From left to right, Spicy Rubi (Daniel McPartland and Anthony Rentsch, second), Cisek/Showalter (Peter Jon Showalter and Tyler Cisek, first), and 2 Guys (Preston Bies and Troy Mauk, third) pose for a picture after 2017 Nationals.
After a wild morning, 53 Premier-level teams made their way to the Grasshopper indoor turf facility in Hillside, IL, for the 2017 Spikeball™ Roundnet Association (SRA) National Championship. As expected, the #1 team in roundnet, Cisek/Showalter (Tyler Cisek and Peter Jon Showalter), took home first place after an exciting final that ended at midnight.
This is a long one, so use these to skip to coverage of a certain round:
Only three teams ran through pool play undefeated, one being Cisek/Showalter who earned the #1 seed with a huge point differential. The others were #5 power ranked Origin Impact (Chris Hornacek and Patrick Drucker) and #11 Hilltop Spikes (Max and Cole Model). The one thing these teams have in common? Strong serving, which may have been aided by playing on indoor turf, where nets have less give.
Other top teams had a worse start to the day, like #2 Strange Embrace (Jarratt Rouse and Devin Matson) who finished 4-4, although some of their performance was attributable to Rouse’s torn rotator cuff. #10 Origin Chaos (Matt Bohnen and Ryan Weiler) also finished 4-4.
The result? A bracket with a lot of wild matchups at every round, which is par for the course for Nationals.
Among the potential matchups slated for Nationals' bracket play, here were some that stood out:
- Strange Embrace earned the #25 seed, setting them up for a date with #8 Golden Set (Harding Brumby and Eric Zishka) in the round of 32. The winner of this would have #4 Bud n’ Boles (Skyler Boles and Buddy Hammon), who earned the #9 seed.
- Origin Chaos took the #26 seed and would face Origin Impact (for the fourth time this season) if both made it to top 8.
- Seven of the top 8 ranked teams were on the same side of the bracket (Origin Impact was the lone team on the right half).
- If higher power ranked teams won out, the projected quarterfinals match-ups were:
- Cisek/Showalter vs. Strange Embrace
- Origin Impact vs. Origin Chaos
- 2 Guys vs. Anchored LI
- Spicy Rubi vs. Nashburgh
After seeing all this, we knew we were in for a heck of a ride.
Bracket began with the 21 round of 64 games as 11 teams had byes. These matches went as expected for the most part, but we did have a few upsets and cross-region match-ups you wouldn’t typically see.
Taylor Johnson of TnT serves at 2017 Nationals.
A couple west teams came out strong with Sub-Par Team (Jacob Martinez and Josh Fragiacomo) taking out the formerly ranked Cho’s Bros (Micah Corbett and Caleb Royse) and TnT (Taylor Johnson and Tyler Strangman) defeating Real Bros of Natick MA (Nick Sant and Alex Harris).
The Deatheaters (Zac Vance and Marlon Flemming), playing in their first tournament together since May, earned a win over a power ranked team defeating #18 Sleeper Pick (Joey Pierron and Adrian Brambila). The same is true for Origin Unknown (Jack Mathews and Michael Zagone) who defeated #24 Spiker, No Spiking (Chris Moates and Skylar Shibayama).
The chaos picked up in the next round.
For starters, #2 Strange Embrace and #7 Golden Set met. (Check out the stream of this match HERE). This is when I first saw how Rouse changed his serving arsenal to accommodate his injured right shoulder (he tore his rotator cuff last weekend in a tournament and hitting hard with his right arm was not viable); instead of his typical forehand and fwango serves, he opted for left-handed drops and backhands. And he racked up multiple aces with each.
Golden Set played well, but Rouse and Matson were too consistent, sending the 2017 Spikeball Elite team out at T-17th.
Harding Brumby of Golden Set serves at 2017 Nationals.
The match between #8 Point Loma (Kenny Ortega and Zach Wood) and #17 Tetelestai (Jesse Throw and Logan Cornelius) also brought about a ton of excitement. Fans cheered loudly for both sides in this intense and acrobatic three-game affair (check out this rally HERE). Tetelestai found some defensive breaks late in game three and Throw sealed his squad's best win of the season with a drop serve at 20-19.
#21 Schizik (Jeff Schafer and George Rizk) also defeated #16 Origin Force (Kurt Dolson and Sam Hynes) in a tight three-game series. Schizik had a very unexpected loss to Mitch Wirth and Matt Ly two weekends ago and bounced back strong. At their best, Schafer and Rizk are really good - they’ve both made top 8 at Nationals before - and they found their groove last Saturday.
The final and biggest upset of this round was unranked Heckleberry Win (Corey and Caleb Heck) over #10 Origin Chaos. After their disappointing pool play performance, Chaos could not get much going in bracket play. Heckleberry Win kept up their strong play after a West Regionals Advanced Division victory and beat the Origin Roundnet Club members.
In the round of 16, there were eight solid matchups for fans to watch.
#1 Cisek/Showalter v. #15 Do a Barrel Roll (Ben and Ezra Dantowitz)
In typical Cisek/Showalter fashion, they secured a big game one win 21-11. At the start of game two, Ben Dantowitz of Do a Barrel Roll ripped off a few lefty serves past the #1 team and jumped to a 10-6 lead. But, again in Cisek/Showalter fashion, Showalter had four aces of his own to tie the game back up. Cisek/Showalter went on to win in two games.
#5 Origin Impact v. #12 Easily Dug (Andrew Card and Travis Core)
Origin Impact looked great in the morning, blasting through teams in pool play and earning the #2 seed. However, Easily Dug came in ready to fight, as they have had had a bit of a chip on their shoulders after being questioned throughout the season.
Chris Hornacek of Origin Impact returns a serve at 2017 Nationals.
In this intense series, Core found success in his serves and their explosive defense was huge at stopping the hits of Impact. Hornacek's serves were unable to challenge Easily Dug and Drucker’s aces were not as plentiful as we’ve seen. Although it is usually the other way around, Impact was aced at 20-19 of game three to give Easily Dug their best win of the year and a spot in the top 8.
#11 Hilltop Spikes v. #9 Spicy Rubi
A regional match-up happening at Nationals is always unfortunate. This one was a close affair with Spicy Rubi just sneaking past 25-23 and 21-19.
#3 2 Guys v. #17 Tetelestai
Tetelestai was able to take out one of the West’s best but didn’t have enough to take out the defending national champions.
#18 Ohio Against the World (Vinny Bonta and Jesse Showalter) v. #6 Anchored LI (Ryan Fitzgerald and Anthony Alvino)
Ohio Against the World can be really really good, or really really inconsistent. Unfortunately for them, Anchored LI makes their money with consistency. After a long three games the higher ranked team moved into the top 8.
Jesse Showalter of Ohio Against the World serves at 2017 Nationals.
#14 Nashburgh v. #21 Schizik
Nashburgh often steps up to the challenge at big tournaments but Rizk and Schafer were serving and defending too well. This was Rizk’s second year in a row in the Nationals top 8 (last year he secured a top 8 finish with Bonta of Ohio Against the World).
Heckleberry Win v. Bullcity Spikes (Anthony Daming and Juan Ruiz)
A match-up of two unranked teams in the Nationals round of 16 was anything but expected. Bullcity Spikes and Heckleberry Win both won the Advanced Division at their Regionals and went 7-1 in pool play. In this one, the Heck brothers kept their momentum and moved into the top 8.
#2 Strange Embrace v. #4 Bud n’ Boles (Watch this match HERE)
Due to Strange Embrace’s slow pool play, one of the most anticipated match-ups of Nationals happened a round or two early. This pair of teams first played at West Regionals last month where Bud n’ Boles beat Matson and Rouse twice.
Game one was an intense affair. Strange Embrace maintained control of the game throughout, despite Bud n’ Boles' great saves. Bud n’ Boles secured two breaks due to mistakes from Rouse and Matson, but Strange Embrace snuck out with a win.
Buddy Hammon of Bud n' Boles hits a drop serve at 2017 Nationals.
In game two Bud n’ Boles brought more of a challenge and forced errors from Strange Embrace. After going down big late in the game, Matson and Rouse saved their energy for game three.
Game three was another tight one, but Matson and Rouse held onto their lead at the end and sent the #4 team packing.
#1 Cisek/Showalter v. #2 Strange Embrace
Strange Embrace knew they had their work cut out for them facing Cisek/Showalter, who they were 0-4 against in 2017. Game one started out strong for them as they were able to limit aces and eventually take the game 21-19.
Game two went the complete opposite way, as Cisek and Showalter notched several aces each. After going down huge early, Strange Embrace took it easy to save energy for game three, leading to a 21-9 victory for the Midwest Regional champions.
Game three wasn't as decisive but Cisek/Showalter certainly outplayed Strange Embrace. After two long matches, Rouse's left arm was almost dead from the added work. Cisek/Showalter took this game and moved into the top 4.
#12 Easily Dug v. Heckleberry Win
Riding their momentum from a win over Origin Impact, Easily Dug secured a win over Heckleberry Win in two games. There were not many errors on Core and Card's behalf, so the few the Hecks committed made the difference.
#9 Spicy Rubi v. #21 Schizik
Both teams brought their all in the East v. East match. McPartland of Spicy Rubi often loses steam serving as the day goes on but the opposite happened on Satuday. Rubi came out flying and took game one, due in large part to McPartland's cutting serve and consistent play by both Spicy Rubi players.
Anthony Rentsch of Spicy Rubi returns a serve at 2017 Nationals.
In game two Schizik ratcheted up their serves and defense. Many times Rubi rolled up hits and either Rizk or Schafer was ready to run them down. In game three Rubi was able to pull ahead by three midway through, mostly due to McPartland's serving. Down 13-10, Rizk decided to join the serving fun. Schizik earned three breaks on Rizk's next two serving possessions to tie it up. Holding the small lead late in the game, Rubi held until one roll up by Schizik gave them the opportunity to take the series.
#3 2 Guys v. #6 Anchored LI
These two had not yet faced off in 2017 but a strong defensive battle was anticipated. How the match went down, however, was a bit different.
In all of game one Anchored LI only earned one break which came off a mishit by Bies. Besides that, Anchored LI did not challenge 2 Guys much. There were not many defensive touches on either side. 2 Guys's breaks came from some early aces and late errors from Anchored LI. 2 Guys took game one and looked good going into game two.
The momentum seemed to continue for 2 Guys at the start of game two as Mauk notched an early break via a body up and put away. Anchored LI took their first lead of the series after Fitzgerald recorded a pair of aces. A couple more tough touches from Bies and Mauk late in the game gave Anchored LI a large lead. Fitzgerald finished the game with a sliding block to force game three.
In game three, there were not many spectacular plays, just solid serves and slight errors. Not too much excitement, save for a few breaks here and there, happened until extra points. Bies hit a wide angle on his serve and put Fitzgerald in a bad place to return the ball leading to him missing the net on the return to give 2 Guys the advantage. A few points later Mauk spun and hit a backhand that pocketed slightly. Anchored LI opted to play it and an off-the-net set by Alvino caused Fitzgerald to again miss the net and concede the series.
#1 Cisek/Showalter v. #3 2 Guys
After a solid win over Anchored LI, 2 Guys found themselves up against a team they had not beaten before. In 2017 Cisek/Showalter defeated 2 Guys three times: once in San Francisco, once at SummerSpike, and most recently in Chicago. Bies and Mauk did manage to take a game from Cisek and Showalter at SummerSpike, but that was not on the menu at Nationals, as strong serving by Cisek/Showalter tore 2 Guys apart.
In the first game Showalter notched three aces while Cisek had two of his own. Add in a couple defensive touches for Cisek and Showalter and only two breaks for 2 Guys and we had a dominant game one victory for the #1 team.
Preston Bies of 2 Guys returns a serve at 2017 Nationals.
Game two wasn't much different. 2 Guys started out with a pair of breaks thanks to Bies's serves, but the reigning national champions could not do much else. Showalter recorded another pair of aces in this game and Cisek forced three errors out of Bies and Mauk.
A big two-game win for Cisek/Showalter had them feeling good heading into the finals.
#12 Easily Dug v. #9 Spicy Rubi
Easily Dug and Spicy Rubi were two unexpected semifinalists, but their match was highly anticipated before the event. These teams are the top two teams in College Spikeball™ Roundnet and this match was likely a preview of the College Nationals Finals that will occur in the spring.
Athleticism, rallies, and serving were all on display. McPartland's serve still cut hard and away for some aces, but Core and Card also did a spectacular job recovering from bad touches. On the other side, Core was able to send serves far to the right side and Rentsch and McPartland had to work their way back.
Card was exhausted and dehydrated throughout this series. Often times in game two he would need some time after a long point. Throughout this two-game affair, Spicy Rubi did not falter and found themselves a spot in the Nationals Finals.
#1 Cisek/Showalter v. #9 Spicy Rubi
After a dominant run to the finals by Cisek/Showalter and an unexpected run by Spicy Rubi, there was some uncertainty about what kind of series it would be. To say the least, these two teams put on a show.
Of course, the crowd was amped for this finals and the uncertainty tightened the air. In the early game, Cisek/Showalter found themselves with a small early lead due to an ace and defensive touch by Cisek, but Rubi was able to tie it up with an ace and defensive touch by McPartland. Rubi took at the lead at 21-21 with a drop ace from McPartland on Cisek.
The play of the game came a few holds later: at 23-23 Cisek hit a huge angle on his serve, but Rentsch chased it down and returned to the net had a high left-handed hit over Cisek. This point looked like a huge break opportunity for Cisek/Showalter. Next serve, McPartland aced Showalter, sealing a game one win for Rubi.
Tyler Cisek of Cisek/Showalter serves at 2017 Nationals.
Game two brought about an air of excitement as the crowd braced for an upset. Facing elimination, Cisek and Showalter stepped up their game and postponed this hope. The two strong servers recorded a plethora of aces throughout game two to take a comfortable lead. Every chance Rubi had at a break was squandered by skillful second touches from Cisek/Showalter.
Rubi did find a groove late in the game when Rentsch served up a pair of aces in a row and McPartland converted a break chance on the next serve. This was too little too late, though, and Cisek/Showalter held on to force a game three.
Game three started with a bang as McPartland ripped a fwango serve past Showalter. The crowd erupted, but the serve got called back for a fault. Unfazed, McPartland earned the point right back with a drop serve. After this, nerves seemed to kick in as all four players struggled to hit serves on the net. Breaks were then plenty for both teams and the lead swung back and forth.
Late in the match, though, Cisek and Showalter each notched an ace to go up multiple breaks. With their back against the wall, Rubi needed a couple breaks to keep their hopes at a national championship alive. And they did get two touches, but neither were good enough to convert. At 20-18, with all the pressure on him, Cisek aced McPartland to seal both his and Showalter's first ever national title.
Card was exhausted after Easily Dug’s semifinals match. Not wanting to forfeit, he did opt to play a best of three series with 2 Guys for third place. After 2 Guys took the first game, the teams switched partners for a more enjoyable game two and 2 Guys was awarded third.
Find the full results from Nationals HERE.
In the coming days and weeks we will have Women's and Advanced Division recaps, the final Power Ranking of the season, a Top 25 players list, and much more. Stay tuned.
Got something related to roundnet that you want to know more about? Have any topics you want to be discussed on the podcast? Contact Mike White at firstname.lastname@example.org or @mwhitey17 on Twitter.