This past Sunday, Michigan State University hosted the annual Michigan Dodgeball Cup (MDC). #1 Central Michigan and #2 Grand Valley State joined #10 Michigan State in East Lansing for the tourney to determine bragging rights in the state of Michigan.
Only 3 official matches were played on Sunday at MDC, but those games did draw quite a bit of attention. Below are the results from the three matches, along with my reactions of each game and each team at MDC:
Match by Match Analysis:
Game 1: GVSU def MSU 5-0
First game of the day was expected to be a blowout, and that’s exactly what it was. Grand Valley has been historically dominant at MDC (32-4 all-time record entering the day), while Michigan State has had plenty of tough losses at this tournament over the years (9-25 overall). Sunday proved to be no different for the two teams.
Grand Valley started the game out red hot. Over the course of the entire first half I think there were only two times a captain for GVSU got out. Sam Stockdale had a dominant performance in this game, especially during the first two points when GVSU needed big plays to gain the momentum. Brandon Meisel had another solid performance (including a cool suicide kill on MSU star Noe Galaviz), and Aaron Krafft was once again a standout, especially the few times MSU knocked GV down close to the ten-count. The 3 captains for GVSU were the stars of the game, and their stellar play seemed to trickle down to the rest of the team.
On the other side, the Spartans looked like a solid group, but they were simply over-matched by a team playing at the top of their game. There is only so much that Sandros Rivera or Rebecca Shappell can do as vocal leaders when their team is facing GVSU. The Spartans showed flashes of potential, but in the end, they just weren’t as skilled of a team top to bottom as their opponents.
Game 2: CMU def MSU 5-0
Michigan State finished up their loss with GVSU and had to move on to play Central Michigan directly afterwards. Not an easy task for any team. The Chippewas didn’t come out of the gate as strong as I expected, but eventually were able to really take hold of the momentum as they grabbed 3 points before halftime.
The second half was a bit of a different story, and maybe the reason for CMU’s downfall later that day. The Chips came out of halftime without much energy at all. It was as if they forgot they were competing for the Michigan Dodgeball Cup. CMU was able to get 2 points that half, but both came during close points that could have gone either way.
The second half of this game was also where we saw the breakout performance of MSU rookie Payton Schuster. His strong sidearm lefty throw was able to pick off many of CMU’s top players, and his clutch catching helped keep the Spartans in a position to win points. Michigan State certainly showed their inexperience early in this game, but they also showed a lot of promise.
Just out here slingin' rubber balls pic.twitter.com/frNbmboak9
— Payton (@17pschuster) February 12, 2018
Game 3: GVSU def CMU 5-1
The game of the day was obviously the one that would take place between the #1 and #2 teams in college dodgeball. Entering the tournament, most people predicted a win by Central Michigan, and with good reason. The Chippewas held a 3-0 advantage in their series with the Lakers so far this year, including one 4-1 victory on GVSU’s home court. Beating GVSU at home is no easy task, just ask SVSU (hint: they’ve never beat the Lakers @ GVSU).
The game began with an interesting first point. Central had a commanding lead early in the point (either 9 or 10 against 5 for GVSU), but the Lakers stormed back thanks to clutch play from a few less talked about players (Aaron VanFleteren, Nolan Stanko, and rookie Josh Hill).
From this point on, the game was all GVSU. The Lakers did an amazing job defensively, limiting the amount of solid throws CMU could even take, and they executed well when they moved to the offensive end. GVSU went up 3-0 with 4:01 before halftime, which means they had to play out the next point. During that time, CMU and GVSU both played extremely aggressive, and the Lakers actually got Central down to only 2 or 3 players remaining when the halftime buzzer sounded.
The second half was much of the same story. GVSU was just outplaying the Chippewas on both ends of the court, as the Lakers grabbed a 5-0 lead with about 10 minutes to go. In the last ten minutes, with the outcome of the game already determined, CMU was able to get back a point, but then the Chips nearly dropped a 6th point as GVSU got them down to just two players before time expired. Final score was 5-1.
Team by Team Analysis
As mentioned above, this team did show some signs of life at this tournament. MSU doesn’t have a great record at the moment, but they have played tough competition over and over. I would argue that this team is still a year or two away from being a title contender again, but I am excited with the potential they have shown.
The standouts on their roster this weekend include Noe Galaviz, who was forced to make a large portion of their throws during the first half against GVSU. Daniel Kobina was impressive over the weekend. He is another player that is forced to do a lot for the team, but he made some great catches on the day. Hunter Whitehill is another top player on this roster, he has solid hands and a strong throw. Lastly, as we alluded to in the live broadcast, rookie Payton Schuster had a breakout performance and is arguably the favorite for NCDA Rookie of the Year.
I believe I will keep MSU at about #8 in the country in next month’s power rankings. This team has talent, but they are on occasion too disorganized to take advantage when they have the opportunity to steal a point from a good team.
Central had a rough weekend. They took their first loss of the season and it was a blowout. Their top players for the most part did not perform when the Michigan Dodgeball Cup was on the line. The players on the back end of their roster were outplayed by their GVSU counterparts. They did not respond to adversity well this tourney. Nothing went together the way they had drawn it up unfortunately.
With that said, I still have a lot of confidence in this group. I know they will make the necessary adjustments and be in the conversation for the national title all the way until the end of the season. Mike Riley did not have his greatest tournament ever on Sunday (he had an issue with one of the fingers on his throwing hand, which certainly played a part in that), but he remains in my eyes the front-runner for league MVP.
Grant Webber was arguably the best player on the court for CMU during their two games on Sunday. He was time and time again one of the last players remaining, and in their awful game against GVSU, he was a lone bright spot. Austin Brege really impressed me this weekend. His throw has improved significantly over the years, and he looked very much like a star player on the Chippewas’ roster at MDC. Nick Watson is another player that showed flashes on Sunday. He did a great job as both a catcher and a thrower for CMU.
Bottom line, this team is 3-1 against their rivals. The fashion in which the last loss occurred certainly stings, but CMU is still a force to be reckoned with. They aren’t perfect by any means, but 19-1 ain’t too shabby.
Grand Valley had a great weekend. Sam Stockdale had one of the best tournaments of his career. If he can keep up that level of play the rest of the season, he is a no-brainer All-American. Brandon Meisel had a few ugly outs against CMU, but that happens. Can’t really say anything bad about a guy that captained his team to a blowout 5-1 win over the #1 team in the nation.
Aaron Krafft’s name isn’t mentioned enough when it comes to the best players in college dodgeball, but his performance at MDC certainly boosts his candidacy there. He, along with the two players mentioned above, were the three best performers at MDC.
Nolan Stanko had a great tournament for GVSU, making plenty of big catches. Josh Hill made a statement as one of the top rookies in the country thanks to a strong arm and solid court awareness. Alex Jonauskas played like a veteran in both games, and is another Laker who will be crucial to the team’s success down the stretch this season. Collin Freeman had easily the best tournament of his career for GVSU, as he made plenty of clutch outs that seemed to shift the momentum in the Lakers’ favor.
As we head into the last 2 months of the season, the Lakers will need to play with as much discipline and teamwork as they did at MDC if they expect to win the NCDA National Championship for a 6th consecutive season.
Looking to the Future
Very quickly, I’ll just give my thoughts on each team in Michigan moving forward.
Michigan State looks like a squad that will be in a battle to earn a quarterfinals spot this year. They are power ranked #8 in the country, but remain at #10 in the official standings. It will depend on the way they finish the season, and who they draw in bracket play at Nationals.
Saginaw Valley State chose to not attend MDC in favor of “The War” tournament at Akron. They are riding a high right now, as SVSU earned a few solid wins on the weekend over JMU, Towson, and Kent State. I would place SVSU as the #3 team in the country right now. With that said, the bold move to skip a tournament where you get to face the #1 and #2 teams in the country may come back to bite them these next few months. In the short term, the move looks great because this team has a lot of momentum, but if they draw GVSU or CMU at Nationals, and their inexperience against top competition ends up costing them a chance at a title in 2018, well… hindsight is 20/20.
Grand Valley State had their best tournament of the season. They jumped to #1 in the official standings, but Captain Brandon Meisel put it very simply, saying “We don’t deserve that, make us earn it”. GVSU will look to continue to prove themselves going forward as they have put together a challenging slate of opponents. The Lakers will travel to JMU for BEAST, then will host a huge tourney on March 25 that will include every Michigan team along with maybe BGSU, Kent, UWP, and maybe more. GVSU has a long way to go still, but they have proven that they are title contenders.
Central Michigan had a rough weekend, but as far as I’m concerned, the Chips still have the best resume of any team int he country. I think the 5-1 loss to GVSU will just be a bump in the road for this team. They have the talent to be the top team in the country, and they will definitely be determined to prove that over the next few months. I can’t wait for Nationals, and if I was a betting man, I would say it will once again be a GVSU v CMU finale.