It wasn't all that long ago that Phil Dalhausser began to see the writing on the wall, that his career as arguably the greatest blocker in American beach volleyball history was coming to an end, that the Tokyo Olympics would likely be his last international tournament, and that, as a result, there really wasn't much sense in continuing to live in California.
But Florida? Florida's home. Florida is where Dalhausser was raised, where he first began to play the sport that gave him so much. And Florida is where, upon moving shortly after competing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Dalhausser saw something you don’t see much in California: Grass.
Acres and acres of it, right across the street from his home in Orlando. Four soccer fields’ worth of the stuff.
An idea was born.
"I'm like 'Man this is a perfect spot for a grass tournament,'" Dalhausser recalled. But Dalhausser, for all his acumen as a player, didn't know the first thing about throwing a grass tournament. Heck, it had been nearly two decades since he last competed on the grass, in Pottstown in 2004, an event he recalls with a laugh and says he still might be sore from.
"I've never been so sore in my life," the Thin Beast recalled. "It's big court, all old school rules, and there’s 80 teams in open or something. An insane amount of volleyball."
A type of volleyball that’s attractive to both beach and indoor players alike. The surface more closely resembles that of the indoor game, as does its style of play – physical, with big serves and bigger swings. But the conditions – maybe windy, maybe rainy, maybe sunny, maybe a bit of all three – are closer to the beach, as is the number of players on the court, with most grass tournaments featuring two or three players on a team. To throw grass tournaments is to marry the two types of volleyball together, and to marry the two types of volleyball together is, in Dalhausser's mind, going to attract more players to the sport.
That rising tide in participation, to borrow a phrase, would lift all boats in this proverbial beach volleyball ocean.
"To me, having indoor players come outside is a good thing for the beach," Dalhausser said. "Maybe they go 'I kinda like this, I’m touching the ball every play,' maybe that brings more players to the beach. The more people playing on the sand, it’s better for the beach game."
In a way, then, Dalhausser is growing the beach game in the indirect manner of hosting a pair of grass volleyball clinics, one at The Clash, a tournament he played in his college days at the University of Central Florida, and another at the 30th annual Pottstown Rumble.
"I want to get out there and show my face in the grass world," Dalhausser said. "I think grass is going to be popular. I think it's going to be indoor players and beach playing, and that's never really happened before. Usually, you're strictly an indoor player or strictly a beach player. There are a few people who go back and forth, but it's pretty rare. Now it kind of marries the two sports. I think there's an opportunity in grass volleyball, and I have these humongous soccer fields down the street, restaurants, everything is set up perfectly. I want to get grass going."
It's already been growing plenty. When Volley America merged with the AVP in 2018, grass was at the forefront of AVPAmerica Director Carly Gant's priorities.
"There is an emerging sport that we are bringing continuity to but still giving it its space to be what it always has been," she said. "We are providing opportunities for all levels of players to compete while helping grow the local tours and volleyball communities. Our partnership with USAV is integral in breaking into the indoor market and getting some of those players onto the grass for an easier transition. Working with Phil and Jen [Dalhausser's wife] has been so fun. We plan to have Phil attend several more Grass Tour events including Grass Nationals in Chattanooga this year. Be on the lookout for some interesting things there this year, as Chattanooga also offers two sand volleyball courts. We are working on the programming now for that event. Grass and sand in one place is awesome!"
Throughout, Dalhausser, a consummate learner, will be taking notes – here's how you format a tournament, here's how you attain permits, here's how you keep things running when the inevitable Florida rain sprinkles or pours in buckets from the sky. Soon, he'll be making use of those soccer fields down the street.
Soon, Phil Dalhausser, one of the greatest to ever touch a beach volleyball, will be making his own transition to the grass, marrying the two sports together in the perpetual growth of the game, no matter the surface.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew