Northeastern’s roundnet club, one of the fastest growing clubs on campus, has big ambitions for this spring’s National Tournament.
By Meredith Greayer
Since its establishment as a club sport in 2017, Northeastern’s roundnet club has rapidly expanded in size and popularity, producing some of the nation’s best collegiate players. Yes, the nation, and yes, roundnet – more commonly known as Spikeball. The backyard game found at high school graduation parties alongside cornhole and cup pong has made its way to the big league, and Northeastern’s club is among the best.
Fifth year Alexander Daly has been a member of Northeastern’s roundnet club since its founding in 2017. He’s witnessed the club grow from a mere 20 members to over 150 today.
“In my first year there were only a handful of members,” he said. “It was just a group of guys who liked to play Spikeball together and it was very unofficial.”
Since then, Daly has seen both the sport and his club flourish. He attributes this growth to the marketing and expansion of Spikeball, the dominant supplier of roundnet’s equipment. The popularity of Northeastern’s roundnet club has coincided with Spikeball’s rapid growth.
“In my first year, not everyone knew what Spikeball was and we’d have people coming up to us asking, ‘What is that game? That looks so cool,’” Daly said. “Now pretty much everyone walking by is like, ‘Oh, I know Spikeball. Those guys are good,’ or, ‘I’ve played that before.’”
Daly remembers the club’s beginnings, when recruiting new members and gaining recognition were primary goals. “The first year we wanted as many members as we could. We tried to grow the club and grow the sport.”
Now, Daly said, “because we’ve gotten so much interest, we’ve started to pivot more to recruiting players who want to travel to tournaments and compete.”
Although the club’s competitive component has ramped up, their roots in casual and friendly play remain fundamental. The club’s leaders want to maintain a welcoming atmosphere, which third year Charles Tipton noticed when he joined the club.
“I wasn’t really friends with anyone until this year and they kind of just brought me in,” he said. “I hang out with them a ton and it’s awesome.”
Freshman Jackson Bigg appreciates the club’s inviting spirit and was immediately accepted.
“The team dynamic is super friendly,” he said. “I’ve become pretty good friends with people who are three or four years older than me. It’s very inclusive and a lot of fun.”
This year, the club held tryouts for the first time ever. Tryouts organized the group into an A and B team, or a competitive and casual team. The best 40 players made the A team, while the rest, about 100 players, are on the B team. Two casual practices each week are held for all members. Practices are unstructured, highlighting roundnet’s social aspect more than its intense, competitive element. A third practice, held weekly for A team players, focuses on drills, strategy, and technique. This is where players prepare for competitions and tournaments.
Bigg was looking to be more competitive. He spent the season on the A team and recalled the experience positively, noting how in the short time he has been playing in the club, he’s already significantly improved.
“I know I’ve grown a lot since coming here,” Bigg said. “I was playing the game at home a lot differently than I play it now. I only had a couple friends to play with and improve with, and, honestly, none of us knew what we were doing, so to come here and have someone say ‘this is the best way to do it’ has been super helpful.”
Fourth year captain Jake Goodnow, one of the team’s star players, also joined with little experience.
“When I started at Northeastern in September of 2018, I’d only been playing for two months,” he said. “In my freshman year, I was really able to grow as a player, and by the spring, I was already on the top squad, having only played competitively for seven months.”
Teaching is an integral aspect of the club. According to Daly, “at the very start, everyone is bad, because that’s really how Spikeball starts. No one’s coming into college a Spikeball pro.”
In fact, many of the club’s best players joined with little roundnet experience. With the club’s growth, the focus has shifted away from club expansion and toward growing new members and developing all-star players.
“I love teaching new people, and that’s really one of the reasons why I wanted to become president,” club president and senior Bradley Bares said. “I’ll see people playing and give them tips because there’s a lot of little things you can help players with and, all of a sudden, they become a better player. Seeing their joy in that is wonderful.”
Aside from providing instruction to grow new players, the club has established itself as a competitive team, winning four sectional tournaments in a row: fall 2018, spring 2019, fall 2019, and again in fall 2021 after a COVID-driven hiatus in 2020.
Based on their successes in sectionals, Daly, the club’s team captain, believes the club’s participation in more competitive tournaments is essential for improving their game.
“We’ve kind of outgrown the northeast; we’re the best team around and other teams don’t typically challenge us here. That’s why we really make an effort to travel to other regions and get good competition,” Daly said.
“It’s easier to improve when you’re against players who are better than you or have different play styles. Playing against the same Northeastern players all the time is good, but we start to learn each other’s play styles. It’s just very different playing someone you’ve never played before, so we need to get as much experience as we can.”
In November, the team headed to Texas and matched up against bigger competition at the South Central Sectional. They came away champions, beating Texas A&M in the semifinal and Baylor University in the final. Baylor places first in national rankings, but Northeastern hopes their recent victory will help them take Baylor’s coveted spot.
Nationals is the club’s culminating event, and they have their sights set high this year. Goodnow thinks their club has the potential to place first in the nation this spring.
“This year is the first year we have a really strong squad that can compete against top clubs in the country,” he said. “Going into the spring semester and going to nationals, we’ll be disappointed if we don’t find ourselves on the podium. We have high goals for ourselves and we’re working hard, so that’s an achievable goal.”
Goodnow, and the rest of Northeastern’s roundnet club, believe they’re capable of proving themselves as the nation’s top players.
“Our squad is the strongest it’s ever been. We want to get on the national podium. We want to go out there and prove ourselves. That’s our mission: to prove to other schools that we’re hungry and we’re winners.”