Ohio region dodgeball will remain the deepest in the league this year, but can they end the 18-year national title drought? Many teams think they can. Here is Terence Checkett and Ethan Lehmkuhl’s pre-season deep dive on each and every Ohio team trying to break through this year.
Ohio State – Championship or Bust
Analysis: Ohio State enters the season as the #1 power-ranked team in the league, and with that comes a lot of expectations. Anything less than a two-trophy season would be disappointing for the Buckeyes. Combine their slew of veteran returners with another solid rookie class, and it shouldn’t be too far out of reach. There is no doubt that wherever they go or whoever they play, this OSU squad will be a fun watch. However, it is to be seen if they can put it all together when it counts.
Key Contributors & Departures: Ohio State will lose two key cogs in their lineup to graduation, All-Americans Ryan Ginsberg and Ben Dardia. They will return two All-Americans: Director of Nationals, Ethan Lehmkuhl, and reigning Rookie of the Year, Nick Kemer. The latter will open the season as a top 2 favorite for league MVP. The Buckeyes will also lean on former First Team All-Rookies, Alden Prohaska and Derrek Kemper; as well as veterans Elijah Thomas and Evan Utterback.
“There’s going to be a lot of people drinking the OSU kool-aid this year, so we’re gonna do our best to make sure it’s sweet for them” – Ethan Lehmkuhl, OSU Captain
Cincinnati – Shoes to Fill
Analysis: Considering that UC has reached the final four and won ODC each of the last two years, it might shock you to learn that they are not ranked as the #1 team in the region. While this is in large part due to the quality and quantity of their graduating class, the Bearcats are confident that they can pick up right where they left off. With Wes Peters at the helm, you can count on UC to recruit well and be extremely disciplined throughout the season. Pair this with their capable group of returners, and I don’t think there would be too many people shocked to see this team in the mix for some more championship hardware come springtime.
Key Contributors & Departures: Cincinnati will lose All-Americans Brett Liming, Cory Heitmann, and Ryan Engelman (at least for the fall semester). They will also lose veterans Brannon McGinn and Kevin Skiba. The Bearcats return All-American Matthew Rosinksi as well as First Team All-Rookies Will Hyatt and Robbie Mitchell.
“Don’t count us out just because we lost a lot of our foundation. We have a lot of second-years who are ready to step up to the plate and fill in some of the gaps, as well as some very promising rookies. Ohio has a lot of competition and I’m excited to see how it plays out this year.” – Will Hyatt, Cincinnati Captain
Ohio – Right in the Mix
Analysis: Ohio University enters this season as the third-ranked team in the Ohio region. Last year was an up-and-down season that saw them peak as the #1 team in the country during the fall semester, and subsequently dip after putting up disappointing performances at both ODC and Nationals. With that being said, the Bobcats will look to take another step forward this year. Ohio has also reported a superb rookie class that they believe will take them over the edge.
Key Contributors & Departures: It’s impossible to understate the departure of not only perennial All-Americans but also key court leaders: the Bobcats will be without Caleb Arnold and Alex Jonauskas. This team will look towards its deep rookie class from 2 years ago to shoulder the load, including players like Sean O’Donnell, Daniel Van Fleet, Austin Bensman, and Garrett Carbullido. Ohio will also receive one more year of service time from All-American Max Stoeckel. Captain and All-American, Terence Checkett, who opens the season as the betting favorite for NPOY, will look to lead this talented group of Bobcats to the promised land.
“We got Daniel Van Fleet… DOG. Max Stoeckel… DOG. Logan Neff… DOG, he had 19 solo kills against SVSU. Judson Jones… DOG. Austin Bensman, I didn’t even know he could catch but he’s a DOG. Garrett Carbullido man… He’s a catcher in my eyes but I guess he can throw the ball too… DOG.” -Sean O’Donnell, Ohio Captain
Akron – What’s Next?
Analysis: The Zips are a fascinating team, to say the least. We saw them capture a perfect 6-0 home record last season and they consistently stayed near the top of the standings due to their tendency to keep a full schedule. Later in the year, we saw them pick up a big win against Ohio at ODC as well as an exciting quarterfinal match at Nationals in which they took a talented JMU team to overtime. You can always count on Akron to catch the ball well, and we know that they won’t back down from any opponent. Let’s see if Adam Pfeifer and co. can take that next step and make some more noise at trophied events.
Key Contributors & Departures: Akron will lose All-American Clay Egleston as well as veterans Matt Young, and Ryan Curtis, all players who were also essential court leaders. Key Zip contributors will be All-Americans PJ Antalek and Alexis Schultz, as well as Arik Kavanaugh, and former All-Rookie Cooper Sites. Nicole Cutich and Zoe DeLand will also be key contributors for the best women’s team in the league.
“Akron is more motivated than ever after our devastating loss to JMU at nationals. The majority of our starting roster has been playing NDA all summer and we have lots of impressive rookies to look out for as well, so we’re ready to kick off the season. We have a large women’s team and can’t wait to continue to be the best in the league… now only stronger with more numbers.” – Nicole Cutich, Akron Captain
BGSU – Falc Yeah
Analysis: The Bowling Green Falcons find themselves middle of the pack in the regional rankings to start the year. After a season in which it appeared the Falcons tended to play to the level of their competition, losing close games to top teams and scraping out close wins against inferior opponents; BGSU will look to take the next step amongst the best in the league and reestablish themselves among the top tier teams in this region. More consistency, discipline, and a few solid rookies/jumps from returners could very well be enough for this storied club.
Key Contributors & Departures: The Falcons had to say goodbye to key starters Joey Irwin, Tyler Webb, and Easton Huffman. Their shoes will be filled by key returners including women’s All-American Reni Kaiser. Directing the squad on the court will be the primary responsibility of captain and NCDA veteran, Kalin Strawther. Last but certainly not least, BGSU will lean heavily on All-American, Evan Brown to shoulder the offensive load this season. Falcon alumni, Brandon Feltner, will once again assume his position behind the headset.
“I feel as if our team has a chance to go beyond this year. Our recruiting went well, we have a lot of promising talent, and we’re already starting to look like a high-caliber team. Three players from our team graduated, which is always going to cause some negativity, but we’re filling that void with more players to start the cycle over. We see ourselves rising out of that lower section of the NCDA Standings that we’ve been stuck in for as long as I’ve been a part of the team. For this team, I see an amazing upward trend and I’m proud to be spearheading the charge.” – Kay Strawther
Miami – Finding a Rhythm
Analysis: There are a lot of teams jockeying to break through this year, and Miami would be a perfect candidate. The Redhawks will retain a lot of talent and leadership, lending to just how deep this region really is. If they recruit well and are able to get numbers at tournaments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some MU Ball upsets this season.
Key Contributors & Departures: Miami will lose Women’s All-American Elly Schipfer as well as veterans Ryan Williams and Jason Zepahua. They will look for young talent to step up this year in the likes of Cole Ginnochio, Katie Mei Williams, Connor Smith, and Max Edling, who has significantly improved his game via the NDA.
“For our team, the majority of returners have played together for two seasons now, and with the new people we have recruited we expect to turn a corner this season. We want to become more competitive, and try to crack the top of the Ohio region.” – Max Edling, Miami Captain
Kent State – Back on the Map?
Analysis: Kent State will look to take another step in the right direction this year as their program rebuild comes to fruition. With plenty of experienced returners and a large recruiting class, Kent is poised to improve on last year’s performances. This is not a team that you will want to be sleeping on this year, especially under the tutelage of Rylan Close and Austin Byler.
Key Contributors & Departures: Kent State’s main departure is Women’s All-American, Vanessa Hudson. Key returners for the Golden Flashes include Nathan Keller, Mitchell Porter, and Branden Stevens, all looking to make names for themselves this season after picking up some NDA experience this summer.
“This season for us should put Kent State back on the map. From having about 9 players per tournament last year to having a full 18 this year will do wonders for our program. Expect some Golden Flashes to light up the news this year in the NCDA as everyone on this roster has the chance to make a splash in this league.” – Mitchell Porter, Kent State Captain
CSU – Battle Ready
Analysis: Cleveland State is hopeful to improve on last season, and with all due respect: that shouldn’t be too hard to do. The Vikings have a handful of returners, and if they can avoid the injury bug this year, they should find themselves on the other side of a number of those losses.
Key Contributors & Departures: With very few departures from the team after last season, CSU will rely heavily on veteran leadership from Women’s All-Americans Kathryn Mays and Sky Thornsberry. They will also look for key contributions from William McCartney, Alex Costello, Jostein Sagnes, and Antoine Lamar, who have all obtained additional dodgeball experience through the NDA this summer.
“The Vikings were an interesting group of people; storming islands, taking over, destroying everything in their paths. They were ruthless. They were trailblazers. They took what they wanted. The CSU Vikings are still growing into that role. I anticipate close matches this year… maybe some islands conquered. Guess we’ll have to see how the tides turn.” – Kathryn Mays, CSU Captain
Ohio Region Superlatives
Most underrated player: Cole Ginocchio
Cole is a rising junior who quite simply can do it all on the court. His quirky windup and reserved demeanor lead to a lot of unsuspecting kills, and it’s not as simple as ‘counter him’ because he can catch those too. If Miami plans on being successful this season, it will have to be in large part due to his efforts on and off the court.
Program on the rise: Kent State
Kent is our pick to show the most improvement this year in the Ohio region. They are a storied program that was nearly wiped to extinction by the pandemic, but their scrappiness and resiliency are second to none. Look for Kent to have a breakout year.
Biggest Unknown: Miami
As we mentioned before, Miami is looking to break out this season. Will they do it is the question. It’s hard to say if this team will be able to separate into the top tier of NCDA teams as they want to. No one would be surprised if they do, but I can’t imagine many would be surprised if they don’t either.
Coach of the Year: Wes Peters (UC)
Wes Peters is once again the pre-season Ohio region coach of the year, and deservingly so. His dedication and knowledge of the game are unrivaled. His effort will certainly be tested this season, as he faces the challenge of doing more with less, but if it was going to be anyone it would be him.
Pre-Season Power Rankings
- Terence Checkett (Ohio)
- Nick Kemer (Ohio State)
- Max Rosinski (Cincinnati)
- PJ Antalek (Akron)
- Evan Brown (Bowling Green State)
- Ethan Lehmkuhl (Ohio State)