Any sports reporters’ most valuable asset is the access he has to his sport’s elite. And for that, let me say that I am truly blessed. The Spikeball Roundnet community is friendly, enthusiastic and willing to lend a hand to anyone else who loves this sport. I reached out to several of the top players for an interview, and received almost nothing but positive responses. Recently, I called Peter Jon Showalter, and we talked for about an hour. He answered every question I had with honesty and sincere thought. He asked questions in return and seemed to legitimately care about some guy he had never met, who lived hundreds of miles away. I came away with the impression that he was a better person than he was a roundnet player. But enough with the ado, let’s get into some key excerpts from my interview with a three-time national champion.
Life before Spikeball
“I moved to Ohio before my junior year of high school from Northern Africa. I played basketball and tennis in high school and really enjoyed both, but I was better at basketball. Of course, everyone who plays high school ball has dreams of making it to the NBA, and I had a few offers to play at some smaller schools. But, I had pretty serious academic expectations for myself, so I decided not to play in college. I love people, and I find the human body really fascinating, so I definitely knew that I wanted to get into the medical field.”
Introduction to the sport
“I was actually introduced to Spikeball at a wedding reception about four years ago. One of my friends was getting married, and he introduced it to my whole family. With three brothers, it was a perfect game for us. After our parents gave us a set for Christmas, we started to teach our friends. After winning a local tournament with my brother Seth, we thought that we might be pretty good. So we went to Spike-a-palooza and got destroyed by Nashburgh, the #3 team in the country at that time. That’s what really opened our eyes up to how good some players were.”
The early years
“In 2015, I was still playing with my brother, using the team name “Monkey Business.” We went to about 5 tournaments, and usually ended up second or third. We did manage to take third at nationals, which I think surprised a lot of people. More so than the tournament results, that was an important year. I got involved with and fell in love with the community, which is still a large part of the reason I love this sport. I also met Tyler in 2015, so I guess that was a big deal.”
“In 2016, my brother got married and didn’t want to travel as much, so I played with Josiah Zimmerman under the team name Safi. Josiah was a good friend from college and we played probably around ten tournaments that year. We were ranked in the top three for most of that year as well, winning south east regionals and doing fairly well at Nationals as well.
“In 2017, Josiah wanted to travel less, and I had played with Tyler before, so C/S was born … Our strengths are so complementary. I’m not necessarily the quickest person in the world, whereas Tyler is insanely quick. Tyler says I have extend-o-arms, so that’s helpful. More importantly, we really meshed well both on and off the court. He is one of my best friends, and that shows up in our games. I have complete trust in him to be where he needs to be. That trust and chemistry is such a huge part of our defense. Everyone focuses on our serving, but I think we have some of the best defense on the tour. And, I attribute that to our chemistry more than anything. We see the game the same way.
“I have to say, it was nice being the underdog, with everyone cheering for you. In 2018, I don’t think anyone but our family was cheering for us. It is fun though, getting to take every team’s best shot. No matter what, teams would gear up to play against us.”
Mentality of Champions
“A good deal of our sport is mental. Our mental game starts with the confidence and trust that we have in each other. If the ball is hit at Tyler, I always think he is going to get it. So I am already moving to a better position to be in to set him. On defense, the belief is simple “I will not get beat.” On offense, the thought is “Why not?” Even if they are playing perfect defense, why can’t I wrap the ball a little farther. Or if the set is a little imperfect, why can’t I just push it past them anyway.” I’m not saying I am perfect, I shank my hits just like everyone else, but every time I swing I believe I will do what it takes to put the ball away. I think 100% belief leads to a lot of success.”
“I think our demeanor has a lot to do with our success as well. We are very controlled emotionally while we play, and that emotional control leads to control of the game. The flow of the game is very real. A lot of times we can see it in the eyes of who we are playing. ‘Now is the time to go for the throat.’ Keeping ourselves in control allows us to press at the right time.”
Playing as the best way to improve
“I think the best way to get better is to play in as many tournaments as possible. I know for me, that that first year of traveling, playing in anything I could get to, was where my game improved the most. Playing in tournaments is far and away the most important factor for anyone who wants to be good.”
“I don’t really run drills that much, but especially during the season I try to get in as many live games as possible.”
“I think people vastly underestimate the effect that playing other sports has on roundnet. During the offseason, I play as much basketball as I can. Ping pong and raquetball are really helpful too. Anything that helps with hand eye coordination. It also has the added benefit of coming back to the sport with a fresh mindset.”
Plans for the future
“It is definitely easier to travel and play in college. Every year, I sit down and reevaluate, but the community just keeps bringing me back. By 2023, I absolutely could still be playing. I also could see myself as a professional. My goal was to win a national championship, and I did that. I always thought it was cool when guys would go out on top. I almost left after the first one. We will just have to take it year by year, but its hard to imagine leaving this weird group of people with very little in common except for their love of this weird game.”
“Now that my wife isn’t playing collegiate volleyball, she wants to get into it more. There is no way she is going to travel around the country with all of our friends and leave me behind.”
Where will the sport be in five years?
“I think there will be some minor rule changes, but nothing serious. It should look pretty much like the same game. Popularity wise at tournaments and such, we are nowhere near a ceiling. It could triple, but it also could plateau. I think a lot of that depends on the company, and if they continue to promote the competitive aspect of it, or the backyard game.”
“Skill level will change a lot. I think serve receive and defense are on the up and up. When Tyler and I play against each other, there are more defensive breaks than aces. Whether it is 2019 or 2020, the reign of serving is coming to an end.”
Wrapping it all up
“It has been a blessing getting to know so many people through this sport, and Ty and I very much feel that our success is simply a gift that we can only thank God for, and try to make the most of the stage and opportunity He’s given us.”
“Huge shout-out to Ty and Ash for letting me piggyback to three national championships!”