getting blown up. Early last January, when our top teams were preparing for the Fort Lauderdale major, I sat and watched in Hermosa Beach as he and Lucena trained with Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb. Dalhausser made this hard angle swing that came in at such an absurd angle with such stupid velocity that I wondered how anyone ever digs him – in the rare instance that happens – at all. I’d never seen somebody hit it like that. Not that my experience is extensive in that regard, but it was, frankly, alarming, one of those hits where you look around and mouth to the guys next to you “Did you see that?”
Then he shrugged and went back to the service line.
Afterwards, Lucena shook his head, disappointed. They were playing awful, he said. So sloppy.
A week or two later, they beat Olympic gold medalists Alison and Bruno in an exhibition in Brazil. Then they did it again in Fort Lauderdale en route to a bronze medal, losing only to Evandro and Andre.
That’s Dalhausser’s and Lucena’s version of “sloppy” – third in one of the biggest events on the FIVB calendar. He has different standards because he’s an entirely different animal, a different beast.
A Thin Beast.
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