2018 Utah Invitational Series
For the first time in Utah roundnet history (if any archivists or spike historians want to fact check me, please do) our community has enjoyed a somewhat organized and consistent schedule of weekly pickup and an official tournament series that started in earnest in 2018. In a new attempt to expand past Utah County (where 8 of our 9 premier players reside), tournaments were hosted in Logan, Salt Lake, Provo, and West Jordan. Run by the savvy and ever-innovating Taylor Sanford (not to be confused with the bevy of other Taylors in the community), the series was set up with intermediate and advanced brackets, with the top-5 finishers from each bracket qualifying to play in the championship series in West Jordan a week before nationals.
We kicked off the series at Utah State University in Logan, with 30 teams in the mix. Mostly filled with locals, there were a few teams who made the trek up North. Needing a few more points from independent tournaments to qualify for the Pro Division at nationals, Spikers Anonymous, made up of Taylor Church and Spencer Schmidt, teamed up for their 9th tournament together and first ever in Logan for the first of the Utah tour stops. With 17 teams in the advanced bracket, Spikers was the clear favorite as the only other premier player, Jonny Schmidt was playing with his twin brother in his first ever tournament.
The whole day was pretty exciting to watch as new players learned from older players and new friendships were forged. Every tournament there are a few new players that get enraptured by the sport and by playing more elite players, and almost in an instant they realize how much they have to learn and improve, and from thereon out, the obsession is born and enhanced and the energy that causes ripples through the community unabated.The finals ensued after a long double-elimination bracket and a hot sun that malevolently baked those waiting and playing. Ball Benders, an up-and-coming high school team from Taylorsville would have to win two back to back series to a Spikers team that hadn't dropped a game all day. Ultimately Ball Benders couldn't quite compete with the violent serves and cleaner play of Church and Spencer and lost in 2 games. Despite losing quickly, Daniel Fairbourn and Ben Ivins of Ball Benders had placed higher than they ever had, and podiumed for the first time in the advanced bracket.
The second tournament of the series in Salt Lake proved to be even more competitive with a total of 43 teams, with 4 premier players mashing up and 14 teams fighting for top finishes in the advanced bracket. This time with Spencer not in attendance, Church teamed up with Connor Winters, looking to get Connor his first championship after finishing second in several Utah tournaments. Half of Gucci Swagball 1000, one of Utah’s best teams was there in Gage Maddox’s first tournament since returning from his LDS mission. Gage teamed up with a fellow Syracuse baller, Burke Lindhardt. Jonny Schmidt again teamed up with his twin brother to compete as the Zinc Boys. A couple tough teams from Idaho made the trip and a very talented new team from the University of Utah, Ben Hamilton and Cole Martin, competed hard, but again the finals were no surprise as Church and Winters faced Gage and Burke. Gage and Church exchanged aces throughout the 2-game series, with Maddox making some incredible sets and Winters chasing down some balls that seemed long gone, but in the end Church and Winters won in two relatively close games.
The last tournament before the championship tourney was in our esteemed Spikeball hub, Provo. This ended up being our biggest tournament in Utah history with 63 teams (24 in advanced) and 7 out of 9 Utah premier players present. This time, with Spencer still out nursing a torn quad, Church teamed up with Tyler Stokes in their first tournament together. Winters played with one of his many partners, Anthony Oliver, who has teamed up in the past with both Church and Stokes. The other premier players mashed up with advanced players and reeked havoc in their own respects. Again, several teams from Idaho looking for greater competition came to compete as their community only had 2 premier players, whose premier status had recently expired. After flirting with heat exhaustion and throwing up between series, Stokes emerged from the bathroom just in time for the finals vs. Oliver and Winters. Oliver also not at his best after cramping up in the semis and taking an inordinately long timeout, took to the finals, a series that seemed destined to be a battle of Church vs. Winters. A slew of aces by Church and his lanky limbs ended the series effectively in two games.
The championship series actually proved to be slightly less competitive than the Provo showcase, as several teams that qualified couldn't make it. Church who technically had qualified with 3 partners opted to play with Stokes as Spencer was still convalescing his troubled leg. This was an unseasonably cold tournament, at least in the morning, with sprinkles of rain and heavy winds. The two teams that seemed likely to meet in the finals were Maddox and his partner Burke and of course Stokes and Church. As the sun made its way out, so did the dominance of team Stoked to Play with Church, who won the final 2 games 21-9, 21-10 to take home the coveted glassware.