COLUMBUS: With the Buckeyes, Golden Flashes, Cardinals, Spartans, and Wildcats all heading to Columbus for a round robin, what is likely the second deepest tournament of the regular season (behind the Michigan Dodgeball Cup) could go to any of the attending teams. All five teams attending made the 2012 NCDA National Tournament Quarterfinals, three of them made the semifinals, and Kentucky and Saginaw Valley played for the title. The two teams that didn’t make the semifinals (Ohio State and Michigan State) both lost to teams in the OSU Round Robin by one point in the quarterfinals. There are also many rivalries in play here, whether its a Big Ten battle between MSU and OSU, or instate rivalries for Michigan and Ohio supremacy, or traditional dodgeball rivalries like SVSU/OSU or Kent State/Kentucky, nearly all the games will have some meaning. Teams are also getting to play other teams for the first time in a long time, like Kent State playing SVSU, and MSU playing Kentucky.
The Buckeyes will be looking at getting some revenge, as they lost to all four teams in the round robin last season. As the host school you can expect a little home court advantage here, and the Buckeyes play in a fantastic facility. OSU features a ton of catchers on their roster, as always, and their slow down game keeps them in matches. However, they’ll need to either catch everything that comes their way or figure out a way to manufacture outs if they want to win the tournament, with some great power arms on their way such as UK’s Wes Hopkins, SVSU’s Spencer Jardine, and MSU’s Eric Paul. Ohio State has proven in the past that they can get in SVSU’s heads, so that could be to their advantage, and they also beat Kent State last season. So if they can turn the tides on MSU (a 4-2 loss in East Lansing) and UK (a 4-0 loss at Nationals) they could come out of their tournament undefeated. OSU is 0-1 on the young season, with their only loss being a close 2-1 defeat at Kent State, which will only motivate the Buckeyes even more.
The SVSU Cardinals are going to be playing in their first tournament since winning the NCDA National Championship at home in April, and despite the fact that they’ve lost the majority of the core of their squad, the Cardinals may still be the favorite at the tournament. After crushing MSU, OSU, and UK last season (a combined 6-0 against those three schools) the Cardinals have momentum on their side and could make a run in Columbus. However, the loss of the majority of their team’s leadership and main players leaves Captain Max Siler in a bit of a uncertain area as to who to put on the roster. NCDA MVP Spencer Jardine says “I think they will play pretty good considering how new their starting line up is going to look. I doubt it is going to be very pretty the way they take their points though. Every point is going to be a slug fest.” If they’re looking to have some slug fests, UK, MSU, and OSU are the type of teams that’ll give it to them. However, Kent State’s more up tempo game might give the Cardinals some trouble as its a very rare style of play for the league as it is currently assembled. This group of teams will definitely help the young SVSU squad grow and develop quickly. “I think they have a chance at starting the year off the right way, it’s unusual for the Cardinals to start their team off with multiple games. But maybe that’s exactly what SVSU needs to start off their season.” If the Cardinals do poorly in the tournament, it shouldn’t be considered a failure and not much should be read into it, but if they come out undefeated, we may have found our National Title favorite.
The Spartans are heading into a desperate season in the NCDA, and that could make them very dangerous. It’s the last season for many of the players on the team, but yet they could be bringing a slew of talented rookies. The Spartans are leaning towards being more catch driven this year, but yet they’ll still have some power arms coming to Columbus. With a chance to beat Big Ten rival OSU and get revenge for a few close losses against SVSU, the Spartans are ready for this tournament. They’re also ready to play Kentucky, as only a few players are left from the 2008-2009 team that faced them last. With the possibility of a handful of newcomers, the team will have to mesh quickly against tough competition, and the rookies will have to adapt to changes in styles of the different teams. If the rookies play up to par this team has the talent to go undefeated, but with how good the other teams are that is no guarantee.
The Wildcats had a theme to them a couple seasons ago, and that was “Wes Hopkins and not much else”. For the past two seasons they’ve had the strongest thrower in the NCDA, but they’ve proven since the beginning of the 2010-2011 campaign that they also have a bunch of talent surrounding their star player. They had two players be named to the All-NCDA team (Hopkins and Thomas Kidd) and they have one of the best dodgeball strategists in Zac Brown at the helm. This year, they’re out to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and that they can compete with the big boys year in and year out. They already took care of business at home against Western Kentucky (4-0 win) and could definitely be the best non-Michigan school this season. With victories over OSU and Kent State last year at Nationals, they should have the confidence to do it again, especially after returning the vast majority of their roster and having a fantastic recruiting class. They’ll also have payback on their mind when they face SVSU as well, wanting to take down the Cardinals after losing to them in the National Championship game.
Kent State is sort of the dark horse in this tournament, despite the fact that they had the most wins last season. They might have knocked off the Buckeyes 2-1 in Kent last month, but yet they are still somewhat of an unknown quantity going into this tournament with Kyle Fitzpatrick and Ryan Menn gone. Luckily for them OSU and SVSU are also going through leadership changes, and MSU is dealing with the loss of one of the best players in the history of their program. That being said, Kent State is definitely going to need to force the tempo if they’re going to have a chance to win. OSU, MSU, and SVSU all play slower, and Kent State is one of the faster teams in the league. They do have some power arms on their roster, so they have the offensive talent to take out the schools attending, but they’ll need to prove the fact that they’re able to catch in this tournament, as their are three of the best catching teams attending.
So who is the favorite for the tournament? I would say no one. I don’t believe a team will go undefeated, especially if everyone gets four games, and I think anyone in this tournament can beat anyone. It is probably the deepest field outside of the MDC, as there are 5 teams who are capable of making a run to the Final Four this year. It is a unique tournament, possibly the most unique outside of the BEAST II this year, with teams with different play styles and strategies merging for one tournament. This should be the tournament of the Fall, and if anyone comes out unscathed they could be a threat to win the National Championship.
The OSU Round Robin is October 14th in Columbus, Ohio. Check back for more information including schedules and results.