It’s almost that time of year again. The transition from winter to spring means more than just warm weather. It means College Dodgeball Nationals is just around the corner. Dodgeball teams across the nation transition from the regular season grind to a post-season mindset. In a matter of weeks, the entire National Collegiate Dodgeball Association will convene for the annual national tournament that decides which club team is crowned NCDA National Champions.
The atmosphere inside of the Seaton Center on the campus of University of Kentucky will be electric, as it always is when UK hosts the season’s final tourney. 24 teams will make their way to Lexington, KY for what promises to be a tournament to remember.
Below, I will kick off the Nationals Preview articles (you will see a lot of these in the coming weeks) with a brief early look at the big tourney. The second weekend of April is quickly approaching, and while there are still a few dodgeball events yet to be played, I will take this opportunity to give my thoughts on what I expect from Nationals 2017:
National Champion Prediction
Easy choice here, right? Grand Valley has held ownership over the National Championship Trophy for 8 of the past 10 seasons. Let that sink in for a moment. How could I pick against that? This isn’t just about the past though; GVSU is once again heading into Nationals as the favorite. As always, this squad finds a way to peak at the right time.
The Lakers are on quite a tear lately, and I expect it continue. No team is able to develop talent the way GVSU does, and their young players have continued to improve all season, helping them become the deepest team in the league heading into Nationals.
If Grand Valley plays to their gameplan, no team has much of a chance. My prediction is for Grand Valley to make history on April 9th, claiming their 5th straight NCDA National Championship.
National Runner-Up Prediction
Brace yourselves… because I’ve got Central Michigan! Yeah, you read that right, the Chippewas are my choice to be National Runner-Up! I believe this would be the first time ever that the National Title game features the same two schools in three consecutive years. GVSU vs. CMU has been a great rivalry for the past few years. It would be pretty crazy if this hectic season for Central ends with them still managing to make it to the title game to face off against the Lakers. I think they have the talent to do so.
With that said, I should give some reasons why I didn’t choose any of the other solid choices:
MSU: I’ll start by saying that this season is the last for a number of MSU legends. They have the top end talent, and the smart dodgeball play-style, but that’s it. MSU has always struggled to develop talent, and I just don’t see a full roster that can win a title.. just a handlful of good players and then a handful of liabilities. Also, this team has gone winless the past two tournaments, so morale can’t be very high over there in East Lansing. MSU usually shows up strong at Nationals, but I just doubt they have enough left in the tank after their hot start to the 2016-17 season.
JMU: Sorry, they just don’t have ‘IT’. Granted, I haven’t actually seen this team in person, but I feel confident saying they aren’t even a top 4 team in JMU’s team history. JMU had talent, enthusiasm, and a confident / cocky attitude back in the day (which is 2011-2014 pretty much). The past few seasons the Dukes just haven’t been themselves. Something is missing. They benefited from great leadership during their first half-decade in the league, but since then maybe they are taking a step back.
I’m not saying they are terrible, this team still has some talent / potential. It just doesn’t feel right seeing the Dukes burst into celebration after barely beating Towson. The JMU I know and love would be upset with themselves for letting any other team in their region even come close to beating them. Anyway, see you at Nationals JMU. I am excited to see how y’all stack up against Michigan teams when both squads have their full roster.
Having a nice record doesn’t matter if you don’t test yourselves with tough competition. Western Michigan football had an undefeated season playing against MAC schools… then they lost to the 5th best team in the Big Ten in their bowl game. I don’t think JMU is battle tested enough this year. They would’ve benefited greatly from a trip to the Great Lakes State to play some big kid dodgeball… missed opportunity.
SVSU: Too top heavy. They play well together, but rely too much on a few players. I just don’t think they will have enough offense to last the whole weekend and take home the title. Also, it’s sad that this team always peaks at MDC, then doesn’t play tournaments after that. While they are sitting around, content with their second place finish at MDC, all the other Michigan schools are out playing tournaments… improving their game before Nationals. SVSU, you guys gotta keep grinding between MDC and Nationals or you won’t perform to your potential in the biggest tournament of the year.
UK: They are a solid squad. I haven’t seen enough footage of them this year to really pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t think the title game is in the cards for them. Final Four berth is very much a possibility, and I hope they get that far. Their home crowd will be loud as always.
Towson: I think they won’t make the title game but I expect a lot from TU. See below.
The Dark Horse
Gonna sound like a broken record here, and say Towson is my dark horse candidate. But seriously, this year is their year. Towson has serious playmakers. Mike Hinely is an MVP candidate from what I have been told. Tim Wells is going to surprise some opponents at Nationals. Jon Shaw is obviously a huge help on the court. The list goes on and on. They have depth, they have leadership, they have enthusiasm for the sport of dodgeball. I have a feeling this could be the year it all falls into place. Towson is on my short list for teams that could potentially win the title. They really are.
Nick Hazergian (SVSU). This guy really showed the Michigan Region what he was made of at the Michigan Dodgeball Cup. He is still one of the hardest throwers in the league, but he is a solid catcher, and a much more strategic player this season. If I had to predict who takes home MVP after Nationals, I would give it to Nick.
There are way too many other candidates to include, so I won’t go on naming them all, but I will say that every region has at least one guy in the running for this. I’m excited to see how the MVP race plays out.
Ohio Region Madness
What is the Ohio Region anymore? It is just too hectic down there for me to even keep track. First off, shoutout to Ohio for taking home the Ohio Dodgeball Cup. Quite an accomplishment for a team that was winless last year. I feel like Kent will be the best of the Ohio teams at Nationals, but I really don’t know. Bowling Green is having a good season. Ohio State is not what they used to be, but they still have some big-time playmakers like Jeff Starr, Josh Conner, Marshal Winterbotham, and Jacob Hubert.
Beyond those schools, I am very excited to see how Akron looks this year. The same goes for Baldwin Wallace. And these brand new schools… hopefully one of them pull a crazy upset to kick start their program.
The Unknown Illinois Region
I feel like people often forget about these teams. Well they will be at Nationals, and I can’t wait for one of them to surprise an opponent and pull an upset. Will it be DePaul, UWP, or NIU that has the best performance at Nationals? UWP always shows up big in April, but this year I predict it’ll be DePaul. Tyler Hamilton, Brian Hymel, etc… this team has top level talent to compete with a lot of teams in this league. I predict if DePaul gets into overtime with a team that is expected to beat them, they will take the win. Their top end players are no joke.
Why does everyone hate VCU?
But, seriously? Why did everyone request to play VCU? Does everyone really hate these guys? I can’t wait to watch a few VCU games, regardless of who plays them. This team is exciting, and relies on momentum. Reminds me a lot of Towson back in 2014/15/16.
Southern Schools are back!
University of North Georgia has had a heck of a year. They are a first year team that has already racked up three wins. Hopefully they get some favorable matchups at Nationals and put together a quality finish to a strong first season. Is this the first chapter in the story of a soon to be prominent program? Hey, maybe this group will be competing in Final Four games by 2020…
Also, Northwestern State (Louisiana) aka NSULA will be back at Nationals. The program was inactive for a while, but it is great to see they are back. It probably helps that Nationals is in Kentucky. A fairly central location, that gives these southern teams a very reasonable trip.
I hope you enjoyed my quick preview. I will certainly have another up before Nationals, I just figured it was time to publish something. Get the ball rolling.
What are your predictions for Nationals? Who you got in the Final Four? Any dark horse teams? Who’s gonna have the coolest uniforms? Are any glass doors going to get shattered this year (cough Towson). Let me know what you think in the comments!
See you in April!