Stafford Slick’s response to this story – and the accompanying one on Phil Dalhausser – was exactly what you’d expect from an American blocker not named Jake Gibb or Phil Dalhausser.
“They’re annoying,” he wrote. “And I don’t like them.”
He’s joking, of course, though like any joke, there’s at least a kernel of half-truth in there. It is undeniably annoying, at the very least, for any American blocker to have competed against Dalhausser and Gibb this past decade, particularly when that decade happens to be your athletic prime as well.
Actually, Slick wrote, “don’t you mean two decades?”
Ah, yes, yes we do. Two decades is, incredibly, nearly how long their dominance as the unquestioned top blockers in the United States has been. It’s Gibb, however, who’s technically been at it longer, Gibb who won first.
Austin of 2004 is when Gibb claimed victory. His first match of that tournament? Against a wiry young man named Phil Dalhausser.
Prior to that win, Ryan Mariano had the best laid plans for his future. In 2003, he had been splitting his time between playing professionally indoors overseas before returning to the beach to finish out the AVP season. Gibb had recently moved from Utah to Southern California, was still somewhat unknown, somewhat raw. Mariano was going to be the first to discover him.
“I had just gotten done playing at Laguna Beach,” Mariano said. “This tall gangly guy is sitting there, and he’s peppering with his wife. I had to take my bike to the beach, and so I was gonna play until the sun goes down.
“And so I asked him to play and he said yes and then we played a couple games, then we started practicing together, then I talked to Karch [Kiraly]. I said I got this new guy from Utah, would you mind if I brought him to practice? So we played against Karch, against Mike Lambert and Larry Witt.”
Just like that, Gibb was in with the best players in the country, and in Kiraly, the greatest legend the beach game has known. And Gibb was hanging with them.
“I said I’m gonna go to Europe for one more year, then I’ll come back and we’ll play together,” Mariano said. “But then he goes and wins Austin with Adam Jewell. And I’m like ‘I’m never gonna be able to play with this kid again.’”
His prediction proved, unfortunately for Mariano, prescient. Stein Metzger, an Olympian in the 2004 Athens Games, scooped up Gibb. A decade and a half of dominance began.
Since Gibb began competing overseas, on the FIVB with Metzger, there have only ever been two American blockers to represent the United States in the Olympic Games: Jake Gibb, and Phil Dalhausser. At first blush, you may think this is due to a dearth of talented blockers in the United States. It is not.
Over the previous four quads, Gibb has had to outlast Matt Fuerbringer in both 2008 and 2012, a blocker with eight AVP wins to his name, who finished ranked as high as No. 7 in the world in 2012.
Gibb never expected to continue playing beyond London. Yet Casey Patterson called, and they just…kept…winning. Four straight AVPs did they win in their first year together. They returned home with a gold in their second FIVB, in Shanghai in 2013.
As the Rio Games drew closer, they were miles ahead of the next U.S. team, especially with Dalhausser swapping partners at the last minute, from Sean Rosenthal to his good buddy, Nick Lucena.
Sure, he could do Rio, too.
But that had to be it, right? Twelve years of winning tournaments, of traveling the world, of three Olympic Games – it was the end of the road.
Then another kid called. Taylor Crabb, a quicksilver fast bug from Hawai’i. And they, too, began winning. In just their second AVP tournament as a team, they won in New York City. It was Crabb’s first victory as a player, an event that would set off a string of 10 more, all over the globe.
It is the most recent victory that may be the most impressive, a 4-star in Chetumal, Mexico a little more than a year ago. They’d defeat a gauntlet of teams that included Poland’s Michal Bryl and Grzegorz Fijalek, Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, and, for gold, Dutch bombers Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen.
At the age of 43 years, nine months, and 12 days, Gibb became the oldest player to win an FIVB event.
Fifteen years, six months, and 16 days after winning his first professional tournament, Gibb continues doing just that: Winning. Just one decade of dominance, of influence, of forcing the next generation of American blockers to improve, to step up, to evolve?
Nah, Gibb’s been here for nearly two.
It’s a love-hate relationship American blockers have with the 44-year-old: Gibb was, and is, the guy they grew up watching, wanting to emulate. Now he’s the guy they want to beat, but so rarely do.
For six more months, until the end of the Tokyo Games, Gibb will remain at the top of the American blocking totem pole with Dalhausser. Then he’ll take his rightful place in the subjective record books as one of the greatest of all time.
“Just the thought of no Jake or Phil,” Lucena said, before trailing off.
It’s impossible to imagine, for nobody has had to ponder it since 2004 – nearly two decades of dominance.
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