Years pro: 20 (2003-2022)
Hometown: Davie, Florida
Career Highlights: Two-time Olympian… fourth-place at 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship… 2015 USA Volleyball Men’s Beach Player of the Year… 2015 USA Volleyball Beach Team of the Year (with Phil Dalhuasser)… 2017 AVP Team of the Year (with Phil Dalhausser)… nine international gold medals… 26 international podium finishes… 17 AVP victories… three-time AVP Gold Series Manhattan Beach Open champion (2015, 2017, 2018).
Olympic Games: 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo
Nick Lucena will no longer be patrolling the backline of a beach volleyball court.
He’s got the sideline, instead.
The two-time Olympian announced his retirement from professional beach volleyball after the AVP’s Gold Series Atlanta Open this month. He’s transitioning immediately to coaching and has taken a job at Florida State as the beach volleyball assistant coach.
“I’ve dedicated my life to beach volleyball. It’s the only thing I would say I’m an expert at,” Lucena said. “I’ve always enjoyed the coaching aspect of beach volleyball, whether it was clinics or volunteering at Florida State. When the opportunity arose, it was an easy decision.”
The new role in Tallahassee isn’t that new for Lucena. He served as the program’s volunteer assistant in the spring, helping guide the Seminoles to the national championship match. Furthermore, he’s married to the head coach, Brooke Niles. Plus:
“I’m a diehard Florida State fan,” he said. “I’m an alumnus, I’ve been representing them for the last 20-plus years. It was a win-win situation.”
Helping in the spring, Lucena noticed similarities between coaching elite athletes and being one himself.
“I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it and how much of that adrenaline rush you get when you compete [also came while coaching],” he said of his time last spring. “I thought it was just as fun [as playing], and I could see myself doing this.”
Whether he’ll coach as long as he played remains to be seen, but if he does, it’ll be an impressive second career for the Davie, Florida, native. Lucena played his first AVP tournament in 2003 with longtime friend and partner, Phil Dalhausser. They competed together during Lucena’s international debut in 2005 before splitting. Lucena competed with a host of partners for the next decade, finding success with Matt Fuerbringer and Sean Scott, among others. He even took fourth at the 2015 World Championship with Theo Brunner.
Still, he and Phil reunited in 2015 and made a mad dash toward the Rio 2016 Olympics. They qualified for the Games, Lucena’s first, and lost to eventual gold medalists Alison Cerutti/Bruno Oscar Schmidt in the quarterfinals. After Rio, they postponed retirement and made another Olympic run. In Tokyo, they again ran into an eventual medalist during the playoffs, falling in three sets to bronze winners Cherif Younousee/Ahmed Tijan in the Round of 16.
Lucena played one final international tournament this March, competing at the Tlaxcala Challenge with Andy Benesh (Dalhausser retired from international play after the 2020 Olympics). The new partner, new coach, and new international tour format were adjustments that’d need to be made. Plus, he had a burgeoning coaching career and three kids at home.
That feel is everything. When asked about strong memories from his career, Lucena didn’t name an Olympics or one of his 29 domestic or international gold medals. He mentioned USA Volleyball’s beach training facility in Torrance, California, and the people who worked there.
“That Torrance facility, that’s one of my favorite places,” Lucena said. “From working with [facility staff; he mentioned Tim Pelot, Anthony Darmiento, Aimee Miyazawa, Michael Martinez, Christian Hartford and Arbhie Guce specifically] and hanging around [Director of National Beach Programs] Sean Scott, he’s been a good friend of mine for a long time. I love that place. Hanging out in Torrance with those guys and going to work there was such a treat for me. The fact I won’t spend time there anymore, I’m going to miss tremendously.”
Beach volleyball gave Lucena a 20-year career, countless friends, and even his wife. He struggles to imagine a life without it. He “just wanted to prolong getting a real-life job” when he started playing in the early 2000s. Now?
“I love the game, and the fact that it’s taken me to this point… I couldn’t even have dreamt it. It’s given me everything. I couldn’t see my life without it.
“I sit back and think about it, I don’t feel like I deserve all this. I probably don’t remind myself how grateful I should be for doing this.”
He’s done it for the last 20 years. Now, he’ll coach it. Either way, beach volleyball is what Nick Lucena excels at.