The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 4th

UNC senior Stef Ding represents Taiwan in Spikeball’s Roundnet World Championship

UNC senior and Spikeball Club teammate Stephanie "Stef" Ding poses in Koman Practice Facility before playing a round of Spikeball on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC senior and Spikeball Club teammate Stephanie "Stef" Ding poses in Koman Practice Facility before playing a round of Spikeball on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

Just a few years ago, Stephanie “Stef” Ding didn’t know what Spikeball was. 

But when Ding visited the UNC Spikeball Club's booth as a first-year at Weeks of Welcome in Fall 2019, she was hooked. From there, the Cary, N.C. native joined the club and began attending open practices where she started to learn the fundamentals of the game. 

“I started playing really casually and then one day the guys (in the club) were like, ‘Hey are you interested in competing?” she said. “And I was like, ‘Why not.’”

Ding represented Taiwan at Spikeball’s inaugural Roundnet World Championship in early September. However, her time on North Carolina’s competitive team has not been as smooth as it may appear. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ding has only competed in three tournaments with UNC’s team. Yet, that hasn’t stopped her from playing in events outside of those sponsored by universities.

In April, Ding joined forces with her twin sister — and N.C. State student — Tiffany “Tiff” Ding. The early competitions as a pair served as a stepping stone toward the sisters’ reunion to compete at the World Championships in Belgium.

“It’s really cool to be (Tiff’s) teammate,” Stef said. “It's cool that she saw me play Spikeball and then she got interested in it and now she’s pretty serious about it.”

Though the two are related, building up their in-game chemistry has been a struggle. Tiff said it took months to build the sister’s Spikeball bond due to scheduling conflicts.

“We were both the top women’s players at our respective schools, but it took us all the way until worlds to click, even though we started playing together in April,” Tiff said.

While the two spent time away from each other, Stef began focusing on her individual development. Over the summer, Stef said she would play around six hours of Spikeball per day.

Once she returned to Chapel Hill for her senior year, Stef’s long Spikeball days had to be reduced. She joined one of her good friends, and fellow Spikeball club member, Max Levinson, to practice two nights a week in Fetzer Gym.

“Over the past few months, she’s probably been the hardest working person in our club,” Levinson said. “Over the summer, and into the beginning of this semester, she’s improved a lot.”

Stef’s hard work was put to the test in Belgium, where over the four-day event, Stef and her sister battled the top teams in the world. 

But the jump in competition wasn’t the only hurdle the two had to endure, as inclement weather put the Ding sisters in trialing situations.

“Every day, as soon as we started playing, we were cold to the bone, wet and covered in mud,” Tiff said. “Stef even caught a cold and had to play through feverish conditions.”

Despite their hardships, the two finished the tournament in 13th place. The duo defeated the Brazilian and Colombian team while losing a hard-fought contest to Austria — the third-place finisher. 

With her first world competition complete, Stef has seen her time with Spikeball elevate from playing leisurely at Hooker Fields to dueling teams across the globe. Stef acknowledged it was an honor to represent Taiwan on a global stage, but wasn’t fully satisfied with her result.

“My sister and I could have — and should have — performed better,” she said. “Expectations were high for us and we let a lot of people down, so I’m holding on to this and using it to continue making myself a better player until the next world championship.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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