‘The Professor’ takes on a new beach partner: Ryan Doherty

Todd Rogers is commonly known as ?The Professor? on the pro beach volleyball circuit because of his crafty, cerebral play on the court.

But, there is another reason why the nickname fits him. Rogers enjoys teaching the finer points of the game.

His tutelage was instrumental in former partner Phil Dalhausser developing into one of the best players in the world. Joining forces in 2006, Rogers-Dalhausser became one of the greatest teams of all time, winning 64 tournaments and more than $1million in prize money. They qualified for two Olympic Games, won the gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, captured a FIVB World Title and World Tour season championship and set several international tour records. They also won five domestic AVP Tour Championships.

The partnership ended last summer, with the 6-9 Dalhausser moving on to play with Sean Rosenthal, who is coming off the best year of his career. He and former partner Jake Gibb finished fifth at the London Olympics and won the FIVB World Tour season championship.

Todd Rogers

Todd Rogers is playing with 7-foot-1 Ryan Doherty on the international and domestic beach volleyball tours this year.

Rogers, meanwhile, is now working on refining the game of his new partner, 7-foot-1 Ryan Doherty. The pair have been training at East Beach the last three months, preparing for the international and domestic tours. The first FIVB World Tour event is April 23 in Fuzou, China.

?He?s called the professor for a reason,? Doherty said of Rogers after a recent training session. ?He?s incredibly smart, he knows the game, he can break it down to the absolute bare essentials. So, I?ve viewed as my job is to come to practice with as many questions I can possibly have and try to understand the points he?s trying to make. I think I?ve gained some insight to how the game works because of it.?

Doherty, 29, a former professional baseball pitcher, is relatively new to the game. He?s played in 19 professional tournaments since 2010 and has won three times ? all last year with Casey Patterson.

He and Rogers took a second in their debut together in late March, a North American zonal (NORCECA) tournament in the Cayman Islands. They lost in a windy final to a team from Puerto Rico.

?We learned a lot of stuff and got a second. Not too bad,? Rogers said. ?All in all, it was a good learning experience.?

Said Doherty: ?It was great to get out and compete again. We had moments of brilliance and flashes of: There?s a lot left to learn.?

And, who better to learn from than ?The Professor??

Rogers said the teaching has been invigorating and exciting.

?Absolutely. It?s one of the things that drives me. I figured that out the last couple of years I wasn?t getting that component I personally need for that extra drive, where I am in my career,? he said. ?Obviously, I didn?t need that opponent when I was 25 because I didn?t have that component. Yeah, it?s definitely been a lot of fun in that aspect.?

On the practice court, they repeatedly go over fundamental skills like serve receive and setting.

?It?s par for the course, really it is,? Rogers said. ?Every day we?re going over stuff. I?m working on specific things for my game and I?m going over stuff with him. That was one of reasons we went to NORCECA, to get the competition.?

Doherty said he gained some pointers from coaches he had while living in the Huntington Beach area and from former partner Casey Patterson.

But working with Rogers, it?s been like taking an upper-division course in the sport.

?Todd is able to take anything and bring it to a higher level, so I definitely feel like I?m refining a lot of the skills of the game,? Doherty said. ?I?m very, very excited about what I?ll be able to do in the future with him.?

Said Rogers: ?I?m trying to change any bad techniques he has, or just teach him stuff. He?s a newbie; he?s like a freshman in college. He?s played a couple of years but has never really been taught.

?I?m more of a technician,? Rogers added. ?I think he and Casey last year, they were more like: ?Hey, let?s have fun; you?re a big guy, this would be cool.? Casey gave him some things but didn?t really break it down. That?s the way I am, I break that stuff down.?

The training sessions can get tedious and boring, but Doherty understands their value.

?I don?t have the repetitions and coaching that a lot of other top players have had, which is why playing with a guy like Todd is about as lucky as I could ever ask for. That?s pretty much the perfect partner for me right now.?

They plan to play in 7-10 tournaments on the international tour and in all the events on the soon-to-be-announced AVP Tour, which is expected to start in July.

Rogers said playing with a new partner has made him “dial back my expectations” for the season.

?Phil and I were used to being top four in every tournament and anything less than that was a disappointment. Whereas, I think if Ryan and I are in the top four, that?s going to be a solid international experience for us. It?s just a reality check for us.?

His hope is by the end of the year they?ll ?be a solid main draw team for the U.S., hopefully cracking the top four once or twice. If we win a tournament that would be fantastic.”

When asked about what?s it like being the guy who follows Dalhausser, Doherty takes the question in stride.

?Following up one of the greatest players of our generation, no pressure, right? You kind of have to shake that one off,? he said with a smile. ?Phil?s as good as they get. He?s a phenomenal player; he?s kind of a generational talent. It?s my job to see how good I can get and focus on my skills and my game.?

For Rogers, it?ll be about adjusting to that game and those skills.

?I?ve had three major partners I?ve played with for years and years (Dalhausser, Sean Scott for four years and Dax Holdren for seven years) and you know what they?re going to do every time, whether it?s blocking or what balls they?re going to take and all those kind of things,? Rogers said. ?Ryan and I are still trying to figure that out.?

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