PLNU grads become top-ranked roundnet team in the nation

SAN DIEGO -- The sport of spikeball continues to gain popularity and now there's a competitive league for it.

Kenny Ortega and Zach Wood have reached the highest level of competition and now have their eye on becoming national champions this weekend in Santa Monica.

If you head to the beach, you've probably seen this sport called roundnet, though it's commonly referred to as spikeball.

"It's kind of like beach volleyball but instead of hitting it over a net, you hit it into the net and it changes possession," said Ortega. "There's no boundaries so it's 360 play and it's two-on-two and you're trying to make it so the other team can't return it onto the net."

For Ortega, an Ocean Beach native, the sport began as a hobby while attending Point Loma Nazarene University. It wasn't until after competing in a local Roundball tournament that he started to take it more seriously.

"We went and kind of just got destroyed and didn't know that it was a competitive scene or that people served hard or that people traveled around the country to play," said Ortega. "It kind of evoked a, alright we can do this, I want to get better and try."

Ortega and his teammate Wood are currently ranked the fourth-best team in the nation. They just placed second in the west coast regional tournament, which earned them an automatic bid into the pro division at nationals in October, held in Santa Monica.

During the season, the duo played in 20 tour stops across the country, accumulating enough points to qualify.

"You play one game to 15, rally scoring, and then it's win by two always and then you get to a bracket and it's kind of like March Madness," said Ortega. "They put you into a single elimination or double elimination bracket and that is two out of three games to 21."

Roundnet can be played on both grass and sand surfaces, both requiring a lot of hand-eye coordination and the ability to lay your body on the line.

"In roundnet, you dive a lot and on sand. It's nice, it's easier to dive and then on grass it tends to be a lot quicker and so you can play farther off the net to try and track down deep balls," said Ortega.

According to Ortega, the sport continues to grow here in the United States and worldwide, something he says feels like a privilege to be a part of.

"The sport is kind of all over," he said. "It's a bunch in Europe now, in Peru there's a big following, in Canada it's huge so it's really starting to take off in other places other than the U.S. which is really fun to be a part of, being at the highest level of that."

Ortega and Wood will compete against nearly 250 other teams at the Spikeball Roundnet Nationals.