Rogers-Brunner come up short at Manhattan Open

Todd Rogers - AVP Santa Barbara Open

Todd Rogers and Theo Brunner finished second at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open.


Playing in Southern California is bringing out the best in Todd Rogers.

He and partner Theo Brunner earned a bronze medal a few weeks ago in an international beach volleyball tournament in Long Beach. On Sunday, the Santa Barbara duo advanced to the finals at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open, the “Granddaddy” of beach volleyball tournaments. They lost in straight sets against Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, 21-17, 21-13.

It was the first final on the AVP Tour this season for Rogers, 40, and the 29-year-old Brunner, whose previous finishes have been a third and a pair of fifth-places. The fact he was playing against Dalhausser in the final made Sunday extra special for Rogers. They won three straight Manhattan Opens (2006-2008) during an incredibly successful seven-year partnership that included an Olympics gold medal in 2008.

“I like playing Phil,” he said in an email interview with Presidio Sports. “He is a great player and the best American blocker, if not the best blocker in the world when he wants to be. He was pretty big in the finals, which tends to be his M.O.”

Besides scoring points with his menacing block, Dalhausser was effective using the kind of clever shots his former partner is noted for. The 6-9 Dalhausser dialed down his hitting and jump serving because of an abdominal muscle strain, an injury that forced him to miss the AVP event in Salt Lake City the previous weekend.

Rogers-Brunner started well, taking a 15-12 lead in the first set. Dalhausser-Rosenthal then got a big break when a deep shot by Rogers traveled too deep. That started a 9-2 run to finish the set.  Dalhausser-Rosenthal maintained that momentum through the second set.

Despite the loss in the final, Rogers said he was pleased with the team’s performance at Manhattan Beach. Among their victories, they knocked off top-seeded Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson in a three-set elimination match and got a revenge win over fourth-seeded Brad Keenan and John Mayer in two sets. Rogers-Brunner were seeded fifth.

“The win over Jake and Casey was big for Theo,” said Rogers.

On beating Keenan and Mayer, “It was sweet revenge for me, as I played poorly against them in the first match (a 21-16, 22-24, 15-11 loss in the third round),” he said.

Rogers-Brunner have battled through some grueling matches this summer. The UCSB alums prevailed in three three-set matches in the contender’s bracket at Manhattan Beach. In an elimination match in Salt Lake City, they won the highest-scoring game in AVP history, beating Keenan-Mayer, 43-41, en route to a three-set victory.

Asked how his 40-year-old body holding up, Rogers replied: “Body feels very good. Felt good in Manhattan Beach and played extra matches in hot weather. I have not logged as much travel this year, so I think that has helped a lot.”

As for the progress he and Brunner have made in their first season together, Rogers said it’s more about his partner getting better.

“Frankly, I am a stop on the road for Theo. A good stop, but he should be going on to greater things in the future.

“We are on a solid, upward trend, so, hopefully, that can continue,” he added. “His progress has been good. He has made great strides in several areas but still has a ways to go if he wants to fulfill his dream of gold at an Olympics.”

The “Professor” knows.

NOTES: Santa Barbara Open champion Katie Spieler won a pair of matches in the qualifying rounds to make the women’s main draw at Manhattan Beach. Spieler, a Dos Pueblos grad and current member of the University of Hawaii sand volleyball team, played with Pepperdine’s Delaney Knudsen. They entered the main draw as the 32nd seed and drew No. 1 Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, falling 21-9, 21-9. They then fell to No. 17 Dana Fiume-Hilary Pavels, 21-11, 7-21, 15-9.

On the men’s side, former Santa Barbara High star Jeremy Casebeer and Casey Jennings finished seventh. Casebeer was featured as a “Rising Star” on the CBS Sports Spectacular broadcast Sunday. Santa Barbara’s Will Montgomery and partner Paul Baxter placed 17th.