Gibb and Rosenthal bid partnership adieu
They are the Son of Jor-el and the Big Nasty — monikers based on the way they play.
Sean Rosenthal exhibits amazing hops, athleticism and ambidexterity. Jake Gibb is crafty and has a world-class, consistent high level of play.
These qualities make what is known on the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) this year as the best team in the world. This past weekend marked both the end of the season and their last tournament together as a team before Rosenthal joins up with Phil Dalhausser next season.
The Rosenthal-Gibb partnership started out seven years ago and has resulted in two Olympic appearances, in Beijing and London; 14 domestic AVP/NVL/Pro Beach tournament titles and four FIVB tournament titles, including a career milestone accomplishment internationally as 2012 FIVB Tour champions.
“This partnership has meant a lot to me,” said Gibb, who hails from Bountiful, Utah, and did not play volleyball in college. “It is the bulk of my career. I started late, so seven years of a 10-year career is huge. It’s been really special.”
Gibb is the youngest of 11 children and did not start playing volleyball regularly until he was 21. In 2000, he competed in some AVP events with a friend and qualified. In 2002, Gibb and his wife Jane decided to give it a real try and leave Utah with $1,600 to pursue his dream of professional beach volleyball.
The teammates have been through their ups and downs with the dissolution of the former AVP tour and all of the international travel required to qualify for the Olympics. Gibb is also a two-time cancer survivor after having a malignant melanoma removed from his shoulder in 2005 and being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010. He also missed the birth of his son while competing on tour. But when Gibb and Rosenthal won their first-ever tournament together in the AVP in Fort Lauderdale in 2006, they stuck together because they kept having success. There were a lot of second places, but they were still beating the majority of teams.
“Good vibes and good chemistry, and neither of us had better options,” Rosenthal said of what he contributed to the seven-year partnership.
It all started when Gibb talked to Rosenthal at the end of the 2005 season about his interest in playing the following season. Gibb had heard rumors that his current partner, Stein Metzger, was going to play with Mike Lambert the following year. Rosenthal was interested, and they decided to play together the following season.
The two got a chance to play together at the AVP Las Vegas Shootout, where Gibb asked Rosenthal to play in the final. They ended up losing to Lambert and Metzger 21-18, 21-18, but Rosenthal had a great showing with his infamous “Vegas line” hit that rocked the parking lot of the Hard Rock hotel, and both felt good with each other on the court.
Olympics silver medalist and volleyball legend Mike Dodd has coached the team on and off since the beginning of the partnership. Gibb remembers calling the “Dodd-father” for the first time.
“I had only had one successful season, and Mike wasn’t really involved in the volleyball world at the time,” Gibb said, “so I was hoping he knew who I was.”
Dodd has been with Gibb and Rosenthal through the highs and lows of their career.
“I don’t think I’m some kind of genius technician,” he said. “I don’t look at films all night. . . . I have a life outside of volleyball. But they have someone they know cares about them and believes in them, and sometime that’s all you need. . . .
"Every time I’m with them on the road or on the court, we find a way to make the best out of every situation. I feel much more like a big brother or a father than some type of professional adviser.”
Rosenthal has a loyal following wherever he plays. “Rosie’s Raiders” is made up of friends who hail from Rosenthal’s hometown of Hermosa Beach, Calif. They attend all his matches and belittle opposing teams with their mockery. The Raiders also don a flag and shirts to support their boy wonder. They’ve adopted Gibb and, via their Facebook page, thanked him for the success he has been part of and promised to support him in his next partnership.
This weekend also marked another milestone. Rosenthal passed the $1 million mark in career earnings — a great accomplishment for a kid who got his GED at Redondo Union High School and did not play volleyball in college, either.
“It feels amazing to be a millionaire,” Rosenthal says in jest.
Rosenthal is one of seven children, the second-oldest, in his family. He lived with his mother in a three-bedroom house owned by her mother, and the family was on welfare. While in high school, Rosenthal worked a job early in the morning to help contribute to his family. A family friend introduced Rosenthal to the game of volleyball, and he qualified for his first Manhattan Open in 1997 at age 16. He qualified again at 19 and has continued to play ever since.
This weekend was bittersweet at the Jose Cuervo Pro Volleyball Series Championship in Huntington Beach, where the two have practiced for years. They stepped on the sand together for the last time as a team.
This was a perfect setting for Rosenthal and Gibb to close out their partnership as the No. 1 team in the world on the FIVB as they faced the most successful team on the domestic tour, John Hyden and Sean Scott, in the final.
Rosenthal and Gibb suffered a loss on Saturday to Ryan Doherty and Casey Patterson, 21-18, 21-17, that sent them to the contender’s bracket, where they had to climb back out with a win over Mark Williams and Metzger 21-16, 12-21, 15-10. They then took care of the team of Brad Keenan and John Mayer 21-14, 21-19, in the semifinal to put them in the final.
But Scott and Hyden would not let Rosenthal and Gibb have this day to be the No. 1 team on the Cuervo Tour. They took down the two-time Olympians 21-15, 21-12. Scott and Hyden were sideout machines.
“The tournament was great, and the final not so much,” Rosenthal said. “It’s nice to finish up here and put ourselves in position to win. We ran into Sean and John, and they played one of their best games. They played really well, and they deserve this one. It was a good run.”
Dalhausser, who earned a gold medal in 2008, announced on the volleyball talk show the Net Live last week that he would be playing with Rosenthal next season. Dalhausser asked Rosenthal to play next year and take a shot at the 2016 Olympics. The team was an inevitable decision by both players, who had been discussing the possibility for a while. The two talked on the way to the AVP tournament in Cincinnati and decided to play next season together and make a run for Rio in 2016.
“Phil asked me to play, and you have to look at everything from his age to just Phil’s overall presence out there,” Rosenthal said. “If I want to go to 2016, and I think Jake will be right in there with whoever he picks up battling to get in there. And Phil and I are, too. It’s going to be an interesting offseason. I’m excited.”
Gibb has not decided with whom he will play next year, but he will be making a decision soon.
When asked of their favorite memory of their career, both Rosenthal and Gibb agreed on two moments.
One was winning the points title this year for the FIVB as the No. 1 team in the world. Gibb says that he didn’t even feel it was an attainable goal for him, beyond his wildest dreams. The other moment was in the Beijing Olympics in their first Olympic match when they walked out on the court for the first time in pouring rain.
“I just got chills thinking about it,” Gibb said. “That was awesome.”
Even though they’ve played their last game as a team, Gibb and Rosenthal’s seven-year run has built more than titles and tournament victories.
“It’s been a great seven years with Jake,” Rosenthal said. “I have so many good memories playing with Jake, and they will never be forgotten. We will still be friends and hanging out and golfing.”