Jennifer Dalhausser likes to call her husband, Phil, the Tim Duncan of beach volleyball. Tall, bald and emotionless on the court.
Back when they started dating in 2010, Jennifer remembers while Phil was away competing, she would check out highlights on YouTube from his early playing days. He was passionate, celebrating raucously and clearly enjoying himself.
But rather than comfort Jennifer, that made her sad. It showed her how impassive, even melancholy, he had become while rising to be the world's best player.
"I needed a change," Phil said.
So at the AVP's Cincinnati Open early last September, Dalhausser and partner Todd Rogers split ways. And before his United Airlines flight back to Los Angeles landed, Dalhausser had a new teammate: Sean Rosenthal. "Rosie" is as laid back as they come, possessing the open, relaxed personality Dalhausser needed after a rocky last couple of years with Rogers.
The new pairing has revitalized Dalhausser's on-court demeanor, and maybe even his career too.
"It all kind of worked out great for me," Dalhausser said.
They have already won three of the eight FIVB tournaments they have competed in, most recently the Long Beach Grand Slam on Saturday. No other pairing has won more than one.
"I think we can be the best team in the world," Rosenthal said. "Phil and I's goal this year was to win more than anybody else on tour, and with how much parity there is right now, it's going to be hard for another team to get a few more wins."
Sitting on the sand at Hermosa Beach down 8th Street a couple weeks ago, the pair exchanged jokes and laughs. This is where Rosenthal grew up, but Dalhausser feels at home too.
Though raised on separate coasts — Dalhausser moved from Switzerland to Orlando, Fla., at age 1 — Rosenthal and Dalhausser's life paths share similarities.
They both grew up playing other sports (Dalhausser's tennis background is evident on the volleyball court when he tosses jump serves left handed), later focused on athletics rather than academics and worked odd jobs to keep their dreams of staying on the sand alive.
Dalhausser worked for a buddy who owned a road striping company while in high school and at Central Florida. He would sit behind the plaster-melting pot, churning at 400 degrees in the Florida sun, and drop glitter onto the lines. "Miserable," he described it.
He later worked for an office furniture moving company.
"That was the dumbest job for me," Dalhausser said. "I was 6-9, a buck-75, couldn't lift anything really. So super weak that my back would hurt so bad by the end of the day."
Rosenthal worked in cable installation for former on-court partner Dale Smith. The two would interweave their days training in Hermosa Beach between installing computer data and fiber optic cables.
After both Dalhausser and Rosenthal broke onto the professional circuit, they almost teamed up in 2005.
"I felt like I missed a chance in '05," Rosenthal said. "At the end of '05 in Chicago we were in a bar. I was like, 'What are you doing next year, Phil?' "
"Playing with you," Dalhausser jokingly replied.
But a week later, Dalhausser paired with Rogers and they became the No. 1 team in the world, winning Olympic gold in 2008. Rosenthal ended up with Jake Gibb. Seven years later, with Rosenthal coming off a FIVB MVP season, Dalhausser asked Rosenthal to sit with him in the United Club on their flight back from Cincinnati.
Dalhausser pitched a partnership and Rosenthal called it a no-brainer.
They won their first tournament together, the Fuzhou Open in China this April, as Dalhausser has quickly grown comfortable playing on the right side for the first time in his career.
They're still making some adjustments and gaining consistency, but with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as the long-term destination, Dalhausser and Rosenthal know there's plenty of time for improvement.
"I think the biggest problem for us on the court is we're both not really natural leaders, so one of us will have to step up and take that role," Dalhausser said. "Todd was the leader on our team, a little too much of a leader at the end there, and Jake was leader for Rosie's team."
Playing in Long Beach this weekend, Jennifer watched from the shaded stands with 7-week-old son, Sebastian, who wore a "Future Beast" onesie.
After Dalhausser closed out the Grand Slam gold-medal match with back-to-back aces, he locked both arms at his waist and let out a roar before embracing Rosenthal and candidly pointing up toward the stands. He smiled ear to ear all the way up to the podium.
Said Jennifer: "That's a new man out there, and I love it. I might have to upgrade him from Tim Duncan."