This article was put together by Sean Smith (Towson ALumni)
The month of February appears like it will be very telling for how the rest of the NCDA season can expect to go down. The recent WAR in Akron provided a lot of insight as to where teams are, on all levels of the strength spectrum.
There’s no doubt that Grand Valley is still the odds-on favorite to win the title in April. They have everything on their side, history, talent, even home court advantage. Even if the Lakers should somehow falter, the Michigan Region looked much improved after this month. Michigan State followed-up their performance at WAR by exorcising their MDC demons (finishing with 2 wins), and Saginaw Valley and Central Michigan appear to have significantly improved since earlier this year as well. Outside of the Michigan Region, Towson appears to be a top choice, if not the choice to contend for the title in two months. Putting my personal feelings about my alma mater aside, I feel as if their meteoric rise past preseason expectations has cast a shadow over another true contender for the crown.
While I don’t see many individuals writing JMU off, I feel like it will be much too easy to push them to the side to begin the spring semester with these early tournaments. Before that happens, I (Sean Smith, SS) spoke with club President and head Captain Evan Eschenburg (EE), Junior and Captain Shawn Donahue (SD) and key contributor Jason Souder (JS) to get their perspective on the season, the perception of JMU and what they think about being one of the teams best positioned to knock off the Michigan region and namely Grand Valley.
SS: “Your team has always been known for its bravado and ‘**** you’ attitude towards everyone. Some have even argued borderline uncaring with how quick the team is to brush off losses or disappointing finishes. Is the public perception of the team really how things are on a daily basis and how do each of you see things from practice to match day to molding this into the rest of college life?”
SD: “It’s not that we don’t care honestly, we are some of the most competitive guys out there but at the end of the day you gotta brush off tough losses or points because it’s not the end of the world and like any sport, you can’t move forward while still being mad about a loss.”
EE: “Our don’t care attitude has been defining JMU dodgeball for as long as I’ve been on the team. You obviously have some who care more than others but as a team we just want to play dodgeball, drink and have a good time. Maybe not in that order. We don’t tend to lose too often because we are able to maintain an athletic roster compared to others around the league but when the only teams you normally lose to are having 4 practice a week doing wind sprints every time you get out and then have a team lift and edited comment after then I don’t see how we can really a care about losing like that.”
SD: “Yeah we don’t drill or do any intense s*** at a regular practice. I literally go out in practice and chuck the ball at new kids, and as Evan said the “* you” attitude is literally just how most of us are. It’s what makes us JMU Dodgeball.”
EE: “Every time we have a dodgeball outing, whether it’s a tournament, practice, dinner, or party, we want to make everyone we are with have fun and feel welcomed and this helps carry over into how we interact with other organizations on campus. Unless of course you go to GV.”
JS: “We definitely care about the result and we do whatever we can to win, but we’re not going to let that affect us after. We have a big club so we want everyone to be involved so during practice we like to have a fun game. Not a fan of wind sprints or edited comment.”
SD: “And, I mean, the fact that we have been continually good for so long it seems that our attitude about the game works for us.”
** As many may expect with the JMU guys, the conversation got a little sidetracked here in a hilarious fashion. However, not appropriate to include in the article.
SS: “Alright, so before this gets too off the rails… You guys consistently have a top 2 or 3 team each year in terms of athleticism, which is the biggest positive that the league’s content team pushes about you guys. But they also comment against the lack of strategy it seems you guys have. Now I personally have only seen games online but from my playing days that does seem like a fair assessment. How would each of you characterize your team’s strategy going into matches?”
EE: “Our strategies for games doesn’t really start forming until about a practice before when we have our A team only roster and what we have been trying to emphasize has been to know your role. Know if you should be handing balls off, catching, make waste throws. Just overall be willing to put your ego aside especially for the big games (Towson, GVSU). For an actual game plan on the court I would say that we tend to react to others play-style while relying heavily on our top guys to make plays. Otherwise just don’t be a f*** idiot. We have a decent amount of those.”
JS: “We do have strategy going in, but in the end our team has a bunch of good arms that we usually just rely on to overpower the other team. It’s something we should probably work on.”
SD: “So since my freshman year, our strategy has been to go out and big **** teams because we are more athletic than them… it works most of the time but against teams like GV who have their way of playing obviously **** us. I’d say we have adjusted to where not everyone throws and balls are always in certain people’s hands like Evan, Garrett McGurl, myself and J-Man, but that changes as the match goes on… whether it’s the captains playing poorly, we get out and so on. But again everyone on the team wants to destroy someone so that 4 person strategy doesn’t always work out, but our athleticism gets us out of a lot of games on top. As everyone else said we never have a concrete plan… we adapt.”
SS: “So from that standpoint, does playing a team like Towson, who is the only real competition on the East Coast, help prepare you guys for a team such as GV? How so or why not?”
JS: “No, not at all. GV is just ridiculously better. We can compete with Towson using our little strategy as mentioned earlier, but not against GV.”
SS: “So what in particular sets them apart form everyone else? Obviously they play well as a unit but I’m curious what you guys see as the thing that breaks everyone’s back?”
EE: “Playing Towson as much as possible is only going to make us better prepared for adversity faced in difficult points. Although Towson has been arguably the second best team in the country this year, GV just does all the little things right as well as having better impact players and more depth which is really just difficult for most teams to match. They transition well, make good waste throws, don’t drop catchable balls. Personally I believe we are the only team in the country that head to head match up with them but as a unit they are difficult to match up with as they take dodgeball very seriously. Which is why I think Towson continually plays them well because Towson brings heart and doesn’t give up easily and wants so badly to win whereas we stop trying after about 2 points of being slapped off the court.”
SD: “As much stuff that goes on between us and Towson, they are a good team this year no doubt, but it’s not like playing GV. It helps us handle hard points and helps us get better but what sets GV a part, is the patience and precision of their players. They know what’s going on at all times and never get flustered at really anything. They’re robots essentially.”
SS: “So strip away the outside life from the club and anything extra. What makes it worth it to each of you individually and as a team to play anyone other than GV? Obviously host teams won’t let a team only play one match at a tournament, but why go to any tournament that doesn’t have them there? You guys are all competitive and I’m sure its annoying hearing that JMU hasn’t brought the title home yet.”
JS: “Playing other teams is good experience for people that just joined and also for people that don’t get a lot of chances to play. Obviously we would love to play GV more often but it’s hard when they’re so far away.”
SD: “It’s worth playing anyone just to go out there and play, I mean we are on this club to have fun and play dodgeball for God sakes. And again us and Towson almost getting into a fight every single point is good for your [Towson’s] Social Media Team I’m sure. And it gets our team fired up. It’s about going out there and being competitive. It would be nice to play GV more often but what can you do when they are in Michigan and we are in VA?”
SS: “So what do you guys think you’d need to turn things around at Nationals and bring home the title?”
EE: “Continue to play tough competition and grow confidence in everyone. Sprinkle in a competitive practice here and there and they may as well just ship us the trophy now.”
SD: “First things first we probably shouldn’t be hungover for the first game, but that’ll never happen. Just going out there and playing our game with the big **** attitude we have along with some good practices… we will be hard to beat. And not try to overpower the [lesser] teams and blow our arms out.”
JS: “What they said.”
EE: “ Also, have to give this man Jason Souder a shout-out for doing the dirty work of dodgeball and being the best catcher in the league nobody knows about.”
SS: “Now besides GV, are there any particular teams you guys would like the chance to beat on Sunday at Nationals?”
SD: “I’d love to beat any team that thinks they have a chance against us.”
EE: “I would love to go beat up on Akron for the reason said above. Those Ohio schools are just so so bad, they need to be relegated down to the elementary dodgeball leagues to maybe get some real wins.”
SD: “Maybe they should try intramural instead.”
SD: “We are (censored) and cocky, but at least we can back it up.”
SS: “So my last question for all of you is that JMU thrives on both positive and negative recognition, but knowing that most of the league is repped by Michigan people, why not have somebody represent you guys on a public level?”
SD: “I just don’t think we would keep up with that or we’d be kicked out lol.”
Speaking with the JMU guys was a fun time. They certainly don’t hold anything back, whether it’s on the court or in a group chat. Now I haven’t watched enough games or payed close enough attention to how the season has gone to truly know where JMU stands in the pantheon of good teams this season. With that said, it seems as if the JMU way is alive and well, and they’ll still be a force to be reckoned with come April.