Beach volleyball fans love Casey Patterson, and not just because he stands 6'6" and reaches 8'9", allowing him to absolutely rip jump serves and smash balls down opponents’ throats. No, it’s because after he smashes a kill, he screams and dances and thumps his chest, displaying a fire and passion that have become increasingly rare on the beach volleyball scene.
Chris Marlowe, the voice of Olympic volleyball, commented on Patterson’s enthusiasm during the CBS Sports Network coverage of the AVP’s Cincinnati Open in September. Marlowe mentioned that “Patterson has been compared to a combination of Tim Hovland and dancing Marvin Hall [an animated AVP referee from the early ’90s]. He’s got the fire of the Hov and the dancing ability of Marvin Hall.”
Patterson’s partner, Jake Gibb, who’s generally recognized as being pretty calm and subdued when he plays, has even started getting fired up, feeding off of Casey’s excitement. “That’s what happens when you’re playing with a guy with so much personality like Casey Patterson, and so much energy,” said Sydney beach volleyball gold medalist Dain Blanton, and Marlowe’s partner in the Cincinnati broadcast. “That energy just spreads; it’s contagious and it just fills the court.”
That personality, passion, and fire have led Patterson to AVP final wins four times already this season. Add to that a FIVB record that has included a gold medal in Shanghai, a silver in Corrientes, Argentina, and a bronze in Gstaad, Switzerland, not to mention a victory at the inaugural World Series Cup during the World Series of Beach Volleyball back in July, and you could say things are going well for the 33-year-old player wrapping up his first season with 37-year-old, two-time Olympian Gibb.
“Before our first grand slam together, I was stoked on a top 10 finish,” said Patterson. “Like, ‘Yes! A ninth!’ But then we won and I was like, is this real life?”
Perhaps Patterson shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, one can hardly call his rise meteoric. By the time he completed his college career as an opposite at BYU in 2005, he’d already qualified for his first AVP main draw (the 2004 Manhattan Beach event with Dennis Roberts). Four years after that first successful qualifier, the Newbury Park High School (Calif.) MVP became a regular presence in the main draw, competing in 12 out of the 13 events in 2008. Then, at the seventh event of the 2009 season, the Brooklyn Open, Patterson earned his first AVP title win with partner Ty Loomis. Since then, he’s partnered with Kevin Wong, Brad Keenan, Casey Jennings, and Ryan Doherty (among others), played in his first FIVB tournaments, and collected victories on the NVL and Jose Cuervo tours, even defeating Beijing gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in the final at the Baltimore NVL event last year with partner Doherty.
Something like fate intervened to make 2013 Patterson’s big year. After the 2012 season, Doherty dumped Patterson when the 7'1" former baseball pitcher had the opportunity to play with and be coached by two-time Olympian Rogers. For his part, Rogers was partnerless following a disappointing showing in the London Olympics and Dalhausser’s subsequent decision to play with Sean Rosenthal. Gibb, having partnered with Rosenthal for the previous seven years, was then also in need of a new partner. So, naturally he picked up Patterson, the other guy left over following the partner switches.
“We had never played together. You take a big chance,” said Patterson. “Is there going to be chemistry? Are we going to complement each other? Are we going to be able to grind it out and figure it out if it’s not there initially?”
“I think Ryan and I complemented each other very well,” said Patterson. “He might not have been the greatest passer, but I’m a really good setter, so we made up for that. I’m not the best at running balls down, but he’s taller, so I had more time.
“And then I played with Jake and all those things Ryan didn’t do very well, Jake does amazingly...Right off the bat we were just rolling.”
And roll they have, especially once the AVP started up in August. At the first event in Salt Lake City, they finished fourth, losing to Doherty and Rogers in the semis, but since then they finished third in Manhattan Beach, and took first in the next four (Cincinnati, Atlantic City, St. Petersburg, Santa Barbara).
For the win in Cincinnati, they never dropped a set, meeting Nick Lucena and beach rookie Theo Brunner in the final. When Lucena and Brunner served Patterson, he’d almost assuredly side out. But when they served Gibb, the University of Utah grad could just as easily side out off a beautiful Patterson set, or Patterson would just go up and put it away on two, a tactic he employed frequently. Gibb and Patterson picked apart their opponents in the first set 21-14. In the second, although the scores were closer, Lucena and Brunner never managed to grab a lead, finishing the match 22-20.
In Atlantic City, N.J., only eight men’s teams made the main draw, meaning Gibb and Patterson had to come out ready to go, no warm-up matches. They met Steve Grotowski and this year’s Manhattan Beach Open champion Casey Jennings in the first round, taking care of the match in two shorts sets, and then faced Lucena and Brunner again for a repeat of the previous week’s final. This time, Brunner and Lucena didn’t make it easy on the No. 2-seeded Gibb and Patterson. Brunner began tooling Gibb’s block and amped up his jump serve, acing Patterson a few times to the delight of Brunner’s family and friends who drove down from Connecticut and Lucena’s entourage up from Florida. For his part, Lucena, 6'1", dug attacks from both of his opponents and sided out whenever a gap in the block or open spot on the court allowed.
One Lucena/Brunner fan was particularly vocal, heckling Patterson as he served and when Brunner aced him. But unfortunately for Lucena and Brunner, Patterson thrives on crowd participation.
“The more the crowd gets involved, the better I play,” he said after the match. “I’m super intense and focused and really dialed in because I’m just waiting for the moment to go scream at the crowd and yell and be like, ‘You helped me get that! You thought you were helping your guys, but you’re not. You’re helping me.’ I love it.
“After that guy started talking, I got two aces in a row, dug a ball, put it away, and stared at him like, ‘Yeaaaaaaah.’”
And it was thus that Patterson and Gibb managed to take game three 17-15 and move on to the semis where they avenged their Salt Lake City loss by beating Rogers and Doherty 21-18, 21-16. Then in the final, they faced Dalhausser and Rosenthal and defeated them solidly 21-19, 21-15, making Patterson and Gibb’s record 2-3 for the year in matches against Rosie and Phil. (The other win came in the semifinals of the World Series Cup in Long Beach, which they also won in two.)
There’s another key to Gibb and Patterson’s success, and it resides in the mind of 29-year-old coach Tyler Hildebrand. A three-time All-American setter for Long Beach State, Hildebrand’s highest finish on the AVP tour was a ninth at the 2006 Brooklyn Open, and he hasn’t played on the tour since 2008. But as a coach, according to Patterson, he’s unmatched.
“Tyler has a great ability to take the structure of the indoor side with the style of the beach and combine the two for a very good hybrid style, which on the world tour is the best thing you could ask for.”
That’s because, internationally, beach players often find themselves competing against huge, physical guys who just finished, or are still, competing indoors. Therefore, FIVB tournaments often feature explosive jump serves, hard hits, and thunderous blocks versus the finesse-driven beach game you’d find on the beaches of California.
“[Tyler’s] video and scouting abilities are better than anybody’s,” Patterson said. “He’s been doing that forever. His knowledge of the game is at a much higher level than people who are much older than him and have more experience on the beach.”
Patterson and Hildebrand’s relationship began through their wives. Kristin Richards Hildebrand, an outside hitter for the women’s indoor national team, grew up playing club volleyball with Lexi Patterson and the two remain best friends. Seeing something of value in Hildebrand’s knowledge of the game, Patterson brought him on as a coach for the first time during his 2012 season with Doherty. Immediately following the new arrangement, Doherty and Patterson won the Jose Cuervo events in Belmar, N.J., and Chicago. So when Patterson made a new partnership this year with Gibb, Hildebrand was part of the deal.
The connection between the Patterson and Gibb families is equally strong. The Pattersons have two sons: Cash, 4, and Guy, 2. Gibb and his wife Jane have a son, Crosby, also 2. Both men are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“So,” as Patterson said, “long story short, it’s going really well and I love it.”
Another difference between this year and last year for Patterson is the 30 pounds of muscle he put on during the off-season and the elimination of the knee pain he’d suffered from for as long as he could remember. Both improvements came thanks to working with Tim Pelot at the Olympic Training Center in Anaheim, Calif.
“I was lucky enough to come in just absolutely broken and [Pelot] just fixed me,” said Patterson. “The first month and a half, all we did was fix it so that my knees didn’t hurt.”
Then began the heavy lifting and working out for three hours a day, hence the 30 extra pounds of muscle. Now, after a whole summer of sweating it out on the beach Patterson is a bit more lean, but his strength and agility are the best they’ve ever been.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said Patterson. “I feel like Benjamin Button. I’m going back in time, like, ‘I’m younger again!’”
Patterson’s golden season will continue with the final FIVB tournaments of the year in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Oct. 8-13) and Xiamen, China (Oct. 22-26) and the remaining AVP event in Huntington Beach (Oct. 19-20), but he’s already looking ahead to future seasons.
“Everyone always says, ‘Well, what about the Olympics?’ That’s a long way away and there’s a lot of volleyball to be played,” said Patterson when asked about the future of his partnership with Gibb. “If you were to say the Olympics were next year or this summer, we absolutely are going. We’re a team that goes. You can never say for sure, but that’s the goal long-term.”
In the meantime it’s back to the gym to get even stronger for next summer, when they’ll try to do it again, only better.
“Then we’ve got a year behind us of playing together,” said Patterson. “I’m more excited for the second year than I am for the first.”
Casey, who’s the…?
Hardest team to play on the domestic tours?
The one that gives us the hardest time is Phil and Rosie because they score points so well. Phil is such a good blocker, good server, and Rosie is one of the best defenders in the world. At the same time, we’ve beaten them pretty good in the World Series Cup in Long Beach. In order to create a rivalry, we need to start beating them more often.
Toughest server on tour?
I’d say Phil, until Theo [Brunner] just served me off the court [in the second round of the Atlantic City event]! There’s a lot of good servers. You get Ryan [Doherty] at seven feet hitting a good serve, woo! And Brad Keenan, probably one of the greatest indoor jump servers there was in college. But annoyingly, I’d have to say Phil takes it again. So Phil, I’m boring. Phil again.
Player with the best ball control?
Casey Jennings. The way he controls his body is maybe the best I’ve ever seen, and I’d say he’s probably the best passer on tour.
Originally published in November 2013