Taylor Crabb still getting better
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, June 17, 2020 - The most nervous Taylor
Crabb admits to being on a volleyball court didn’t come in any
of his 15 AVP finals appearances, or at the FIVB Beach
Volleyball World Championships or World Tour Finals. It didn’t
come in any of his heated – in a good way – matches with his
brother, Trevor, either.
It came in practise. His first few with Jake Gibb.
Crabb was, by U.S. standards, a kid then. Barely 25 years old
with just a few years of professional beach experience. It’s
difficult to imagine Crabb nervous now. This is the guy who can
get blocked by Phil Dalhausser, look across the net, and stare
him down, as if Dalhausser had made a grave mistake by having
the audacity to block Crabb.
But in that first year, in 2017, Crabb felt the nerves of
playing alongside a three-time Olympian, a guy who had succeeded
at every level of the game, who will go down as one of the best
blockers in American history.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, I gotta be perfect, this guy’s going to
think I suck, and he’s going to go back and wonder why did I
pick this guy,’” Crabb recalled of the early days in his and
Gibb’s partnership. “He’s a three-time Olympian and this is my
third year on the beach. Not that I didn’t deserve to be out
there, but playing with a guy like this was really nerve
wracking because I wanted him to feel like he made the right
The first tournament helped, a fifth at the Fort Lauderdale
Major in 2017. They would beat Italians Marco Caminati and Alex
Ranghieri, Spain’s Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrera, Canadians
Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter, falling only to eventual world
champs Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola in a close match.
Crabb’s first two wins on the AVP Tour also helped, in New York
and Hermosa Beach, just months after their debut in Fort
Still, 2017 was marked partly by inconsistency, partly by
brilliance. There was a 25th, in Moscow, and a pair of AVPs in
which they didn’t make it to Sunday.
Gibb points to the finals of the Manhattan Beach Open of 2018
when it all began to shift. They were playing against Phil
Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Dalhausser has won more Manhattan
Beach Opens than any player in history. He has, in fact, become
so good on Sundays – the day on which semifinals and finals are
played on the AVP Tour – that many have divided Dalhausser into
two: There’s Phil, then there’s Sunday Phil.
If you manage to beat Sunday Phil, it’s best you cherish that
memory. It doesn’t happen often.
On that Sunday, Crabb was, hands down, “the best player on the
court,” Gibb said, “and there were three Olympians on the court.
I thought that match was just a game changer for him building
They didn’t win, allowing a 20-18 lead in the second set to
become a 20-22 loss, which preceded a 13-15 third set. But there
was little if any debate over who had taken over as the best
defender in the country: Taylor Crabb.
“It’s mostly confidence for me,” said Crabb, who has now been
named the AVP Defensive Player of the Year three times, also
winning Most Valuable Player in 2019. “I don’t think I’m doing
anything volleyball-wise or skill related any differently. It’s
more just being confident that I deserve to be out there and I
can be out there with these guys who have been playing for
20-plus years. Jake and [coach] Rich [Lambourne] have always
boosted me up and always given me the highest praise and
compliments, so they help me with that and make me feel like I
deserve to be out there and deserve to be at that level.”
Any questions over that were silenced this past November. Good
as Crabb and Gibb had been on the AVP in their three years as
partners – eight wins and four second-place finishes in 19
events – they hadn’t yet put it together on the World Tour.
There had been good finishes, near misses, like the pair of
fourths they took in Majors, one in Gstaad of 2018, the other at
the World Tour Finals of 2019.
But no medal.
“I think that was a monkey on his back and our back,
collectively,” Gibb said.
“I felt so much pressure those three years without getting a
medal,” Crabb added. “We’re expected to be this great American
team and one of the best teams in the world and we hadn’t been
able to finish. It was really confidence crushing for me, not
being able to podium. This is what USA shoots for is podiums and
medals and we’re supposed to be this team that gets those and we
hadn’t gotten those.”
Then came the Chetumal four-star, the bookending event of the
2019 season. A slow start in pool play – narrowly beating
Argentinian qualifiers Julian Azaad and Nico Capogrosso before
losing to Chilean cousins Marco and Esteban Grimalt – meant an
arduous gauntlet of a bracket ahead: Italians Adrian Carambula
and Enrico Rossi, Poland’s Michal Bryl and Grzegorz Fijalek,
Austrians Martin Ermacora and Moritz Pristauz-Telsnigg.
That was just to get to the semifinals, where they’d meet Alex
Walkenhorst and Sven Winter. All of which preceded a bout with
Dutch Alex Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, a team whom Gibb hadn’t
beat since 2013, in the finals.
That road only served to make it all the sweeter when they
pulled it off in three over the Dutch, 15-12 in the final set.
“It was sweet, man,” Gibb said. “It was huge.”
Crabb immediately called up his former coach at Long Beach State
and good friend, Tyler Hildebrand, who is now the Director of
Beach National Teams at USA Volleyball. It was Hildebrand who
architected the team in the first place. He was the one who
recommended Crabb to Gibb. He was the one who set the first
meeting between the two. He was the one who told Gibb to give
Crabb some time. Let the kid show you what he can do.
“He sold him to me,” Gibb said. “Because he was so high on him,
I just continually watched him and I agreed on what he was
It is impossible to disagree at this point. Crabb has become the
answer for who is the best defender in the United States. And
he’s made his way into the discussion for who is the best
defender in the world, alongside Christian Sorum, Viacheslav
Krasilnikov, Clemens Wickler, Daniele Lupo, among others.
Why Crabb has made this jump in such a short amount of time is
difficult to pin. It’s nothing skill-wise, he said. He just
feels like he belongs at that level, with the medal of the
proper colour to prove it.
“I feel like every year I’m getting better,” Crabb said. “I’m
still at that age where I should still be getting better. I
don’t think I’ve reached my prime yet and obviously I have I
think the best two guys around me in Jake and Rich to help me to
get to my potential and get to my prime. I’m excited with where
this is headed, where our team is headed. This is our fourth
year together and every year we’ve been getting better.”