On Saturday, February 25th, Ohio State University hosted the 2023 edition of the Ohio Dodgeball Cup tournament, and for the second straight season, the Cincinnati Bearcats were declared champions. The tournament, featuring all 8 active Ohio region teams, was played in a single elimination format, with consolation and placement matches giving a final ranking to each team. Here is how each team did:
- Cincinnati (3-0 Record: W 8-0 Kent State, W 7-0 Akron, W 3-2 Ohio State)
- Ohio State (2-1 Record: W 7-0 Cleveland State, W 4-3 Ohio, L 2-3 Cincinnati)
- Akron (2-1 Record: W 6-1 Bowling Green, L 0-7 Cincinnati, W 3-2 Ohio)
- Ohio (1-2 Record: W 6-2 Miami, L 3-4 Ohio State, L 2-3 Akron)
- Bowling Green (2-1 Record: L 1-6 Akron, W 6-0 Kent State, W 4-1 Miami)
- Miami (1-2 Record: L 2-6 Ohio, W 6-1 Cleveland State, L 1-4 Bowling Green)
- Kent State (1-2 Record: L 0-8 Cincinnati, L 0-6 Bowling Green, W 3-1 Cleveland State)
- Cleveland State (0-3 Record: L 0-7 Ohio State, L 1-6 Miami, L 1-3 Kent State)
While the one seed lived up to their positioning coming into the tournament, and Ohio State battled back throughout multiple matches, not everything else went by “chalk” on Saturday. Let’s dig a little deeper into each team’s performance, and really pull some key takeaways that those who were not in attendance or able to watch at home should know.
Bearcats Make it Two in a Row
It should be no secret to the league by now that the Bearcats have high aspirations for this season, and repeating as Ohio Dodgeball Cup champions in comfortable fashion should put other clubs who want to bring home the ultimate prize in April on notice. It certainly seems like the early season issues this club faced have been remedied, and the club has also notably done a much better job incorporating their younger players to the game plan this season than last. Cincinnati’s lineup boasts both a big group of seniors as well as a big group of freshmen, many of whom are already taking big developmental leaps before our eyes. Despite a narrow loss to James Madison last month, this stretch of quality play has been the best Cincinnati has shown the league in the 3.5 seasons that they have existed.
While it is fair to say Cincinnati dominated their first two matches against Kent State and Akron, Ohio State proved to be a tougher challenge for this group. Despite nearly taking a 3-0 lead into the half, and securing a 3-0 lead after the first point of the second half, the Buckeyes didn’t go away quietly – bringing the score to 3-1 with about 13 minutes left in the game. From there, All-American candidate Matt Rosinski and returning veteran Ian Bartholomew lead the way for Cincinnati in burning 12 minutes of clock before finally surrendering a second point to the Buckeyes, securing the Cup again for the Bearcats.
The shining star for Cincinnati on Saturday, and in the championship match most specifically, was former Captain Brett Liming. It’s not hyperbole to say that this was the best day, and best singular match Brett has played in his career. He was absolutely dominant, racking up kill after kill and making numerous catches for the Bearcats. Along with a strong supporting cast of freshman Assistant Captain Will Hyatt and senior Ryan Engelman, Brett led Cincinnati’s right flank in repeatedly mowing down any Buckeyes who dared play across from them. Brett’s performance will hardly go unnoticed to Cincinnati’s rivals, and he will want to duplicate this performance in Akron this weekend as the Bearcats will face three tough foes in Nebraska, Penn State, and an immediate rematch with the Buckeyes.
One thing that has still shown to be an issue for Cincinnati in their last two tournaments, if we had to pick something, is that they haven’t shown an ability to ruthlessly keep their foot on the gas pedal when they have jumped out to a big lead against tough competition. Against Grand Valley in January, Cincinnati had a 3-0 lead, and after a horrific lapse in focus, quickly changed to 3-2 before the Bearcats finally put the Lakers away 4-2. Here again, with the chance to go up 4-0 and seal the game, Cincinnati let Ohio State hang around. While both matches were ultimately closed out (albeit in differing manners) safely for Cincinnati, the Bearcats need to do better in making life easier on themselves as they begin their road to Nationals.
Close but no Cigar for Buckeyes
Ohio State entered the tournament with high expectations, meaning, to leave with the Cup. This unfortunately did not happen for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes ended the day with a one-point championship loss to Cincinnati for the second year in a row. Beyond back-to-back one point losses for the Buckeyes in the championship match, there also was a very symbolic callback to last year, where a big hit from a Buckeye to the chest of a Bearcat player sent the ball flying straight up, high into the air, only to be safely secured for a catch for Cincinnati. Both plays felt like time stopped as they occurred.
While the Cup did not stay in Columbus at the end of the day, there are some definite bright-sides worth noting for the Buckeyes. All of Ohio State’s captains thought their team played well overall, especially in their 4-3 semi-final win over Ohio University, which notably is their first victory of the season for Ohio State over the Bobcats. In that match, both teams traded body-blows, and Ohio State did not blink, showing a lot of poise, and how much the game and making it to the next round meant to this squad.
Some key contributors that stepped up at ODC for OSU were veteran Ryan Ginsberg, holding down the middle of the court for the Buckeyes, and Alden Prohaska, helping Nick Kemer pace the Buckeyes’ right corner. No matter where you look across the court, Ohio State has arm talent, and sound, technical players you feel they can rely on no matter the circumstance. Despite who they lost to graduation last May, this team is in a better spot than they were last season, and particularly set up well for a year from now when they will be by far the most experienced team in the Ohio region.
The Buckeyes will take this opportunity to rest up and learn from their mistakes, as they ironically get to take another shot at the Bearcats in one week at Akron’s WAR tournament. You know they will be hot out-the-gate, looking to avenge this loss.
Zips Sneak Past Bobcats, Finish 2-1
There are few teams in the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association as hot-and-cold this season as the Akron Zips. In the fall, they defeated both James Madison University and Penn State, but lost to Wisconsin-Platteville, though we’re not quite certain we’d consider that a “bad” loss per-say (we’ll know for sure after this weekend). In fact, they really have no bad losses at all, they just haven’t been able to get over the hump in the Ohio region against any of the other top 3 teams (Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Ohio). Well, that is until last weekend at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup.
Akron began the day with a strong performance against a youthful Bowling Green team, winning 6-1. It was clear to see that Akron has developed a good number of smart, reliable throwers with some power behind their throws, and have begun working on figuring out the transition game, which is going to benefit them greatly as they continue to add arms and athleticism and grow as a club in the coming seasons.
Next up, they ran into a team that simply outclassed them, falling to the Cincinnati Bearcats 7-0. Cincinnati, with no shortage of arms and athleticism, just proved to be too much for the Zips, showing them how the transition game is intended to be played. The Bearcats ran Akron’s players down seemingly every time they dared cross half-court. No knock on Akron here, this match just wasn’t theirs for the taking on Saturday.
While Akron was not able to get through the Bearcats and into the championship match against Ohio State, they still had work to do to leave the tournament feeling really good about where they stand in the league. It was the Bobcats of Athens scheduled as their final opponents of the day. A question was on our mind about Akron coming into this tournament – are they truly a top 10, perhaps top 8 team? Any doubts around the league about that were put right to bed as the Zips controlled much of the game against the Bobcats, who admittedly were coming off of an emotional defeat against the Buckeyes. Good teams take advantage of their opponents weaknesses, and that’s what Akron did, jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead. What ended up as mostly a back and forth game, with Ohio really finally coming alive in the second half, it came down to the final seconds where Akron were able to secure the final out, hitting Alex Jonauskas in transition with under one minute to go. Third place at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup and defeating a big rival in the Ohio Bobcats logs as a solid performance for the Zips on this day.
Are the Bobcats Okay?
Speaking of Ohio, the Bobcats left Columbus on Saturday licking their wounds, going 1-2 on the day with narrow losses to both the Buckeyes and the aforementioned Zips, and one has to wonder, what exactly is happening with this team? Is this really the same Ohio Bobcat team that presented a very strong fall semester performance, defeating both Cincinnati and Ohio State not once but twice, losing only to Michigan State and James Madison? The team we saw at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup certainly didn’t look like that confident Bobcat team from just three months ago.
While other teams have improved, integrating rookie classes into their game plan, and having sophomores take the proverbial “leap”, Ohio looks like they have perhaps stagnated as a program this season. Sure, they still haven’t lost to Cincinnati, but one has to wonder what the score would have looked like had the two teams played based on the eyeball test.
While both of Ohio’s losses to Ohio State and Akron were narrow, one point defeats, for those in attendance it looked much more deflating than what the score ultimately reflects. To the naked eye, it feels like this club simply hasn’t improved much throughout the year. Given their massive rookie class from a year ago, it seems like only Terence Checkett and maybe one other sophomore Bobcat have really carved out roles for themselves in the lineup, particularly as throwers. If Caleb Arnold, Alex Jonauskas, and Checkett all find themselves in the outline, it appeared the lines of communication and cohesion just simply ceased to exist for Ohio.
The good news for the Bobcats is that the season is far from over, and they have approximately 6 weeks to figure out how to win these close games, and bring themselves back up into the upper tier of teams whose company they enjoyed just a few short months ago. Time will tell what this team’s ceiling is, but Ohio needs to take a hard long look at what their weaknesses are and figure out a way to adjust.
Young Falcons Need to Spread Their Wings
There is a lot to like about what we saw from Bowling Green State this past weekend, but also a lot left to be desired based on their performance. While the club went 2-1, with a blowout win over Kent State and a convincing victory over Miami, the Falcons found themselves on the receiving end of a lopsided result, losing 6-1 to a much more strategically sound Akron Zips squad. While the blowout loss began the Falcons’ day, it’s certainly worth commending them for finishing with two straight victories, finishing 5th at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup. While going 2-1 at a tournament is commendable, what we’d like to focus on is digging into where the Falcons can improve the most.
When looking at the roster for Bowling Green, it’s clear that this team is as green as grass. While that may seem like a knock on the Falcons, the great thing about when you have a green team, that just means there’s a lot of untapped potential waiting to be brought out. Evan Brown is the standout arm for the Falcons, so they will need others to step up in the coming 6 weeks leading to Nationals for this team to take a step forward and secure some bigger wins against teams currently above their pay grade.
Next we’d like to touch on Bowling Green’s lack of understanding of strategy. They have only played teams who are within region this year aside from their second match of the season against Wisconsin-Platteville, and these matches this past Saturday were their first since November. Many teams that they saw early in the year were breaking in new freshmen classes and figuring out their own identity, so being a very young team themselves, the Falcons really don’t know what they don’t know, and as a result, have not proven that they can hang with teams with more depth and experience than them. Further, only playing one out-of-region team all season to this point (especially being so geographically close to the Michigan region) really can limit a team’s growth.
To get specific on strategy, this young Falcon team does not yet understand transition dodgeball – forcing the opposing team to come up, then running them down in on the counter. Being able to utilize this type of strategy is vital, particularly for a group lacking in arm depth. If you can’t reliably get ball control and mow the opposing team down on the back-line with team throws, you’ll need to be able to get your outs from either catching (which was how they secured their singular point against Akron), or in transition.
While it might seem unfair to critique a young team that went 2-1 Saturday like this, we do so specifically because we see that untapped potential on this roster. Hopefully seeing high level competition Saturday, and knowing where they stand in the Ohio region “pecking order” makes them realize just how much room to grow they have, and they become driven to do so. Hopefully the Falcons make the most of the weeks leading up to Nationals. Watch some tape, tap other teams’ captains and coaches for advice, and when it comes down to it, be willing to focus on the fundamentals in practice.
The Future is Bright in Oxford
Miami entered the day as the 6th seed in the Ohio Region, which is exactly where they ended up placing in this tournament. Despite the low finish, the RedHawks showed great promise for the future. Captain Elly Schipfer has put on a masterclass in recruiting and developing talent over the last two seasons, and it is starting to pay off. While they didn’t get the result they’d hoped for, there were several positive takeaways as the RedHawks headed back to Oxford Saturday evening.
Miami has a quickly growing list of names that you should be aware of should you play them. First and foremost there is John Rick, who made several massive catches against Ohio for the RedHawks. Cole Ginocchio had a very strong performance throwing on Saturday, and he was huge in helping Miami maintain a forward position at the opponents throw line, keeping them off their own baseline. Ryan Williams also had a nice weekend for the RedHawks, taking command of the court and making calls for Miami. Ryan is a definite leader on the team, and someone who Miami relies on significantly for communication. Finally, we’d be remiss if we did not mention two rookies for Miami making their NCDA debuts, Henry Brill and Ty Keller. Having mentioned all these names, Miami still came into Saturday missing top contributors Jay Patel and Max Edling, making their 6-1 victory over CSU and 2-2 halftime score versus Ohio all-the-more impressive.
Miami has one of the brighter futures in the Ohio region, so it will be interesting to see how they develop in the following seasons enough to return to their pre-Covid juggernaut status.
Golden Flashes Show Signs of Growth
It’s been five years since the Golden Flashes captured ODC glory and that streak will continue into next year following a seventh place finish in this year’s edition of the Ohio Dodgeball Cup hosted by Ohio State.
In concurrence with the results of the ODC (which finished with a #1 v #2 Finals matchup), Kent State was a very predictable team on Saturday, going 1-2 on the day following the 8-0 & 6-0 drubbings to the hands of the eventual champions University of Cincinnati & 5th place Bowling Green State University. Kent State would grab their only points and win of the tournament versus the Cleveland State Vikings in a 3-1 victory. Their victory over the Vikings gave the Flashes their 3rd victory on the season with their only other wins coming against Akron-B in the Akron “Pink-Out” tournament & at Western Michigan over Concordia-Wisconsin.
Results can be deceiving, and in this case, that is somewhat true. During the Cincinnati match, the Flashes were able to keep the points close and respectable until the 9 minute mark in the first half when the Bearcats decided to kick their play into overdrive and “cut the wings off” of Kent State which ended up in an 8-0 thumping. This match was not all in vain though as Kent State had two rookies playing their first match go through “A Baptism of Fire”, with those two players being Michael “Mike” Blizco & Branden Stevens. Both Mike & Branden played objectively well in what was really a tune-up game for both teams who were heading towards opposite sides of the bracket. Following the loss to the Bearcats, the captains Vanessa Hudson & Nathan Keller used this result as a teaching lesson for the Flashes as if you did not already know, Kent State is predominantly a team consisted of first-time or freshman players, and every point, match, & tournament is crucial for development, especially for a program like Kent State.
The next team Kent would face at the ODC would be the Bowling Green State University Falcons, where the scoreline ended in a 6-0 shutout for BGSU. Overall, this game was never in doubt for the Falcons as they were able to cut through the Flashes en route to their 6-0 win. The Flashes made this match-up more competitive than it seems as there were a few points, with most in the second half, being a toss-up of who was gonna win the point. In the end for Kent, their trials and tribulations were null & void as they would go scoreless against a BGSU team that would go on to finish 5th overall.
The final match of the day pitted Kent State versus Cleveland State in the battle for 7th place. Cleveland State was coming off of losses against OSU & Miami and were looking to take their second victory this season over Kent State following their 5-0 victory over the Flashes at the Pink-Out tournament. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they were not able to stay perfect against the Flashes as they never had the lead or tied following Kent State taking the 1-0 lead in the mid-1st half. The Flashes took their early start and ran as they would capture their only victory in Columbus and move to 3-12 on the season. Captain Nathan Keller was the most hype after the first point and his enthusiasm spurred on the Flashes, especially the likes of Spencer Murphy and Nasir Williams, who came up clutch with some amazing catches and kills which nullified the Vikings en route to their victory.
Overall, Kent State played their best dodgeball of the season at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup and will be looking forward to the War in Akron next week, and eventually Nationals in April. The Flashes might be raw in terms of dodgeball ability, but perhaps even as soon as a year from now, this squad could really be a surprise package, as many pundits around the league such as Matt Barnett of WMU & a multitude of NCDA alumni see massive potential in the Golden Flashes.
Vikings Still Lack Arm Talent
Not many came into Saturday having high expectations for Cleveland State at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup, considering their injuries and lack of arm depth relative to the rest of the region, and an 0-3 performance at ODC confirmed that they just aren’t ready to compete at a high level yet. Two blowout losses to Ohio State and Miami had to hurt to start the day, but they did finish with a stronger performance, only falling 3-1 to another club who are rebuilding, Kent State.
There were some bright spots for the Vikings, however. For starters, Cleveland State showed that they have 2 real contenders for the Women’s All-American team in Kathryn Mays and Sky Thornsberry. It’s not like there isn’t any talent in this lineup, it’s just unrefined and largely more defensive oriented. William McCartney, Alex Costello, and Kyle Yates all were key contributors for Cleveland State Saturday.
We’ve been beating this drum since the league returned from COVID, but if Cleveland State wants to launch themselves into the upper echelon of the Ohio region, they will need to recruit and maintain some athletes to supplement their roster. Their noticeable lack of reliable, consistent throwers in the lineup is holding them back from taking strides toward being a truly competitive team not only within their own region, but league-wide. Recruiting young, athletic freshman ought to be the top priority for this club in August & September.