This past Saturday Central Michigan University hosted perhaps the greatest regular season tournament in the history of the NCDA. It certainly was the best regular season collection of talent that I have been involved in since joining the league. Joining the Chippewas at the CMU Showdown were GVSU, JMU, SVSU, and MSU. The Dukes of James Madison made the trip from Virginia all the way to Mount Pleasant to take on the Michigan Schools that had all just played a month prior in the MDC.
The hosts of Central Michigan put on a dominant performance and left with a perfect 4-0 record. In doing so, they halted Grand Valley’s attempt to break the all-time consecutive win streak that ended at 41 games. The Lakers finished the day 3-1, with the loss to CMU coming as their first of the season. The long trip for JMU resulted in a 2-2 record. MSU improved on their poor performance at the MDC to finish with one win, one loss, and two overtime losses. SVSU was unable to come away with a win on Saturday, finishing 0-4.
CMU 4 MSU 0
Central Michigan and Michigan State met for the fifth time this season to start the tournament. CMU led the season series 3-2, so MSU looked to tie the series heading into Nationals. The first point was quite close, with both sides making several catches. CMU was able to make more catches in the end and took the first point. The second point was far unlike the first, as CMU stormed quickly to a 2-0 lead. CMU nearly took a 3-0 lead into the half, but MSU was able to kill the clock with only one player left. The second half did not improve for the Spartans as CMU took two more points to end the game with a 4-0 victory. CMU was fired up for their home tournament and dominated the first game.
JMU 2 SVSU 1
Perhaps the long drive resulted in a bit of weariness for the Dukes, because Saginaw Valley came out with energy and were able to take the first point. JMU soon rebounded and let their strong arms take over to take the second point to tie the game at 1. The third point proved to be decisive in the second half. James Madison took the third point and eventually the game. With an opening win for the day, the Dukes looked to prove the East Coast of the NCDA can compete with the Michigan teams.
CMU 2 JMU 1
This game went back and forth several times and provided some of the more bizarre dodgeball plays that I have ever seen. Central continued to ride their momentum following their win over MSU into this game. The catching prowess of CMU carried them in the first point as they were able to take the lead over JMU. Central again had the Dukes on the ropes late in the first half. But a JMU player made one of the most impressive catches I have ever seen. On a team throw, he jumped and then proceeded to catch Wes Peters behind his back while in midair. The catch offered a huge momentum swing and JMU was able to run out the clock and only face a 1-0 halftime deficit. JMU dominated ball possession to start the second half. They had 9 or 10 balls for a long duration and were able to use their arms to pick off CMU one by one to take the point and tie the game at 1. The next point initially looked like it would be more of the same. JMU once again dominated the ball possession, controlling 9 or 10 balls. But this time the catching of CMU was able to take over. A key turning point occurred on a team throw on Michael Riley. He was able to catch the first while the second immediately struck the caught ball for a clean block. The play swung the momentum in favor of CMU and they were able to capitalize and take the point and the game by a score of 2-1.
GVSU 3 SVSU 1
A battle between the two valley schools historically has been a highly contested and competitive matchup. However, this season GVSU has dominated the rivalry for the most part. The match started out with Grand Valley taking the first point. Saginaw was able to rebound and had the Lakers on the ropes at the end of the first half. With only Kevin Bailey remaining, he withstood a flurry of team throws in the closing seconds of the half to prevent SVSU from taking the point before half. To start the second half, GVSU was able to take two quick points and a commanding 3-0 lead. SVSU would not be shut out however, as they were able to take the final point convincingly to end the match 3-1.
MSU 3 SVSU 1
Michigan State opened the game with probably the best point of dodgeball the Spartans have played all season. They acquired ball possession of the opening rush and set the tempo for the point right off the bat. Michigan State caught, countered, and threw well to dominate the first point. Saginaw Valley was able to bounce back in the second point. SVSU dictated the tempo to suit their style and eliminated key Spartan players on well-executed team throws. As the first half neared completion, SVSU was able to eliminate the last Spartan before time expired to tie the game at 1. MSU came out of half just as they did to start the first half. Filled with energy, Michigan State again made quality catches and throws to take the lead. With a score of 2-1, the fourth point was close throughout. With both teams having roughly eight players, MSU was able to get SVSU on the ten-second shot clock first. Although it took time, MSU was able to win the point and take a 3-1 lead with just over four minutes left. SVSU put on a strong display in the last minutes, but the game ended 3-1 in favor of the Spartans. It was Michigan State’s first win in three tries over Saginaw Valley this season.
GVSU 3 JMU 0
The two undefeated teams in the NCDA squared off in Mount Pleasant. Many expected this game to be highly contested and perhaps a preview of the championship game at Nationals. The first point was a slow affair, but GVSU was able to take the point fairly convincingly. The first point of the second half was even throughout. Both teams were on a ten-second shot clock. JMU was able to briefly take the lead, but Grand Valley responded and took the point. The Lakers then stepped on the gas and took the third point in a couple minutes to ice the game and seal the 3-0 victory.
JMU 2 MSU 1 (OT)
This match was probably the closest throughout the entire match of the whole tournament. I don’t think either team had more than a couple of players man advantage the entire game. The first point was slow. JMU did most of their damage on throws from the neutral zone line with MSU on their own base line. MSU did most of theirs with catches and in transition. Both teams eventually got on the ten-second shot clock. MSU was able to take JMU down to one player. Michigan State thought they had taken the point on a team throw, but the ref ruled it hit the ground prior to hitting the JMU player’s foot. JMU then caught a MSU player to swing the two on one in their favor. After several minutes without any eliminations, JMU was able to hit the last Spartan and take the point. The second half was very much like the first. After fifteen minutes or so, each side had three players apiece. The point seemed to be decided in a clash of the captains, as MSU’s Colin O’Brien was able to catch JMU’s Ben Sizemore in the neutral zone. After a couple of minutes, the Spartans were able to take the point to tie the game with just over four minutes left in the half. The four minutes resulted in no point and the game headed into overtime. In OT, MSU had an early 6-4 man advantage. But JMU was able to make two catches to swing put the Dukes up 6-4. A couple of hits and catches led JMU to eliminate the Spartans to take the game in overtime.
CMU 2 GVSU 0
Written by Kevin Bailey
The marquee matchup of the CMU Showdown took place during the fourth round of games. Central Michigan took on undefeated GVSU directly after GVSU had reached the all-time NCDA win-streak record of 41 games with a win against James Madison.
This was the sixth matchup of the year between the two schools; the previous five had been won by the Lakers. It would be the last chance for CMU to take down the top team in the nation before the national championship tournament in mid-April.
The game started much like any other CMU-GVSU match, with an unmatched amount of intensity from both teams. The first point took around 17 minutes but the gameplay was anything but slow-paced. Central Michigan was extremely organized during the first point.
CMU capitalized on a few opportunities during the early stages of the point to take out the impact players for GVSU, leaving the Lakers without their top throwers. Central then became very aggressive looking for catches and it paid off as they took the first point with about eight minutes left in the half.
The second point of the first half was a much different story, with GVSU playing a much more aggressive style. Grand Valley was able to get CMU down to only two players with one minute remaining in the half: Captain Wes Peters, and Kevin Greig. After Peters was eliminated, Greig had the task of surviving the last 45 seconds alone in order to preserve Central’s lead going into the half. Greig was able to avoid a few attacks by GVSU and successfully survive until halftime giving the Chippewas a 1-0 advantage at the halfway point.
The second half began with a very evenly matched point. GVSU and CMU both were down to about seven players before a few mistakes by the Lakers gave Central a big man advantage and also dropped GVSU to the ten-count shot clock. Central was able to use the shot clock difference, and a few well timed throws to drop GVSU down to one player. At this point the GVSU captains instructed the last player to purposely step out in order to give GV some time to attempt a comeback. With eleven minutes remaining CMU took a 2-0 lead.
Grand Valley was forced to play extremely aggressive the next point in an attempt to score two points very quickly, but the Chippewas gained the ball advantage and preserved it for the remainder of the game. When the final buzzer sounded, Central Michigan had claimed a 2-0 victory against the Lakers, snapping their record-tying win-streak, and their undefeated season in the process.
Being the captain for GVSU, you can imagine it would be difficult for me to write this up, but the truth is, CMU was very deserving of their tournament title this past weekend. I think that CMU proved to the rest of the league that giving them the #2 seed for Nationals is justifiable, especially after their performance at the CMU Showdown.
Overall, the GVSU-CMU match was one of the best matches of the season, and it could end up being a preview of the matchup we will see in the national championship game. This season’s Nationals is shaping up to be a great one.
GVSU 2 MSU 1 (OT)
This was a game characterized by exhausted players. Both teams had just played their hardest the match prior, and were in their fourth and final match of the day. Another even match throughout, GVSU was able to take the first point with a couple minutes left in the half. The second half resembled the first, but several Michigan State catches swung the point in their favor. MSU was able to methodically eliminate the Grand Valley players after getting the Lakers on the ten-second shot clock. The time following the point resulted in no point, leading to the second consecutive overtime game for MSU. The Lakers dominated in the overtime period. Jalen Gardner caught Colin O’Brien quickly to start OT, which gave GVSU and early advantage. GVSU then proceeded to eliminate one Spartan after another. The last MSU player was James Schneider against all six Lakers. Schneider was able to catch a GVSU team throw to bring O’Brien back in. But team throws were able to eliminate Schneider and then O’Brien to secure the win for GVSU. Michigan State was once again unable to get their first ever win against Grand Valley and it was only the second time the Spartans have ever taken GVSU into OT.
CMU 4 SVSU 1
Perhaps riding the high following their win over GSVU and not focusing on their next match, CMU and SVSU went into halftime tied at 1. However, a perfect record at their home tournament was on the line for the Chippewas. They turned up their intensity in the second half and were able to take three points to win the game 4-1.
Again, this was the best collection of talent at a non-Nationals tournament that I’ve been a part of in my three years in the league. One of the big questions going into the weekend was how would JMU perform, and what will that performance state about the relation of the Michigan region to the East Coast. JMU went 2-2, but only the GVSU game was decisive in favor of one team. And even that game perhaps could have swung if JMU were have been able to take the second point. The other three games finished 2-1, with one going to overtime. From those results I would say JMU is on par with the four Michigan teams. However, as James Madison normally handles their East Coast competition, I would say it is safe to say that the Michigan region remains the premiere region of the NCDA. It may be my biased opinion, but I don’t see a team winning the championship this season that wasn’t at Mount Pleasant on Saturday.
I think this tournament will greatly help JMU prepare for Nationals. This tournament was probably the first time James Madison has played four consecutive games of elite competition. The MDC always provides the Michigan schools with three tough games in one day, experience and stamina that becomes vital once bracket play at Nationals comes around. This tournament could potentially be the experience that JMU needs to know how to play when their energy gets depleted in a potential Final Four or Championship game.
Michigan State played much better than how we performed at the MDC. Although we were in every match at the MDC, we played more cohesively and were able to beat SVSU and push JMU and GVSU to OT. But we also lost 4-0 to CMU, only furthering our tradition of our games being blowouts or down to the wire, with very little in between. Saginaw may not have had the performance they wanted, but they still remain a top team in the league. When they play their best, they are as good as anybody, which I think is true of all the five teams.
Central Michigan played some of the best team dodgeball I have seen in a while. They had a very clear gameplan for each opponent and stuck to it. Top to bottom everybody can catch for the Chips, which is an asset that will keep them in every game. But I just felt that CMU wanted every game this weekend more than their opponent. They feed off each other. A catch energizes the whole team. They go out and hit a player with a throw and the energy keeps increasing. Their team chemistry and cohesion has improved dramatically since the start of the season. Central Michigan seems to be peaking at the right time, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep rolling on Sunday at Nationals.
Grand Valley suffered their first loss of the season. Last year they finished with one loss and still won the championship, so just because Central Michigan was able to pull out the win on Saturday does not mean that GVSU should not still be the odds on favorite at Nationals in a couple of weeks. That being said, CMU was able to finally do what they and MSU have been so close to doing all year, beat Grand Valley. After playing against the Lakers for three years now and probably over twenty times, I have determined one unique fact about them. GVSU is tremendously good at not losing. Now that may seem obvious, but what I mean by that is that if a team is going to beat GVSU, that team has to make more plays than the Lakers. Grand Valley will not beat themselves with mistakes. And on Saturday, Central Michigan finally made more plays than Grand Valley. The question will be can a team make more plays than the Lakers on Sunday at Nationals.
Sunday at Nationals could be one of the most exciting days in the history of the NCDA. The parity in the league has increased dramatically. However, even with uncertainty on how the bracket will pan out, I still believe the Final Four and Championship games will be rematches of those that took place Saturday.