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AVP Chicago: Interview with Todd Rogers

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Todd-rogers-avp.jpgAs the AVP invades Chicago Elm Street and North Avenue beaches this weekend, the team to beat on the men's side is -- as it has been all season -- Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser.

The team has won more tournaments than any other this season (7) and has nearly doubled the earnings of their nearest competitors.

A gold medalist at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the 35-year-old Rogers took a moment to talk about this weekend's tournament and his recent appearance on "Shaq Vs." He also addressed whether we can expect to see him in the sand in 2010 -- and 2011 for that matter.
Sports Pros(e): So we saw "Shaq Vs." last night -- nice work.

Todd Rogers: Yeah, thanks. That was really a lot of fun to film.

SP: Tell me about that experience.

TR: Shaq's just a really fun guy. He's not the greatest volleyball player in the world, but that's to be expected since he had played probably almost none.  He was a great sport out there and definitely worked really hard. He just made us laugh and laugh until our cheeks were hurting.

SP: Do you have a greater empathy now for guys like Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant who have played with him?

TR: I don't know about that. I haven't had to go for a full season or anything like that with him. We really just hung out with the guy for a couple hours. He's a real character though. I like him a lot. He's really cool. I have only good things to say about my experience.

SP: Where do you feel like you and your partner, Phil Dalhausser, are competitively speaking compared to this time last year when you were going for Olympic gold?

TR: We're doing really well right now. We've won five in a row. About that time of the Olympics we were probably playing pretty similar. It's a little more focused last year, especially at this point in time. Going into the Olympics we were totally focused, we were physically prepared.       I feel like we're playing really well right now and we're hoping to take that momentum into the last five tournaments.

SP: Playing against the same guys every weekend, does it make it easier or tougher to prepare for who you're going to face?

TR: I think it's actually tougher, because if you're beating those teams they're going to work really hard to figure out a way to beat you. So they're going to throw new strategies at you and different things. It's kind of difficult to go in thinking, This is how we beat them last time. They're probably going to mix some things up and that strategy isn't going to work against them, so you've got to figure that out quickly within the confines of a match -- otherwise you're going to find yourself on the losing end.

So I think it's harder to find ways to consistently beat teams over and over. When I say that I mean the top teams. Obviously the lower ranked teams you can try to just muscle through and steamroll them. But the top teams certainly you can't do that and their strategies are going to change while there's no reason for you to change because you've been winning.

SP: You met Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the finals of the Chicago leg of the AVP tour last year. Would you say they're the team to beat again this year?

TR: There's two teams that we've been battling this season throughout the finals, and that would be [Gibb and Rosenthal] and John Hyden and Sean Scott. Hyden and Scott have probably had a better year than Gibb and Rosie, but those two teams we've met in the finals almost every time except once. You want a hot team right now, that's Brad KeenanNick Lucena. They've taken a third and a second in the last two tournaments. They took Hyden and Scott in last week's tournament. So those three teams are probably the toughest we'll face.

SP: What's it like for you guys coming into Chicago for these tournaments?

TR: I love it. Chicago's one of my favorite, if not my favorite, big cities. I've never really hung out there much in the winter, but I've heard my sentiments wouldn't exactly be the same. But the summer's been pretty cool. Oak Street Beach is an awesome beach, as is North Avenue. Both of them have great, deep sand, and the lake is right there. I like the ambiance of having a body of water right there. The fans are really knowledgeable because the AVP has gone there so often. You also have some indoor volleyball there.

SP: You're a 13-year veteran of professional volleyball -- how have you seen the sport and the AVP evolve?

TR: It's been all over the map. When I first started out it was in '96 with the first Olympics, and that was supposed to be a huge boost. Unfortunately, the AVP had some financial problems in '97 and it kind of collapsed. Then in '98 through 2002 it was a struggle. But Leonard Armato resurrected it and built it up to where it is today. Now, new management has taken over and hopefully they can build it up to the next level.

As far as the rules and the type of player, those have drastically changed as well.  The court's been shrunk. The heights of the players has grown quite a big. You get guys like my partner, Phil, who's 6-9. There was no one like him. The closest person like him was Mike Whitmarsh (at 6-7), and he was considered a bit of a freak back in his heyday, but he was incredibly talented.The average size was about my size at 6-1. It was a ball control game and now it's more of a power, big man's game.

SP: From your perspective, is the game more popular now than it's ever been?

TR: It's tough to beat the Olympics themselves. If you look in the long term, it has been going steadily up. It does have valleys. The highs are Olympic years where it's shown on NBC with however many millions of viewers watching. But I guess there's a gradual trend upwards, and I hope it keeps going that way.

SP: Thinking forward, what are you hoping to accomplish next?

TR: It's kind of tough to say, to be honest with you. I've been doing this for 13 years. I'm 35. I have a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old and a wife at home. It's tough to get out on the road every single weekend for five or six months straight. The time commitment after having done well in the Olympics are a little bit more so than they were before hand. For me, I'm not sure. I told Phil that I wanted to play this 2009 year and see how things went and go full bore. I want to play international, play all the AVP events and all that. But then take a step back and after a couple of weeks of reviewing how things went with my family, make a decision at that point and time.

[Phil] had originally said, 'Hey, let's take it all the way back to London.' I'm kinda like, 'You got a girlfriend at home. I've got a lot more responsibilities and stuff going on in my life. Why don't we take it one year at a time.' This was back at the end of 2008.  I've also said to him, 'I'm older, I can get hurt, I could get burned out. Maybe you could want a different partner who's going to play better. This is your time.' We'll definitely take it a year at a time and make that decision at the end of 2009 or 2010. He'll be there, I think, for sure.

SP: So there's no guarantee you'll be playing in 2010?

TR:
I'm planning on playing in the AVP tour in 2010. Regardless of who I'm playing with, that's always been my original plan. As far as playing internationally and all that kind of stuff, we're going to make that decision at the end of this year. As far as playing after 2010, much will depend on what I decide after 2009. I could get involved in the business aspects of the AVP. But right now, I fell we're playing well, I still feel good and we're playing at a high level so right now I'm leaning toward continuing to play just because that would be the obvious choice.

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