Early Access Tournament Recap

THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN BY NCDA ALUMNI: KEVIN BAILEY & SHADEED DRAKEFORD.

On Sunday, the 2019-20 College Dodgeball season kicked off in East Lansing, Michigan on the campus of Michigan State University. In attendance were six different schools (including five of the top 10 nationally), all looking to start off the new year on the right foot. Below is a recap of the tournament:

Results from the Early Access Tournament at Michigan State:

Varsity Matches:

  • MSU def CMU 4-3 (OT)
  • SVSU def UK 3-2
  • GVSU def BGSU 6-0
  • GVSU def MSU 5-0
  • CMU def SVSU 4-0
  • BGSU def MSU 3-2 (OT)
  • CMU def UK 4-2
  • GVSU def SVSU 5-1

B-Team Matches:

  • UK def MSU-B 5-0
  • GVSU-B def CMU-B 5-0
  • SVSU-B def MSU-B (F)
  • BGSU def GVSU-B 5-0
  • CMU-B def SVSU-B 2-1

Team-by-Team recaps:

grand valley state university

Kevin Bailey Analysis:

Grand Valley looked the most prepared of any team in attendance over the weekend. The results speak for themselves. GVSU dominated each of their opponents. The Lakers didn’t give up a point on Sunday until the second half of a blowout win over SVSU.

Ben Smart is an early frontrunner for NCDA MVP after his performance on Sunday. Nolan Stanko looked like an All-American with his strong throws all day. Veterans like Alex Jonauskas, Collin Freeman, Britt Skinner and others stepped up in their increased roles. Captain Josh Hill is still getting his throw back after shoulder surgery but he was able to make a big impact for the Lakers.

Overall, GVSU wasn’t challenged by ay opponent at the event. Considering how many of their offensive leaders they lost, it was surprising to see how crisp GVSU looked compared to their opponents. Grand Valley doesn’t feel like as much of a power arm team compared to in years past, but it didn’t matter on Sunday because the Lakers were just that much better of a transition team than any of their opponents.

S.Q. Drakeford Analysis: 

I was only able to watch GVSU play against BGSU and MSU, but it was enough coverage for me to break down the film. Over the years GVSU has shown they can play at any tempo/style and this past weekend was no different. They were forced to play at a slow tempo against BGSU in the 1st point and still won the point. Then they were able to increase the tempo in the next five points, continuously applying pressure in the transitional game on the defensive and offensive end until BGSU stopped play around the 9 minute mark in the 2nd half when the score was 6-0.

Against MSU, the game started off slow and then the tempo got faster. That provided some intense moments. GVSU played at a faster tempo in the 2nd point and made MSU look uncomfortable. GVSU played an aggressive and conservative tempo within the 3rd point (attacking very aggressive with high efficiency both offensively and defensively and then switching back to the GVSU methodical approach of their transition game). The rest of the game was “business as usual” for the Lakers (Source: GVSU Players).

I had the pleasure of speaking to some of the GVSU players during our commentary and they explained to me that the past few weeks of practice went very well for them. They said they were coming together as a team and the practices were well-structured. I always believe in this quote: “You play like you practice and practice how you play.” Source: Marcus Luttrell. Some of the GV players came to the Akron Leadership Conference back in July 2019 and some of them played at Elite Dodgeball Nationals in August 2019. They came into this season with a motivated and hungry attitude, and used the lessons that they learn from NCDA Nationals 2019, Akron Leadership Conference, and Elite Dodgeball Nationals 2019 as stepping stones for this season.


central michigan university

Kevin Bailey Analysis: 

Central Michigan had an inconsistent day, but they certainly flashed their potential. At times CMU didn’t seem to have enough firepower offensively to be a top team, but other times, they showed the ability to be a quick strike team with great throwing and catching.

Players like Eric Nelson, Kyle Garner, Jared Brown, and many others stepped up, especially in their second half comeback against MSU. CMU certainly would’ve liked to come away with a win over MSU, but bottom line they proved to themselves and any doubters that they can compete.

Keep in mind this team is still extremely young and inexperienced as a whole. They will certainly make major improvements over the next few months.

One game that everyone would’ve loved to see this Sunday was GVSU vs. CMU, but unfortunately it was not on the schedule. The Chippewas will have to wait until GVSU’s tournament on Oct. 19 to get a crack at the Lakers.

S.Q. Drakeford Analysis:

I was only able to watch the first game vs MSU so my analysis is a bit more limited. I had the opportunity to speak one on one with Casey Bielec (Former CMU President/Captain 2019) and learned some things about the CMU program. The previous season (2018-2019), they graduated 8 of their 12 starters to where they had to rebuild around 4 returning players. For CMU, their definition of rebuilding is a lot different from other dodgeball programs’ definition of rebuilding: until Nationals 2019, CMU made it to 4 consecutive Finals appearance. They’re currently on a 5 year streak of consecutive Final Four appearances and that wasn’t lost on me this weekend. They came into this season with big expectations and rightfully so.

In the first point, CMU played a very conservative defensive approach and were able to use the man advantage to get the first point. The next three points were in favor of MSU with the Spartans playing very aggressive resulting in a 3-1 deficit early in the 2nd half. At this point, I was thinking that CMU looked distraught, their initial strategy wasn’t working, and this game was going to get out of hand. Before the 5th point started, Michael Riley (Former CMU Captain 2018) gave an intense chant that lifted the team’s spirit and they responded by taking the 5th point; Before the 6th point started, Austin Brege (Former CMU Captain 2019) gave his own intense chant for his team and they responded by taking the 6th point forcing OT against MSU.

In OT, CMU got too carried away in the beginning, losing 3 players within the first 30 seconds, and ended up losing this game in less than 3 minutes. However, I will end this analysis on a positive note: when push comes to shove, the Chippewas have shown they have a certain level of resilience and resolve that they can come back from a deficit and fight until the end. This team rides on momentum and when things go their way, they are a tough team to beat. Time and youth is on their side and it is expected for their cohesion to be better. I look forward to watching them play in future tournaments. 


bowling green state university

Kevin Bailey Analysis:

Bowling Green has to be pleased with the way this weekend went for them. The Falcons lost 6-0 to GVSU, then picked up a massive 3-2 (OT) win over MSU, making a statement to the rest of the league that they are true contenders. 

Owen Sill quickly entered his name into the MVP race with a stellar performance on Sunday. His combination of strong throwing and catching will help take his team far this year. BGSU’s top 5 or 6 players were fantastic in the MSU game, which begs the question, how good can this team be if they improve the back end of their roster?

We will see BGSU in action again next weekend at Ohio State. If they can play like they did vs. MSU, don’t be surprised if they come away as one of the clear top teams in Ohio after that tournament.

S.Q. Drakeford Analysis:  

I was only able to watch BGSU play against GVSU and MSU (only the 1st half against the Spartans) but it was enough coverage for me to break down the film. I mentioned within the preview College Dodgeball’s ‘Opening Weekend’ article that BGSU might shock some people if their opponents aren’t careful. I did say that and I said it for a reason. Last year, I had the opportunity to do commentary for Towson vs BGSU in the Elite 8 matchup at Nationals 2019. The BGSU team had a certain level of mental toughness and grit that made them a tough out. In short, if you’re going to play against BGSU, it would be in your best interest to play them hard for all 50 minutes.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, BGSU controlled the tempo in the first point against GVSU but wasn’t able to keep up the momentum against the Lakers resulting in a 6-0 loss. BGSU didn’t play badly, the Lakers were the better team that exposed their weakness; they don’t have arms on offense. However, their approach of making up that deficit is by taking the majority of the court, applying pressure through strong blocking and pump fakes, and playing at a slower pace that forces you to think for long periods of time. This strategy works well when the Falcons have the lead or when the game is relatively close in their favor, not so much when they have to play from behind which was the case for their game against the Lakers.

After that matchup, I saw the captains having a heart to heart discussion with the team; everyone was huddle up in the circle listening very closely to what was being said. While I didn’t intrude within their discussion because I didn’t want to be rude or invade their personal space, I saw a team that was mentally focused and found a resolve within themselves to play better for the rest of the tournament. It was at that moment that I knew if they focused on their gameplan they were going to be successful.

The first half against MSU went much better for them taking a 2-1 lead against them in the 1st half. Owen Sill, Max Vincent, and Brandon Feltner played very well in this game and the rest of the team were able to capitalize on opportunities against MSU.  I was very disappointed that I was unable to watch the 2nd half; I had a plane to catch in Detroit, Michigan and I couldn’t afford to miss the flight back. I will watch the end of the 2nd half and OT to have a better understanding on how things happen. Note: This is BGSU’s 3rd consecutive win against MSU.

Nevertheless, the Falcons did bounce back from adversity after their loss against GVSU and come away with a signature win against MSU in OT and follow up with a victory against GVSU B team. I look forward to seeing them play against their counterparts in the Ohio Region at OSU this Saturday.        


Michigan state university

Kevin Bailey Analysis:

Obviously it was a disappointing weekend for the Spartans. MSU lost a blowout to GVSU (5-0), then came out flat against BGSU and ended up falling in overtime. One bright spot for MSU was how well they played for chunks of the CMU game.

Brent Weakland was the most consistent player for MSU this weekend. Jacob Georges was inconsistent, but at times dominant thanks to his strong arm. Inconsistent, but at times great is how you could describe most of MSU’s top players, including Dennis Sullivan, Jack Hilt, and of course Payton Schuster, who was limited due to his shoulder.

Michigan State once again looks like they are going to have a great rookie class, and top to bottom, their roster is probably the most physically talented in the NCDA. With that said, this team is still a work in progress

Don’t forget, last year at their first tournament they lost to Kentucky on their home floor. They finished last season in the Final Four. Michigan State was underwhelming on Sunday, but this team is nowhere near the potential yet. They will certainly be an improved group next time we see them in action.

S.Q. Drakeford Analysis:

I was only able to watch MSU play against CMU, GVSU and BGSU (first half) and it was enough coverage for me to break down the film. Current Captain Payton Schuster explained to Kevin Bailey and I that they did a great job recruiting their rookie class and they looked really good for their first tournament. If they stay around the program, they are only going to get better. In their first game, MSU played a nearly perfect 1st half against CMU. With the exception of the first point, MSU was the aggressor and made CMU feel very uncomfortable for the next three points. However in the 2nd half, CMU played much better that shifted the momentum in the Chips’ favor. However, in the beginning of OT, MSU was able to capitalize on CMU’s mistakes taking down 3 players on the rush and finish the game with a Schuster headshot against CMU followed by a fastball by Dennis Sullivan.

In the 2nd game, the game started off slow for both teams and then fireworks happened. After that, the Spartans looked overwhelmed and out of place against the Lakers. My take away from that game is that players on MSU need to play together and play with confidence. Everyone needs to play their roles.

In the 3rd game, the long break in between games seemed to slow down the Spartans’ offense in the 1st half. They appeared to be flat against BGSU. After the 1st half, I had to catch my flight in Detroit so I missed the 2nd half when MSU came back and forced OT against BGSU.

This team is a passionate team and at times their emotions get the best of them. At other times, their emotions are the weapon that gets them over the top. However, I will end this analysis on a positive note: Payton Schuster has been working hard controlling his emotions over the past few seasons and I have to give credit where credit is due. He understands that his teammates feed off of his experience and swagger and he is going about it in the right way. Payton and his teammates Jack Hilt, Dennis Sullivan, Jacob Georges all have experience from playing in Elite Dodgeball with Final Justice in the North Region so a ⅓ of their team are battle tested in that regard. They also have talent and youth on their side as their teammates are setting up and making plays at crucial moments. It’s still early in the season and MSU has shown in the past that they can bounce back from tough losses time and time again. I’m expecting their cohesion to be better and their talent to develop more throughout the season. I look forward to seeing them in future tournaments.


Saginaw valley state university

Kevin Bailey Analysis:

Saginaw Valley State only was given one game on the featured court this weekend, and it was the last varsity match of the day between the Cardinals and Grand Valley State. This is an unfortunate fact considering SVSU is one of the more intriguing teams this year. The Cardinals have to replace so much talent, and they certainly looked depleted on SUnday.

SVSU had a few top players like Jake Bruce, Dylan McDonald, and Bryce Stevens, but they were not as deep as usual. With that said, some of the rookies that were put on the varsity roster had strong performances. SVSU always finds a way to develop their players into stars, so don’t be surprised if this team progresses throughout the year and becomes more of a contender. Losses to GVSU and CMU, along with a one-point win over Kentucky is not an ideal showing for SVSU, but they are a work in progress and the experience they gained this weekend will pay off down the road.


University of kentucky

Kevin Bailey Analysis:

One of the biggest disappointments for me was that we never got to see Kentucky play on the featured court Sunday. While we didn’t ge to see them in action, they did have a few good moments at the tournament. UK kept it fairly close with SVSU, in a 3-2 loss, and took the first point off Central Michigan before eventually falling 4-2 in that game. Credit to this team for once again making the long trip to MSU for this early season tournament. They have a clear geographical advantage over the other South Region schools, and they look to once again be utilizing it. Expect the Wildcats to be the best team in the South this season.


B-Teams

There were B-Team games for each of the four Michigan schools in attendance. Grand Valley State and Central Michigan seemed to have the two best B-Teams, with GVSU B earning the head to head win over CMU B. Grand Valley saw great performances from Aaron Pope and Owen Moruzi, two rookies to look out for the rest of this season.

It was encouraging to see each of the Michigan schools at least field a B-Team at this event. Bottom line, for each rookie class, the benefit of giving new players the opportunity to compete in games is massive compared to the alternative scenario where they don’t make the varsity roster and don’t make the trip with the team. These rookies all just spent one of their first weekends at school, traveling with the dodgeball team and competing at a tournament. The amount of team bonding that takes place through travelling to a tournament isn’t even comparable to just showing up for practice a few days a week. The B-Team participation will benefit each of these schools down the road because they will have higher retention rates and improved skill development from their rookie class. I am excited to see this trend continue moving forward.


Games of the Day: 

1) BGSU def MSU 3-2 (OT)

The BGSU vs. MSU game was the best game we saw on Sunday. Coming off an ugly 6-0 loss to Grand Valley State earlier in the day, BGSU did not seem like a team of the caliber to compete with top Michigan schools. They changed that narrative rather abruptly in their game against Michigan State.

In the first point of the game, BGSU used fantastic teamwork pushing up and down the court together the take down MSU. The Falcons were able to grab a 1-0 lead rather quickly, with some highlight reel plays from Owen SIll towards the end of the point. 

Michigan State seemed a bit shell-shocked to give up the first point, and BGSU looked excited but poised to increase the lead. In point #2, BGSU did exactly that. Again, Owen SIll led the charge in a much closer point. Overall, this point showed the audience how balanced of an attack BGSU can have. They were able to make some well-placed throws to pick off MSU players, but they also made some amazing catches. From the top of their lineup to the bottom, this was the most impressive point for the Falcons. They looked hopeless earlier in the day against GVSU, but in the first half against MSU, the Falcons looked deep, poised, and fully in control.

Michigan State deserves a lot of credit for the way they played for the remained of regulation. They could have rolled over and let BGSU win this game, but instead they came out firing in the final point of the first half, determined to cut down the lead before halftime. MSU was able to snag a point from BGSU making it 2-1 going into the half.

The Spartans picked up right where they left off in the first point of the second half, controlling the pace of the game, and communicating well. MSU tied the game at 2 with 15 minutes left in regulation.

At this point, those in the commentary area agreed, whoever won the next point would win the game in regulation. We were mistaken. A long, back and forth point resulted in neither team being eliminated before the end of regulation. MSU had this point in their hands, with BGSU on the 10-count, and 3 of BGSU’s top players (Owen Sill, Max Vincent, and Cole Wilson). BGSU somehow found a way to catch each of those players back in, and the result was enough talent on the court for them to stay alive until the buzzer sounded, sending this one into OT.

The BGSU/MSU overtime was nothing like the CMU/MSU overtime from earlier in the day. This one took far longer, and was a back and forth affair. Max Vincent was the clear star of OT for Bowling Green, as he recorded at least three outs in the extra period. Vincent was not the only standout for BGSU though. The Falcons entire OT roster played fearless, making some amazing plays including a near point blank catch on a charging MSU player to truly turn the momentum for good. MSU’s Jack Hilt made a few clutch plays in OT, but in the end, BGSU was able to pick apart the Spartans and earn the first major upset of the College Dodgeball Season (their 3rd straight win over Michigan State)!


2) MSU def CMU 4-3 (OT)

The host school, Michigan State University, entered the 2019-20 campaign with plenty of hype. The Spartans returned most of their star players from last season’s Final Four team. Pegged as the #1 team in the Way-Too-Early Power Rankings, and #2 in the official Preseason Power Rankings, MSU was clearly one of the favorites at their home tournament.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, this event did not go as planned. MSU started out their first game of the day against in-state rival Central Michigan, by giving up a quick point. CMU made clutch plays throughout that point and looked to hold all the momentum. From there, MSU took over control of the game, ripping off three consecutive points to take a 3-1 lead part way through the second half. During MSU’s three-point run, they had excellent communication, teamwork, and execution.

Central Michigan, entering the season #4 on the Power Rankings, did not look like they had much firepower for most of the MSU game, but in the second half, faced with a two-point deficit, they came alive, thanks in large part to players like Jared Brown stepping up to push the pace of the game in the Chippewas’ favor. Remarkably, CMU was able to take two points from MSU in the final 15 minutes to tie the score 3-3. This seemed like an impossible task earlier in the contest due to the energy ach team seemed to possess.

Heading into overtime, Central Michigan seemed to have all the momentum, but OT did not go their way. Michigan State’s top players were as advertised in the OT period, getting a quick kill on the run up, and then using their speed and arm strength to pick CMU off one by one. CMU was so close to a historic comeback, but in the end, MSU was able to preserve a victory. This should be the first of many classic battles between these two schools this year.

Author: Kevin Bailey

Current NCDA Chief of Content. Former Captain for Grand Valley State University (#4).

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