It may not have the backdrop of the majestic Alps or the ornate historic buildings of Horse Guards Parade, but it’s home.
For the first time in two years, Todd Rogers will make the drive from his Solvang house to play a tournament on Santa Barbara sand this weekend as he and partner Phil Dalhausser compete in the $225,000 AVP Championships at West Beach.
The tournament is the second under new AVP owner Donald Sun, who bought the bankrupt tour last April for $2 million. It features the top 12 men’s and women’s teams from last weekend’s AVP Cincinnati Open.
Rogers and Dalhausser are seeded third behind Sean Scott and John Hyden, and Matt Fuerbringer and Nick Lucena. Scott-Hyden are on a roll, having won three straight tournaments: Milwaukee, Manhattan Beach and Cincinnati. They beat Roger-Dalhausser in the semifinals and Fuerbringer-Lucena in the final in Cincinnati. Also in the field are Olympians Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal.
On the women’s side, London Olympics silver medalists and Cincinnati winners Jen Kessy and April Ross are the No. 1 seed. The second seed is gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh. Walsh Jennings won her third Olympics title in London with Misty May Treanor last month. Branagh played in the 2008 Olympics.
The tournament fields will be divided into three four-team pools. The pool winners and the runner-up team with the best record advance to single-elimination semifinals on Saturday. The finals are Sunday, the women at 10 a.m. and men at 11:30 a.m.
First place is worth $25,000. If the champion goes undefeated, the payout is $47,500.
Rogers-Dalhausser have spent the last few years playing on the FIVB World Tour, winning tournaments in countries like Austria, Swizerland, Poland, Finland, Norway, China and Brazil. At the Olympics, played on a historic venue behind the British prime minister’s address at 10 Downing Street, the local team was eliminated in the Round of 16.
They returned to the court a couple of weeks later and took third at a FIVB tournament in Poland.
Now they’re home.
So, Todd, how does it feel to finally play a tournament in Santa Barbara in front of family and friends?
“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t think of a place I would rather be playing, especially at the end of the season.”
He said it’s too early to know the vision of the tour under Sun.
“I’m not sure if it has been fully formed. I can tell you I really like Donald Sun,” he said.
He’s pleased to see the AVP up and running again. It plays a “huge” role in preparing U.S. beach volleyball teams for the Olympic Games.
“There is a reason why the USA and Brasil have been so dominant,” Rogers said. “It is because we are the only two countries with domestic tours.”
With Sun resurrecting the domestic tour, is there a chance he and Dalhausser will continue their successful partnership?
“I’m not sure if we will or not. I would guess no,” he said. “(Phil) is angling towards Rio (Olympics) in ’16 and I am not, so he has to make a (partner) change at some point in time. I think if we had a really good season we’d stay together. But our season, based on Phil and Todd’s standards, was not very good. Hopefully we can salvage some here in SB.”
Rogers-Dalhausser set their bar incredibly high. On the AVP Tour, they won 10 titles in 2007, 11 in 2008, eight in 2009 and five before the tour went bankrupt in 2010. Overseas, they set a FIVB record with nine titles during the 2010 season. They followed that with four titles and nine podium finishes in 2011. This year, they won the first two events, placed third in two others and qualified for their second Olympic Games.
Competing in two Olympics is enough for Rogers, who turns 39 at the end of the month. The gold medals he and Dalhausser won in Beijing, China continued a legacy of players with Santa Barbara ties qualifying for the Olympics and winning medals. Karch Kiraly won gold in Atlanta in 1996; UCSB grad Eric Fonoimoana won in Australia in 2000; San Marcos alum Dax Holdren placed fifth in Athens, Greece in 2004. Rogers graduated from San Marcos High and UCSB.
Is there anyone out there who can keep the legacy going?
“I’d like to say yes but in today’s game that will be tough,” Rogers said. “You have great old-school type players in Aaron Mansfield (UCSB alum), Dillon Bennett (Dos Pueblos alum) and Will Montgomery (Santa Barbara High alum) but they are all smaller players and it will be tough for them to get to that point unless they find the next Phil and can hang on to him. Maybe a guy like (6-7) Theo Brunner, who is a UCSB alumni? It is tough out there, though … lot of talent.”
Until that next local star emerges, local fans can enjoy the great finesse and outstanding defense of “The Professor” one more time on the home sand.