Note: This article was written by Ezra Dantowitz
The Premier division at nationals is one of the most wide open fields in recent memory. Most of the teams haven’t played more than 1 SRA event together, and of the 34 teams, only 4 players (on 4 separate teams) made the podium in the highest division at an SRA event this year - Cole Model was the only player to do it more than once. The uncertainty surrounding most of these teams should make for a wild bracket with some close series, but look for the deciding factor to be consistency.
2018 is definitely the year of the cut serve, but at the premier level winning will come down more to teams’ ability to play consistently and get defensive touches. With late tournament experience coming at a premium, look for the veterans (no not “The Veterans”) in the field to excel. Here are some notes on teams to look out for.
The premier field features two clear favorites. Unless they end up on the same side of the bracket they should meet in the finals.
Craig and Corey (Buddy Hammon/Corey Heck) - West
These two teamed up for SummerSpike 2017 and placed T-5th. Hammon’s quick hands and experience on sand make him by far the best defender in the division. Heck adds a ton of experience of his own to make this team a favorite to win it all. They’re the only team with two players who competed in the first Spikeball Roundnet Nationals in Santa Monica 2014, where both placed top 8.
For the Bros (Ezra Dantowitz/Cole Model) - East
This team features the only player in the division who qualified for the Pro division (Model). It’s also the only team to have two players who made top 4 in the Premier division at SRA events this year. On paper they have the skills to go the distance, but a lot will come down to how they mesh as a team. If they can get a defensive system in place, anything short of first would be a disappointment.
All of these teams are poised to make the podium, but most have little to no late tournament experience in a premier field. Outside the top 2 it’s completely open, so the right bracket draw could very well see one of these teams in the finals.
Old Line State (Mark Borunda/James Swanson) - East
Since winning the Advanced division in Lancaster, Old Line State has been looking for their next big win. Now in a field devoid of Pro teams, they’re in a good position to podium. Their serves don’t stack up against most teams in the field, but consistency is the key to success for them.
HOOPLA (Schon Siguenza/John Schurance) - West
HOOPLA is similarly looking for a breakout performance in a cleared field. Both players display flashes of athleticism, but other than taking a game off Schweppes at SummerSpike, they have nothing to show for it.
Chunky (Jacob Payer/Fredric Hinkle) - West/Southeast
This team may live and die by the serve, but if they don’t make mistakes on offense they’ll hang around in most games. Hinkle is fresh off winning the Advanced division at Southeast regionals, and late tournament experience of any kind is missing for most of these teams.
Ubiquitous (Chris Bradley/Austin Rawlings) - West
Ubiquitous made their first PR in September on the back of a T-9th finish in Boston, but then couldn’t attend regionals to build on their momentum. They haven’t fared well against most top tier teams, but this might be the field for them to excel.
Death Eaters (Zac Vance/Marlon Fleming) - East/West
Vance and Fleming had an underwhelming reunion at West Regionals, but at least it provided a chance for them to rework team chemistry. Vance is the only player other than Model to make the finals in the highest division at an SRA event this year.
Zac Vance of Death Eaters serves at Cream of the Crop
We Dont Run (Ryan Baillargeon/Ravi Kandula) - East
These Jersey boys took a game off Hilltop Spikes in Montreal, but lack other experience against premier teams. Ravi absolutely crushes the ball over the net and Ryan has a wide arsenal of serves. With the right draw, they could contend for top 4.
Never Give Up (Raf Karon/Pierre-Luc Laramée) - Canada
This Canadian team took a game off Creamcycle in Montreal and has the play style best suited to knocking off American teams. Karon is lightning quick on grass, but the sand might slow him down.
Koror (Vincent Bonta/Zach Zimmerman) - Midwest/West
Your favorite search engine will turn up that Koror was the most dominant tribe in the history of Survivor. Don’t expect this team to live up to that legacy, but consistency on offense should bring them to the top 8. If they mesh well on defense the podium is within reach.
The Dark Horses
Expect one of these teams to make the top 8, but which one is more dependent on bracket draw than level of play.
We Duo in Solos (Billy Buchhauser/Daniel Dantowitz) - West/East
Daniel’s serves and Billy’s athleticism could make for a dangerous duo. Like most of the mashups, the key to their success will be finding a rhythm early in the day.
Eash/LoPrinzi (Cory Eash/ Nicholas LoPrinzi) - Midwest
After a hot pool play at Midwest regionals they took the 3 seed before eventually finishing T-5th. The right pairing of serves by Cory and defensive touches by Nick makes them a threat against any team.
Cory Eash of Eash/LoPrinzi misses a serve at Cream of the Crop.
The Veterans (Sam Buckman/Ben Buckman) - West
These brothers have been playing for a while, but just finally earned premier at the West Grand Slam. With Hilltop and DaBR out due to injury, they’re slated to be the highest placing team of siblings.
Top 8 is definitely within reach for this group, but they’ve yet to produce any results to expect more than that.
WE THE NORTH (Charles Henri/Marc McLaughlin) - Canada
What used to be the top team in Canada took a backseat this summer to Ratons and Never Give Up. They looked much better down the stretch of the Quebec tour series, but still aren’t much of a threat in the US. A top 8 finish is within reach if Marc can land his serves.
Valley Dogs (Alex Gong/Ridge Bertuccio) - West
Alex and Ridge are consistent and all-around strong players. They aren't flashy, but they also don’t make many mistakes.
Foxy Men 2.0 (Daniel Small/Murray Noble) - West
They just scored a win at the inaugural Pacific Northwest Roundnet Throwdown, taking out Full Circle in the process. Oh, and they got fourth in the top division at the Seattle Tour Stop
Origin Flow (Nick Daub/Mike Priller) - Midwest
Flow has been looking all year for a win of note. There’s no better stage than nationals to finally get it.
Full Circle (Skylar Shibayama/Carter Clem) - West
Skylar making serves and Carter returning them is the key to this team having any chance at making it past top 8.
Easily Gooned (Erik Schlick/Robbie Brisco) - West
Robbie Brisco is the partner everybody needs, but does not deserve. Let’s hope Erik doesn’t squander this opportunity.
Unlike the Pro division, Premier will feature a good amount of parity in the field. Most of the field have very small bodies of work, so it’s impossible to be certain of anything. Last year the bracket draw in the premier division played a huge role in determining where teams placed. With 5 pools feeding into a 34 team bracket it’s conceivable the same thing will happen this year. Look for teams to go all-out in pool play with hopes of securing a top seed.
Without putting teams in order here’s my top 4 (alphabetically):
Chunky, Craig and Corey, Death Eaters, and For the Bros
To round out the top 8:
HOOPLA, Never Give Up, Old Line State, and We Dont Run
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