When the alarm went off at 5:25am on the morning of the 2015 USA Spikeball Nationals, I was already up. My mind had started making checklists for what needed to start happening for the setup process. When I arrived to Vanderbilt right outside Field 1, the sun hadn’t come up yet, and the temperature was a chilly 44 degrees. Wade Evans, a Spikeballer who works for the Vanderbilt athletic department, was already on site and had unlocked all the gates for the fields and was on his way to the field house to open the rolling door where 40+boxes and cases of tournament equipment/merch/trophies/Spikeball® sets waited for us.
In true Spikeball® community form, multiple roundnet teams showed up early to help the volunteers in any way they could. As the sun started to rise, the temperature did too. In the morning sun, somewhere close to 80 Spikeball® sets (already put together by the crew of 16 West Coast ‘ballers staying together in one Air BnB house) were placed and centered onto the lines that were created the day before by Cody Thompson (Bunz & Gunz) and Skyler Boles (Chico Spikes). Some of you may not have seen the video (below) of Cody marking the first lines, but it was quite an undertaking, so hats off to them for getting that done for everyone. From what I heard, people handled the lines well. Incorporating those service lines has been on our radar for quite a while, and it was nice to see it work well. Big thanks to the roundnet community for growing along with this sport, and realizing that constant change and modification is a part of every major sport. We will do our best to keep the community well informed of any changes to the rules during the 2015-2016 offseason.
As sign-ins started, it became apparent what 160 teams look like. Massive amounts of ‘ballers lined up to sign in their team or to get the official 2015 Nationals t-shirts or ladies tanks (which both will be available online soon) Over 300 players from 27 different states showed up to play in one of 4 different divisions in what was the largest Spikeball® roundnet tournament ever. It was a beautiful sight to see hundreds of smiling faces embrace each other and reminisce past tournaments or share inside jokes. Seeing the community interact is by far the biggest highlight of my job, and I made sure to take a couple moments to stand back and watch in amazement what has happened in just a couple short years. The unofficial 2013 Nationals in Nashville, Spike-a-Palooza, had 70 teams come from all over the country to play. The 2014 Nationals in Santa Monica had 95 teams. This year showed amazing growth, not only at Nationals, but also as 339 combined teams showed up to the 4 Regional Championships; and SummerSpike 2015 (East Region Grand Slam), thrown by the “2015 Most Stellar Tournament Director” award recipient – Jack Scotti and his crew (Melissa Scotti, Dan Calamai, and Neville Clubwala) hosted the 2nd largest tournament of 2015 with 136 teams! All that being said, it’s becoming very apparent that the Spikeball® roundnet community is swelling in numbers, and attracting the best and coolest people as it does so.
Pool play for Nationals started about :15 mins late because of some last minute changes. Pool M was scrapped because of some teams that couldn’t make it and the rest of those teams were placed into other pools. Power Pools 1&2 were the first to start as the rest of the teams circled around to watch some of the top 16 teams in the world battle on the main court. I’ve heard there are some camera drone shots of this, which I’m pumped to see. After :15-20 mins of watching power pool games, everyone was released to go play their pool games. The crowd of ‘ballers scattered and found their respective pools where, from what I’ve heard, some of the best ever pool play games took place. I think people were aware of the fact that only the top 64 teams would be making it in the finals bracket. Every point counted, and everyone was playing at the top of his or her game.
Once the volunteers had brought all the sheets of scores to tournament central, everyone was released to eat lunch, and our team of folks at tournament central started crunching numbers to see who made it into the top bracket, and who would go to the contender bracket. The rec/youth/women’s divisions’ brackets were also being made during lunch. Chick-Fil-A was on site for all the hungry people, but as it turns out, they were not prepared for exactly how hungry everyone was, and after over an hour of being pummeled by orders, they ran out of food. Further proof that roundnet burns calories indiscriminately. Luckily, SpikeballChris was nearby and grabbed a volunteer and hit up the McDonalds down the road to buy up several sacks of cheeseburgers. Crises averted. We’d soon find out that there was another crises brewing.
The last minute changing of teams, and the pool switch at the beginning of the day came back to bite during the massive amount of data going into multiple spreadsheets at tournament central which led to an error that caused a little over a 2.5 hour delay for the competitive division. If there were a silver lining, I would say that the unforeseen glitch, lead to a ton of pick-up games for the competitive division and some interesting crossover matches (most of which had to be replayed) that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It was obviously frustrating for some teams, but I think overall, the community showed its true colors by using that time to play pick-up games to stay warm or catch up with other ‘ballers who they hadn’t gotten a chance to hang with yet. I think Harding ate a massive burrito, but no judgment here. A few players even used that time to get a much-needed massage by the on-site massage therapist. (A testament to the level of play going on in the pool play portion of the day)
During the delay and the first round of the competitive bracket, the other 3 divisions completed their bracket play up to the finals match, and headed back to the main field for their finals matches. Since we had such a difference in the time that we planned to have the Youth/Rec/Women’s divisions play their finals matches, and the time it actually ended up being, each of the finalists in those divisions elected to play their finals matches on Field 2 simultaneously. That way we didn’t have to pause competitive division play to have those games on the main court. Big congrats go to the winners of the Youth/Women’s/Recreational Divisions:
Youth: Pigs Might Fly (1st) and Dubai Jet (2nd)
Women’s: Luigi & Shep (1st) and Bec&Alli (2nd)
As volunteers scrapped the nets from the other two fields, everyone headed to Field 1 to watch the last few rounds of the competitive bracket. The field lights were turned on and the sun started to set in Nashville, as the temperature dropped into the 50’s. As the crowd circled once again around the main court, some of the best games of the day were taking place. The one that stood out the most to me was the Strange Embrace/Rookies series that went to 3 games and ended with a 45/43 final putting Strange Embrace into the semi-finals. The crowd got super into that matchup.
The finals this year was, yet again, an all-West matchup for the 3rd year in a row. Strange Embrace took the place of the usual podium finisher Handsome Beavers, and took on Chico Spikes for a shot at 1st place. It was a great series (you can watch it – with commentary HERE), but it seemed like Chico Spikes was in control for the most part during each of the 2 games of the finals. They don’t make mistakes. Hats off again to Chico Spikes for setting the bar for all other aspiring competitive roundnet teams, and to Strange Embrace for making a solid run at the throne.
What USA Spikeball® National Championship would be complete without the after party? This year had another great turnout, where yet again, I got the chance to rub elbows with some of the coolest people I know, and watch the Spikeball® community grow right before my eyes. It was a very good way to end a full day of Spikeball® roundnet. (Thanks again to the volunteers, and the people behind the scenes who made last Saturday a reality!)
In closing, I believe Nationals this year was a smashing success. Sure, there were some hiccups; but from what I’ve seen so far, no other tournament has had this much sizzle from our community in every online medium in the days following an event. More teams than ever before traveled from more states than ever before, to compete in more divisions than ever before in a tournament that was not only meant to see who was the best at roundnet in 2015, but also to bring folks together in the most fun and organic way possible, and forge long lasting relationships. As the very talented lady ‘baller- Jenna Coleman (Knightly Flip) coined: “Games go to 21, but the friendships last forever”. I agree Jenna, I agree.