Hamburg, Germany, June 10, 2016 - The belief is still in a bit of suspended animation, so all the two presumptive United States’ Olympic teams can at the moment is play Beach Volleyball.
In the quarterfinals of the smart Major Hamburg at Am Rothenbaum stadium, they’ll do it with a little intra-squad workout. Except a lot more remains on the line for Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena, Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson.
A week after they clinched the U.S. team spots for the Rio 2016 Olympics, third-seeded Dalhausser and Lucena will take on sixth-seeded Gibb and Patterson with a chance to improve their lot in the seedings for the August spectacle on Copacabana. Naturally, they’re not ready to catch their breath yet.
“I’m not going to worry about it until someone else figures it out,” Patterson said. “It’s the last thing I need to think about when I’m out here trying to provide for my family.”
“Either way,” Lucena added, “there’s 24 great teams that can win a tournament so we’re going to have to battle some good teams. I’m not looking more toward matchups or anything like that because you can’t control who we’re going to play.”
The Hamburg event is the final tournament in which teams on the FIVB World Tour can snag qualification points, which will be also used to seed the teams for the Olympic tournament. Dalhausser and Lucena can do the most damage as they try to capture their third title of 2016, perhaps moving to as high as No. 2 in the provisional Olympic rankings.
Patterson and Gibb, seeking their first FIVB title since June of 2015, could make similar strides. But more important to the athletes is to keep their momentum going after clinching their qualification, which will be officially announced by USA Volleyball on Sunday.
Then the four American veterans can believe what they’ve accomplished to reach this point.
“If you had asked me a year ago if I’d be sitting in this position - last year I was playing Daddy Daycare and just kind of watching what was going on at the World Championships,” said Dalhausser, the Beijing 2008 gold medalist. “There was part of me that kind of liked it because I hate being away from the kids, but of course I missed (the volleyball) as well. I never thought I would have been in this position.”
He split up with partner Sean Rosenthal and turned to old friend Lucena, and they immediately bonded and earned the qualification spot in only 13 tournaments, one more than the minimum amount needed.
“This whole process of qualifying has kind of been unreal,” Lucena said. “I never thought we had a chance. I mean, there was a little chance but I kind of counted the Olympics out. When I decided to play with Phil, we just wanted to win tournaments, he’s the best player in the world and I wanted to play with him. The fact we did it I think I’ll be able to enjoy it after the Olympics. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a cool accomplishment.”
The 40-year-old Gibb, a two-time Olympian with Rosenthal, has long been a force at the net and has had countless duels with the 6-foot-9 Dalhausser over the years. Now he has the fiery Patterson behind him.
The teams have met only once since Dalhausser and Lucena formed their partnership last summer. Dalhausser and Lucena beat Gibb and Patterson in the 2015 FIVB Puerto Vallarta Open in October and lost to Gibb and Patterson in the FIVB Olsztyn Grand Slam in August.
“I’m stoked to play them, I love playing that team, they’re a great team and it’s always fun to play teams that are good buddies because there’s a lot of positive energy from both sides of the court,” Patterson said. “That makes for some magical things and it’s what I’m looking forward to the most.
“It’s incredible to be able to really play well going into the end of this Olympic qualification. We treat every one of these like a trial run for the Olympics.”
Both teams captured their pools earlier in the week and won their Round 2 knockout matches Friday. Dalhausser and Lucena beat the French tandem of Youssef Krou and Edouard Rowlandson, 22-20, 21-15, and Gibb and Patterson exacted some revenge on Christiaan Varenhorst and Reinder Nummerdor of the Netherlands, 19-21, 21-12, 15-13. They had lost to the Dutch duo in a three-set match last week in the Moscow Grand Slam.
“We’re stoked,” Patterson said. “That’s a good win it’s some good revenge from Russia. I feel like we had some unfinished business and we executed this time.”