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That Sudbury Sports Guy: Roundnet, Spikeball — it’s all good in the eyes of Kayla Lariviere

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For many Canadians, the term Kleenex is used far more frequently than tissue paper.

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And while a relatively new arrival on the national sports scene might not enjoy quite the same popularity as one of the most recognizable brand names in the country, it would be fair to say that more Canadians are acquainted with Spikeball than roundnet — though in fact they are one and the same.

Regardless of what moniker is attached, when it comes to Ontario, few are at the forefront of the rapidly growing game more than Sudbury native and College Notre Dame graduate Kayla Lariviere.

The secretary of Roundnet Ontario — her fiance, North Bay native Ian Donaghey, is president — helped launch the tournament circuit that now includes stops in Mississauga, Wasaga Beach, Kitchener-Waterloo, Durham and Windsor just a few years after being introduced to this variation on the sport of beach volleyball.

To be fair, there are likely more differences than similarities between the two. Picture a circular hula hoop-sized mini-trampoline surrounded by four players — two teams of two. You must serve the soft ball (about the size of a softball, ironically) directly off the net, at which time the opposing duo has three hits in which they must return the serve.

“Once the game starts, it’s 360 degrees, so you can run anywhere around the net,” explained Lariviere, living in North Bay since finishing teacher’s college in the Gateway City following an undergraduate degree at Ottawa University. “That’s where the challenge comes in, finding a way for you and your partner to cover a 360-degree area.”

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If that sounds a tad chaotic, then it only makes sense that roundnet should borrow from squash, another sport played quickly in confined spaces.

“It’s your responsibility to do your best to get out of the way after you hit the ball,” noted Lariviere.

Failure to do so results in a hinder, the roundnet version of a let in squash.

While the competitive arm of the game that can be played on pretty much any surface — grassy, open areas are best — is still very much in its infancy, Spikeball has been around since roughly the early 1970s.

“They tried to market it initially as a children’s game, but it’s quite technical and you need some decent hand-eye coordination, so it flunked as a children’s game,” said Lariviere.

Still, on an informal basis, at a simple let’s-goof-around-and-have-some-fun level, it’s an absolute blast — and I say that only because my daughter, daughter-in-law and grandson are avid recreational practitioners.

The attraction was likely similar for Lariviere.

“I played a lot of sports growing up, quite a few competitively: soccer, basketball — but volleyball was the one that I liked the most, the one that most resonated with me,” said the three-year veteran of the Northern Chill Volleyball Club program.

Lariviere also partook in a little beach volleyball in the summer, though never leaving the city for tournament play. Then came a class activity outing, late in her year spent at Nipissing.

“We did a beach day and someone brought Spikeball — I was obsessed, right away,” she said. “I liked the fact that you could move in any direction, you can play on pretty much any terrain, you don’t need to put up a net — I loved the convenience. I got my fiance involved and we started to look for people to play with.

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“We would go to the beach and play just the two of us, trying to create a buzz. People would ask what we were doing and we would invite them to play. Eventually, we got a club started here.

“That’s when we started to take things to another level, creating a tournament circuit around the province.”

Given the simplicity of the game and the fact that venues were, for all intent and purposes, free of charge (any municipal park land would do), the only real cost involved initially was the time factor for Lariviere and Donaghey.

“We would drop off flyers; we focused on social medal and hoped people would come out and play,” said the 29-year-old woman who also keeps herself busy teaching training courses for Primerica and operating her own baking business from home.

“When we first started running the tournaments, we started out averaging 20 to 30 teams, which wasn’t too bad.”

Though there were pockets of interest in various parts of the United States, the game was only starting to take hold in Canada. Roundnet had garnered a following in Quebec, creating the groundswell for an event in Ottawa. Weekend tournaments gave way to the genesis of an ever increasing number of regional clubs.

Even with the pandemic halting the gathering of a collection of Spikeball advocates in a singular location, the sport continued to grow.

“Because it’s such an easy sport to play with family in the front or backyard, people were buying the game and still playing in small pockets — so we really did not have to do much work,” said Lariviere.

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A few online contests and plans for a return to play this summer worked wonders.

More than 70 entries made their way to Mississauga in late July. By the time Wasaga Beach rolled around in mid-August, that number had exceeded one hundred. The sport, however, is not unique to North America, with the 2020 world championships in Belgium cancelled due to COVID-19.

For Lariviere and company, their eyes are fixated on Windsor, host to the Ontario Roundnet Grand Slam on Sept. 25 — and then a plan for expansion in the off-season.

“We are getting back to running our winter events and looking forward to that,” she said.

As for the takeaways from the summer of 2021, roundnet mirrors most other sports in welcoming a return to normalcy.

“The condensed schedule this summer was tough,” Lariviere stated. “We would normally do one tournament a month between May and September, which isn’t too bad.

“I’m excited to get more exposure for roundnet, especially in Northern Ontario.”

And if you insist on calling it Spikeball, she’s fine with that, too.

Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. Read his column regularly in The Sudbury Star.

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