Cincinnati Super Smackdown Tournament Review

This year, the league is witnessing arguably some of the most balanced skill sets within the top 8 teams that it has ever seen. In a neck and neck dogfight for the top spot in the rankings, there has been quite some uncertainty on where to predict the final standings for each team. With 4 of these top 8 teams competing in this tournament, we were hoping to clear some of that uncertainty, but all we got was more of it.

Each Ohio team, coming off of their own respective dominant performances, was surely excited to play a hot MSU, who just celebrated a huge technical upset over GVSU. Mixed into these matchups are both UK and WMU, both competing in their season inducting tournament. As the league eagerly looked for the results of this tournament to shine some clarity on the true hierarchy of the league, the results this day struck an existential blow to the concept of clarity: Akron defeated MSU, MSU defeated OSU, OSU defeated UC, and UC defeated Akron and MSU. What do we take away from this? Are any of these teams the technical winner? The transitive property rests in an infinite loop, so we asked each team to give us their thoughts on each matchup to help us debug these results.

University of Akron

The Zips had high expectations coming into this past weekend despite having some tough teams on the schedule. Coming off a solid showing at the Pink Out, we felt poised to make some noise around the league. 

Our first match against MSU was a great game of dodgeball. We came out and took the first point quickly. We felt like we were in control the first half despite only having a 2-1 lead—with momentum shifting towards MSU. The second half was very back and forth with MSU’s leadership stepping up. They played very well as a team to tie it 3-3 and force overtime. The overtime point showed what Akron is all about. Our top 6 dominated their top 6 plain and simple. This was a great team win for the Zips. 

The second game was against WMU. They were coming with only 8 players and lack of experience, so we did not know what to expect. We came out strong and took some points. We played our brand of dodgeball and completed the shutout. This was a great team win with a lot of our rookies getting playing time in the second half. The rookies have come a long way this semester but look to improve further. 

The third match was against Cincinnati. The first half of this match decided the outcome. Both teams came out strong despite being the last match of the day and having some key players missing/banged up. Cincinnati came out on top with a 2-0 lead at half, but it felt like it could be 2-0 Akron or tied at 1-1. Both points came down to the last 3-4 guys on each team. The difference was Cincinnati capitalized on our mistakes and we didn’t capitalize on their–showing why they are a top team in the Ohio region. As soon as Cincinnati took the first point in the second half to go up 3-0, they had the momentum, so we subbed in our rookies to get them experience. 

The day was full of highs and lows for the Zips but it was ultimately a success. We played two top 5 teams in the nation and came out 1-1 against them—can’t really ask for more than that. We had some key absences and some players injured, but everyone left it all on the court. Next semester of dodgeball will be key for us if we want to make a good showing at Nationals. Speaking of Nationals, this is the most competitive the top 10 teams have been in a while—there are a lot of teams to make a case for a National Title. We are currently ranked in the #8 spot and feel like a dark horse for the National Title. 

This was the last tournament for a few players on the Zips: Brandon Snyder, Nathan “Howdy” Houdeshell, and Tommy Masteller. Brandon and Howdy were all over the court making kills to keep the game fast and keep us in control. Tommy sustained a hand injury early in our MSU match but battled through it all day. By the end of the day, his hand was so swollen it was beginning to look like a dodgeball. All these players left it all on the court for their last tournament.  

PJ Antalek was all over the court making catches and kills. He was on the front lines all day controlling the game making key plays in both the MSU and Cincinnati games. Clay Egleston showed why he is in the All-American conversation this year by getting the final kill in OT to win the MSU game and keeping his head and playing smart when the stakes were high.  

Key rookies were Alexis Schultz and Logan Sims. Look for them to make plays next semester along with Cooper Sites who was not able to attend this past Sunday. 

University of Cincinnati

Coming into our home tournament, we knew that we’d given ourselves a murderer’s row of a schedule playing four matches, three of which were against top 8 ranked teams. While we ended the day with a 3-1 record, having fallen short of our goal, there are a lot of positives for our team to build upon going into the spring semester, where every match will matter that much more.

We started the day with what could be considered a warm-up match against Kentucky, who traveled with 12 players and were playing their first match of the season. While they boast some really strong arms, their team has a lot of young players who hadn’t seen, let alone played, an actual match prior to this one. In the end, our firepower, catching, and overall aggressive strategy netted us a 7-0 victory against the Wildcats.

Next up, we faced another young, talented team in Michigan State. This ended up being a tale of two halves, more or less, as we were able to take a commanding 4-1 lead early in the second half. From there, Michigan State fought back to take two consecutive points, cutting the lead to 4-3. MSU seemed poised to tie the game and force overtime until a trio of clutch catches, two from Kevin Skiba and one from freshman Isaiah Montgomery, sealed the deal for us. While we were happy to be able to 1) take a strong 4-1 lead in the second half, and 2) win the match, nearly blowing that lead leaves a lot to be desired for us. This lack of momentum was evident, as it carried over into our third consecutive match of the day.

Our match against Ohio state was frustrating to say the least. After dominating the first point, we dropped the next four to lose the match 4-1. We found ourselves unable to play the quick pace tempo we’ve grown accustomed to. All credit to OSU, who were able to stymie our offense and really slow the game down. This, combined with our inability to hit open targets and a number of whiffed team throws, spelled doom for us in this match. We intend to take this as a true lump on the head, and come back stronger, not allowing OSU to capitalize on a slow pace and pick us off one by one on the baseline next time.

Our last match of the day was against the Akron Zips. The first point really should have gone to Akron, were it not for the sheer willpower of senior Matthew Rosinski. He lead a comeback for our team, severely outnumbered, to take the point. The second point was also very competitive, but ultimately went our way as well. After the half, it seemed Akron had given up and we were able to close out a 5-0 victory.

This was our first time being able to field a full roster of 18 players since our team’s inception three years ago, and it really paid dividends for us. We were able to finish the tournament strong after three straight matches, a break, and then playing last against Akron, who to that point were undefeated on the day. Our freshmen got a lot of playing time, as we rotated our roster constantly throughout the day, regardless of opponent.

For example, one of our best catchers, Luke Grace, is playing his first real year on the team since COVID began and really stood out against Ohio State, one of our true saving graces for that match. He made a ton of catches then, and several others throughout the rest of the day as well. Previously mentioned freshman Isaiah Montgomery is showing that he is an All-Rookie candidate. It has been impressive to watch how rapidly he has grown as a player between adapting to the pace of the game, making big catches, and quickly becoming a real throwing threat on our team. Lastly, senior Brannon McGinn was probably our most crucial player for us, consistently being able to carry the burden of being our only truly consistent thrower throughout all four of our matches.

We had several of our key players have really poor showings at this tournament, and for us to still go 3-1 shows that our talent is immense. Big plays can come from anywhere on our roster, from Captain Brett Liming to our newest of freshmen. We believe that we are the deepest team in the league and feel we are the team best suited to take home the hardware on Sunday in April.

University of Kentucky

Match one was against University of Cincinnati for us. We have a very young team, 5 returners and 7 freshman with this being their first ever tournament. This is the first time we have had 12 people for a tournament in about 2 years. That being said, this first match was a test for us. Cincinnati is a solid team all around and they showed it. It was an eye opening experience for our new guys but they handled it well. We lost 7-0 but it was a good learning point for everyone on our team on what we need to work on.

Match two was against Western Michigan. We won 4-1. While they only fielded 8, they played really well. This match we let our new guys take on more responsibility to try and get them into the flow of an actual tournament. They responded well and it was a good showing for us.

Match three was against Ohio State. We told our guys after this match that we couldn’t have been more proud of how they played. Losing to OSU 3-2 right after they had just beaten Cincinnati was a big testament to how much our new guys grew in the course of the day. This was by far our best collection of gameplay all around and the veterans and the young guys really showed a lot this match.

Overall our team has a positive takeaway from this tournament. We only went 1-2 but we lost to two really solid teams. For this being the majority of our guys first go at collegiate dodgeball, they played well and we have really high hopes for this season. Individually, Tyler Kratzer, Justin Conti, David Mead, and Ethan Hale-Pate really steered the ship for UK. These are four of the five returners and all four of them played their part in leading this team. As for some new guys, Sid Fitzer, Bailey Tompkins, and Fnu Akshat really showed out in their first tournament. A lot was learned in the first tournament for UK this season and the first for many of our players. We hope to improve a lot over the upcoming semester to compete with the best of the best in the NCDA.

Michigan State University

We started out flat against a hungry Akron team that set them on the course of an up-hill battle from the start. Multiple dropped catches and high throws cost valuable players in the beginning, however they were determined to make it a match. After dropping to 2-1 with 5 seconds remaining in the first half, MSU quickly took a point to tie it at 2 a-piece in the opening 3 minutes of the second. This is thanks to the strong arms of Michigan State’s corners Jack Girling and Alec Deen. I would get used to hearing Deen’s name, as he’s quickly established himself as one of Michigan State’s top all-around players, putting himself as a front runner for ROY. Michigan State ultimately gained their footing against Akron, however it proved too little too late as they fell in OT. Although a rough start to the day for MSU, rookies Alec Deen, Andrew Dubon and Jonathan Crockett gained valuable experience in their first career OT match and are prepared to make adjustments for the spring semester. 

In what may have been the match of the day, MSU fell to Cincinnati 4-3 in a heated exchange, however I feel like if there would have been two more minutes on the clock we may be writing another OT recap. Senior Dennis Sullivan proved to be a huge asset in the middle for the Spartans, notching several clutch kills and catches while controlling the pace of the game. Jack Girling continued to prove that he is one of the best left corners in the nation with several huge kills on some of Cincinnati’s most notorious catchers to swing momentum, essentially locking down UC’s right side. The Spartans game plan proved effective against UC, however time ultimately did them in and they couldn’t close out the tying point. Look for an incredible spring rematch between two top-tier teams. 

Our last match of the day was against Ohio State, we were happy to finish the day on a high note. This tournament proved that Nationals could be a wide open race going into the spring semester. Don’t let the score of 4-2 fool you, as points were always close between these two schools. Rookie Jonathan Crockett showed off a solid arm from the middle while Alec Deen continued to have a big day on the right side. Ohio State was able to slow the Spartan’s momentum with several huge catches, exposing some holes in MSU’s gameplay. Veterans Daquan McClean and Dennis Sullivan were ultimately able to settle this rowdy team down and regain control in situations that could have otherwise slipped away from them. In his last collegiate game, this may have been one of Sullivan’s best as he proved yet again why he is such a dominant player in the middle of the court.

While 1-2 may not have been the record the Spartans wanted on the day, they saw pieces of what could be a very dominant team come spring semester. After missing the Cincinnati tournament, the Spartans will have head captain Josh Kramer and assistant captain, reigning ROY Barry Butler III back for a run at an MDC title in February. If their 6 starting rookies can continue to improve their gameplay and develop their arms while their veteran core enhances their on-court leadership abilities, Michigan State looks to be a serious title contender come April. 

Ohio State University

Our first match of the day was against an understaffed Western Michigan team. First, a shout out to Peter Broe for his leadership on the court, and his persistent development of a hatching young team through these harsh first years. With a roster of only 8 players, WMU is certainly gaining momentum and could surely be a contending team in the next few years. We started our four-match day with some slow points against WMU, and our rookies gained some valuable play time.

Cincinnati was our most anticipated matchup – especially after a loss on home turf a few months prior. After the first point went to UC, we refocused our strategy and emphasized team communication on the court to end with a 4-1 win. UC has strong talent and kept us on our toes each point; we will likely have some close games next semester. We look forward to our inevitable match at the Ohio Dodgeball Cup.

After coming in hot after the UC match, we under-performed against MSU and lost energy. Our team needs to better manage our stamina during long days, because this matchup shows heavily what a lack of endurance can do. MSU has a good squad – despite missing a few starters – and will be dangerous for the rest of the season. We hope to play them again next semester with no excuses and push a close game.

Kentucky was our final match of the day, and every player felt the exhaustion heading in to our fourth straight match. Excitingly, we were able to give more play time to our young players in a surprisingly close game. UK has a few strong players, but they lacked strategy. With more practice, we will see them develop coordination that may make them a tough competitor; we also hope they deflate their balls next time.

Overall: Captains are in agreement that we’ve never seen a rookie pick up game strategy as well as Derrek Kemper has. Derrek leads throws, pushes teams back to the baseline, and looks for catches. In case you missed it, he also had a once in a season double catch against MSU. Derrek is a ROTY contender.

Sam Palumbo has never gotten as much credit as he deserves. He has the strongest arm on the team, and his years of experience make him a knowledgeable leader. And don’t expect an easy win when he is the last player on the court – he will make catches and change the outcome of the point.

Kathryn Mays ended her collegiate career at UC’s tournament. For years she has worked as a supportive teammate – making throws when called on, securing catches, and building team dynamic. Even though she won’t be on OSU’s team next semester, she will continue to be an active player in the dodgeball community.

Western Michigan University

Starting each match 4 players down was, as you can imagine, detrimental to our game. That said, each match was a learning experience for our players and gave us a good look into ways to improve our game. Instead of discussing the 5+ point beating WMU endured each game, I’d like to point out the positives that we took away.

Our first match of the day, against a fiery Ohio State team, was huge for us as a squad. It was many players first taste of what college dodgeball was really about. We were forced to identify key playmakers, and adjust strategy on the fly to push our advantages. The fact that we were able to take a point this game was huge for our morale. This showed us that even with 8 players, we could still adjust and make plays, even against veteran squads.

Our second match, against Akron, proved very tough. It was the only match that we weren’t able to take a point, and that is largely in part to Akron’s talent as a team. No doubt about it, they played well, and punished us very heavily for bad throws and lingering in the neutral zone. That said, we were able to sharpen our game, and learn from mistakes. We also learned a good lesson about sportsmanship, and what kind of team we want to be in the league.

For our third sequential match, which pitted us against Kentucky, we learned a lot about our endurance as a team. We saw what damage fatigue could do to our individual abilities. We threw a lot of catches that were intended (and earlier in the day, may well have been) backline kills. Still, we did manage to take a point, showing us that even when fatigued, if we play cohesively and limit mistakes, we are still a competitive team.

Player shoutouts
Payton Gagliardi: Payton has never played in an NCDA match despite being a two-year veteran on the team. He made several good catches for the team at clutch moments, and his arm proved to be an asset for us when making smart throws. He also overcame injury and his asthma to gut out 3 games in a row.
Evan Asselin: Evan is a rookie this year, but was a major asset for the team in terms of getting kills. His arm is strong already for a rookie, and as his grip throw develops, he will become a serious backline threat. Evin Cooper: The only player on this list to have actually played in an NCDA match before, Evin put his
experience on display in Cincinnati, making clutch catch after clutch catch keeping our team competitive in a lot of points. Evin also has a reliable arm that was very instrumental in our shot clock maintenance.

Lasting Takeaways?

Can we declare any of these teams the “winner”, or are we stuck in a stalemate at the conclusion of the first half of the season? Leave a reply with your thoughts!

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