Next on our region by region previews is the East Coast. There were a lot of headlines coming out of the East last year, and this year should prove to be no different. In Kevin Bailey-esque fashion, let’s take a look at our teams to watch out for in the 2017-18 season, and who is likely to emerge as the top team out of the East Coast.
The Dukes of James Madison are once again in discussion to be the top team in the East Coast, and for good reasons. JMU lost some solid players such as Joe Bringuier and Clark Girardin, but with this team it has always been reload rather than recover. I have been told they took in 31 new members from their tryouts this past week and there’s bound to be talent in a group like that. Only time will tell if that’s true.
Instead of focusing on the hypothetical though, let’s look at what they do have. The main contributors of this team will most likely be their returning All-East Coast members from a year ago. This includes Doug Schilling, Connor Post, Evan Eschenburg, and Evan Bosanko. Even outside of those guys though are some hidden gems including Marc Antosz and Colin Wakeman.
Two things have always contributed to JMU’s success, throwing power and confidence. This season, JMU will be as confident as ever to not only be the best team in the East Coast, but also win Nationals. When you get statements such as “You can engrave us winning it all in stone” you know this team is ready to compete. I expect a lot out of JMU as well this season. They are always a tough opponent to beat when they are on their game, and with a more serious leadership team than ever before they will continue to make noise.
Towson probably had the biggest two year improvement out of any team in the country. Last season, they finished 21-7-2 and as the #5 overall team based on Gonzalez rankings after going 9-8-4 in the 2015-16 season and 7-12-1 for the 2014-15 season. It was certainly their best season in program history, and they will be looking to build on that success for this upcoming season.
The Tigers lost some seasoned veterans in Chris Thomas, Jeremy Brown, and Jonathan Shaw. All is not lost though. This team, like JMU, is expected to reload in a big way. They will rely heavily on David Guare, Andrew Kerr, and Michael Hinely this season, the latter being an expected MVP candidate. Expect a lot out of players such as Jordan Haxton, Nick Cerdeira, and Sidney Heier as well. Their catching ability will be crucial in big games next season.
This team has the talent to compete with anyone, and their play style is advantageous to the talent they have. The biggest issue this team needs to solve however is their ability to perform in overtime. Over the past two seasons, they are 2-6 in overtime games. Towson will be competing for the national championship this season, and winning close games against big opponents will be important.
A lot of people tend to sleep on Penn State due to their lackluster attendance at tournaments, but I won’t. The Nittany Lions are a tough bunch. Last season they went 7-4-1 which was their best record in program history, and there’s a lot of promise for this team to perform even better this year.
They did lose their two All-Stars from last year, Ken Russ and Damian Pazuchanics, but return everyone else. I expect Jeff Schwartz to carry a big portion of the load, but he has a great supporting cast around him. Morgan McLean and Mitchell Worobjj will be important for this team as well, and rising Sophomore Jake Saam showed everyone at Nationals he is an elite catcher. We also can’t talk about this team without mentioning Sami Beining who is hoping to retain her title as the NCDA Women’s MVP.
Penn State also has a new President this year, Jake “Milkman” Nasiadka, who is eager to travel more, saying, “We’re aiming to better ourselves as athletes by competing in more tournaments with teams like JMU and Towson.”
If they follow through and travel more frequently, expect this team to only get better. This team still has some things to work on, but as said before, don’t sleep on them.
Now earlier I said Towson probably had the biggest two year improvement out of any team in the league, and I will hold to that, however VCU was probably the most surprising team of the 2016-17 season for the right reasons. Historically, the Rams have been in the cellar of the league standings, with only 7 total wins over their first 4 seasons. Hell, most teams in the league didn’t even know (or cared to know) what the letters V-C-U stood for. Last year however, they had the 5th most wins in the NCDA with 19 total, and set a league record for most miles traveled in a single season. Other teams took notice as well, as they were also the most requested team at Nationals 2017.
VCU will have a much more experienced squad this year than in previous years as well. They lost two important players in Matt Bosco and Jeff Shackleford, but return everyone else. Hunter Ford returns as captain, along with Sam Lammie, Torao Ota, and Wayne Shortt. Two other interesting players to watch out for next year include Lakota Smith and Stephen Cathey.
The Rams succeeded last year as a catching team due to a lack of firepower. This year however, could prove to be different. From an insider point of view, there are some talented freshman with strong arms who are eager to play. It will be VCU’s most talented team ever, but we will have to see if it translates to wins this year.
Outside Looking In
Good news for this team, but bad news for everyone else, Kris DeJesus will be returning as a Grad Student for the Mustangs. He has become the face of this team during his playing career and, for the foreseeable future, it will remain that way. After 3 full seasons in the NCDA, Stevenson is still looking for the first win in their program’s history. However, there are signs that indicate this team will improve for the 2017-18 season, and could in fact pick up that win sooner rather than later.
According to part one of his self-dubbed “College Dodgeball’s Winning Formula”, Kevin explains the benefits of playing Elite Dodgeball during the Summer. Kris, along with other Stevenson players put together the “Klutch Mode” brand, and formed an Elite Dodgeball team. Some of those players include Kyle Rudman, C.J. Kilpatrick, and Liam Yee. Will their participation guarantee success? Maybe, maybe not. But, having more dodgeball experience is better than no dodgeball experience. This team will still have a lot to prove in the upcoming season if they want to contend in the East Coast. Once they get that first win, it could help provide even more momentum to compete at a high level.
Maryland had a bit of a lackluster regular season by their program’s standards, but had a very strong showing at Nationals 2017 to end the year. There probably won’t be any major expectations from this group early on unless they pull together a really strong recruiting class.
During the offseason they lost two big players to graduation, Adam Zwick and Justin Anderson. Both were big contributors and will be missed. Overall though, the rest of the team was fairly young. In the words of new President Vinnie DeMaio, “Last year we had a very young team as compared to many other years. This year we’re coming in with fire in our hearts and trusting the process.”
While North Georgia might take exception to that last line, I can certainly appreciate the enthusiasm and optimism of this team’s leader going into next season. Besides DeMaio, Carl Boettner and Blake Bender will look to control the game as both skilled catchers and throwers.
First, they were freshmen, then they were sophomores. Now, they are Juniors! The Cavaliers of UVA had some flashes of brilliance last year, and picked up their programs first wins against UMD and Akron. Going into their third year, we will keep an eye on how this team progresses.
After being out for their program’s first season with a torn ACL, Jeremy Shaw came back in a big way as both a vocal and on court leader for the team. Along with him, returning veterans A.J. Getter and Marty Knauf are expected to make big contributions for the team. They are both talented players who unfortunately were not able to make an appearance at Nationals 2017. One person I will be interested in watching is Tommy Snead, who flew a little under the radar last year, but I think could have a breakout season.
While I like the way this young team has progressed, it would be a little optimistic to say this team will compete for an East Coast title, for now. This team has some good tools, but still needs to improve when it comes to depth and strategy. That being said, I am still excited to see where this team goes this season.