One thing is obvious about senior Gray Bundy: spikeball is his passion.
With its logo always plastered on his shirt and backpack, he looks like a true advertisement for the sport.
But Bundy didn’t start playing until summer 2020.
Once he began learning the ropes, he quickly fell in love with it.
“My cousin came to visit, and she brought a spikeball net. I’d seen it before but never played it,” Bundy said. “I started playing it, and it was the first sport that felt natural to me.”
Bundy doesn’t consider himself to be an athlete, but he found that spikeball wasn’t like other sports.
Spikeball is like beach volleyball in that each team has up to three touches to return the ball back to the net.
There are no sides or boundaries, and the game is played 360 degrees around the net.
It’s constant movement.
“I’m not great at basketball, football and baseball. With spikeball, it was like ‘wow, this feels right.’ Everything just clicked in my head,” Bundy said. “So, I immediately was like ‘I think I want to do this for a while.’”
Once Bundy felt somewhat confident in his abilities, he and his partner, junior Matt Hillhouse, decided to compete in Spikeball Nationals in Philadelphia despite little experience.
“We were brand new to the sport, and Matt lives in Philadelphia. We were like ‘what if we get cheap flights?’” Bundy said. “We found flights for like 30 bucks, stayed at his house, and competed in nationals.”
Due to it being their first competition, Bundy and Hillhouse competed in the intermediate division, meant for less experienced players.
It didn’t go as planned.
“We got crushed and humbled in the process,” Hillhouse said.
But Bundy was eager to participate in more tournaments.
“We did terribly. It was so bad, but it was a blast” Bundy said. “I was hooked on tournaments, so spring semester of my junior year, I started driving to tournaments.”
Ever since Philadelphia, Bundy has traveled to Tennessee, Georgia and Texas to gain more spikeball experience.
He estimates that he’s played in roughly 15 tournaments, slowly improving in each.
To hone his spikeball skills, Bundy constantly plays with Belmont, Lipscomb and Vanderbilt students.
“The best way to practice is to play,” Bundy said. “If you play with other people, you’ll slowly get better.”
While Bundy desires to go pro, he admits it has one flaw – sport is no way to make a living.
“I’ll go pro maybe four or five years down the road. Right now, there’s no way to support yourself,” Bundy said. “Even for the best spikeball players, it’s a hobby.”
For Bundy, the sport must become more popular for him to consider a professional career.
Hillhouse notices that Bundy always tries to do his part in helping the game grow through teaching less experienced players.
“When we play with first timers who don’t really know the rules, Gray is often very patient with them while also offering some tips to help them improve their game,” Hillhouse said.
Obviously, spikeball is far from the world’s most popular sport, but the game is growing across the globe.
Bundy’s wish may come true soon.
In 2022, Belgium hosted 33 countries for the first ever Spikeball World Championships.
But Bundy doesn’t care if he ever reaches the world stage.
He’s fine with playing the game just the way he does now.
“I love it,” Bundy said. “I’ll play until I can’t play anymore.”
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer