Way back on November 20th, the Cardinal Invitational took place. With everyone very busy with the holiday weekend and preparing for finals, it took a little while to compile each team’s lasting thoughts for the tournament. We take a look at what leaders from (almost) every team had to say.
Saginaw Valley State Perspective:
From the outside looking in, the tournament probably seemed like it didn’t go SV’s way. From the inside though, it showcased a much improved, young and talented team learning the ropes from two of the better teams in the country and holding their own for most of the matches as well as taking care of business against a team that they should handle very easily. I will try my best as not only the coach for SV but fellow NCDA and SV alumni to break down their games below.
Michigan State (4-2) Saginaw Valley: Looking at this game both teams were hungry to play, Michigan State’s first game of the year and Saginaw’s first home game of the year. The game played closer than the final score as both teams played similar styles and took points in similar fashions. A missed catch here and poorly thrown ball there and this match very well could have ended up in OT. Led by Tristan Baller SV went back to their routes of making catches look easy. The points SV won had a lot to do with how well they caught and how well they played as one unit. Joe Barber and Cole Machiela (who should be the front runner for ROY) were able to use their arms to get both the easy and hard outs from Michigan State throughout. Both Michigan State and SV are extremely young and I would love to see how these two teams perform when they play next semester.
Saginaw Valley (6-0) Ball State: This game was more of a get right game for SV. Take out some much needed frustration and be able to practice 12v12 on some strategies we wanted to apply later in the day. Two people stood out to me during this game the first being Mitchell Oliver who is the elder statesman for SV and his ability to control a side during this game both with his arm, pump fakes, and catching ability. The other being Bryce Stevens, during this game I saw a different form of Bryce than I saw in the past, he was being the true vocal leader for SV and he was organizing team throws and plays consistently. To perform to this level for SV, both Mitch and Bryce need to be vocal leaders on the court and on the sideline.
Grand Valley (4-2) Saginaw Valley: This game was intriguing, to watch to say the least. We came out with a strategy to force Ben Smart out of the game with his catching ability. I would say we did that, and for the most part it worked well. Josh Hill and company performed extremely well and the points were extremely close on all accounts. This is another game where any one play could’ve led this game to OT but I am happy with how SV played throughout. Tristan Baller again proved his catching ability during this game as he did all day. Rookie DJ Goodwin played a phenomenal game with both his blocking and catching skills while shadowing our throwers during this game which was exactly how we wanted him to perform during our game-planning. Like MSU, GV is another team I am interested in seeing how SV performs against next semester.
Overall, SV left this tournament much better than what they came to this tournament as. The experience for this team, gaining both knowledge and understanding is going to be vital for them to compete for a National Title come spring. Their starting 12 roster consists of really only 2 true veterans, while the rest all have a shortened covid season or no experience under them. This team grows weekly, watch out for them during the next semester.
Michigan State Perspective:
MSU started their season late as this was their first tournament. Michigan State finished the day with a 3-0 record including a 5-2 upset over GVSU. While the day as a whole was fantastic, the Spartans had several big takeaways to work on for the remainder of the season. Lead by junior leadership core Josh Kramer (C), Barry Butler III, Jack Girling, Ethan Roahrig & Daquan McClean, Michigan State had several key rookies step up to fill in important roles for their gameplay.
In the first match against SVSU (win 4-2), Girling showed off his arm early by locking down the left side for MSU. Throughout the day Girling flashed accurate cross-court counters and accounted for a large portions of the Spartans kills. Andrew Dubon, a rookie for the Spartans proved early that he will be a vital part of the Spartans transition game and pushing for aggression. He was elusive on the court, making accurate throws and several close-range catches, which was highlighted most against Saginaw Valley. The Cardinals struggled to find someone to match Dubon’s agility. Several clutch catches and plays by Kramer and Jon Crockett helped to swing vital points of the game when MSU was close to a 10-count to help them close out SVSU 4-2.
Freshman Alec Deen began playing into the role as the Spartans right corner, tallying multiple kills from the side. Deen held a phenomenal match against GVSU (win 5-2) where he helped in locking down former MVP Ben Smart for the majority of time. Jack Girling had his best match of the day against GVSU, totaling 11 kills and 1 catch in the second half alone to help seal the win for the Spartans. If Girling can continue to play how he did against GV, he has the potential to be a household name come Nationals.
Ball State (win 7-0) ended up proving great experience for the younger members of the team and several players stood out as good future role models for MSU. Rookies Ben Hackman & Tyler Marks had key defensive roles for the Spartans with several incredible blocks and catches off of counters as well as Brandon Lawson and Mikey Montgomery Jr showing flashes of good arms and play calling.
Overall, this young Spartan team gained some incredible experience and walked away with three hard-earned wins. If they continue to improve and develop their skills, the Spartans could be trouble for the NCDA come spring.
Ball State Perspective:
GV (Loss 8-0) was the first team we competed against coming into this tournament. We have only faced one other team prior to this match during a scrimmage. Walking in we had elevated expectations for ourselves, but during the first game you could tell we were scared and lacking confidence. After a few games many of us gained confidence, we had good performances from Caleb Johnston and Jake Salyer. We got blown out from Grand Valley, but we learned a lot from this match.
SVSU (loss 6-0) was the second team we faced at the tournament. After the first match against Grand Valley, we wanted vengeance. The match started with us getting blown out each game but near the end we focused and started working more together. The last few rounds of the game were good ones as we took them down to the last few guys. We came up short but had a better performance than we did with GV.
MSU (loss 7-0) was the last team we faced. Coming into this our Captain Kevin Frye wanted to test us. He said he wanted him and Cory Mosson to sit out because he felt we were relying on them too much. When they sat out, Jacob Good, Max Johnson, and Elijah Emery took over. We started communicating better as a team which helped us compete better. We ended up coming up short in this match, but we did not leave Michigan that day empty handed. We learned what we can do and what we can become. Ball State will be back and better. Overall, this trip was a good learning experience to prepare us for the spring semester.
Grand Valley State Perspective:
Grand Valley (win 8-0) Ball State
Grand Valley (win 4-2) Saginaw Valley
Grand Valley (loss 5-2) Michigan State
Presumably still fuming on their loss to Michigan State, Grand Valley did not provide a recap for this tournament.