ALLENDALE: The GVSU Lakers enter the season as favorites again to win the National Championship, as they are nearly every season. Grand Valley begins play this weekend at the Bowling Green Invite, with matches against CMU, BGSU, and SVSU. With big rivalries at stake in their matches against Central Michigan and Saginaw Valley, the Lakers will look to get revenge over losing to CMU last season and losing to SVSU in the Michigan Dodgeball Cup and Nationals.
The Lakers are led this year by Mark Trippiedi, Dylan Fettig, and Kenny Bacchus, who are three of the best players in the league. After losing Dan Lesley (an Assistant Captain last year) and Brian Savalle, plus losing Matt Zinn and Josh Stevenson after the Fall Semester, from last year’s National Semifinalist team, GVSU looks to come back and win both the Michigan Dodgeball Cup and the National Championship. Despite the fact they lost four varsity players, they still lost less than all the other Michigan schools, and their JV team last year was loaded with talent as well. With a strong group of veterans to guide their new starters into becoming good players, GVSU should be a tough team to beat. It’s only been 4 years since the “perfect” season of 2008-2009, and while those comparisons are a little far fetched, it’s definitely possible that this Lakers team could come close to an undefeated record. Anything less than a MDC and National Championship may come as a disappointment for Grand Valley.
The Lakers are playing a tough schedule this year. Including their tournament this weekend at BGSU, Grand Valley also plays at SVSU and home vs MSU in the Fall, and then go to the Chicago Dodgeball Open (along with other top teams like MSU and James Madison) before playing in the Michigan Dodgeball Cup. While they’re not getting the amount of games that Kentucky and Kent State are getting, their schedule may be just as tough with just the amount of good teams they are playing. The lack of games against easier foes may hurt the Lakers in the standings, as they would need help to finish first even with an undefeated season, but they look poised to make a run at Nationals even if they were the lowest seed.
Last year may have been the worst showing the team has had at Nationals (it was the first time they didn’t make the National Championship game in school history) and the MDC (first time they didn’t get at least 2nd) but those statements are misleading. First, the rest of the league has caught up to GVSU. In previous seasons the Lakers would have the top 5 power throwers in the whole league, the best catchers, the best all-around talent, and while GVSU definitely still has some of the best players in the league, they’re no longer the sole possessor of talent. There was a time where GVSU’s toughest competitions would come in practice, and that when it came to game time they would destroy the opposing teams. Now the rest of the league has caught up to GVSU’s strategy, talent, and while they’re still the most intimidating team in the league, they’re no longer unbeatable. Second, the Lakers forced overtime against eventual champion SVSU in the National Semifinals and at the MDC, where they lost by one man. The Cardinals couldn’t eliminate all the Lakers in either game but rather stuck it out when they got an advantage and held off GVSU. GVSU would mail it in against CMU for the right to be second place at the MDC, and SVSU would go on to defeat UK in the championship game, but if GVSU won both of those games then they could have had yet another title under their belts. Essentially, the “worst” season in GVSU history was still an extremely successful season, and that’s why they’re considered the favorites for the 2012-2013 season.
To win the title though, they’ll have some extremely tough competition, as JMU, MSU, and especially UK look great so far this season. While GVSU has never lost to Michigan State, the matches have gotten closer and closer every time. Grand Valley seems to have a huge psychological edge over the Spartans, but if MSU can get an early point on them maybe they can turn the tide. The Dukes of JMU could face the Lakers for the first time in school history in January at the CDO, and if they’re making that sophomore leap that usually happens to second year schools and players, they have the talent to knock off GVSU. It would take a heroic effort by JMU to do so, but if the chips fell right it’s certainly possible. Kentucky has the arms to match up with Grand Valley, but the question of if they can catch as much as Grand Valley, who is a very underrated catching team, is still out there. If they can catch GVSU’s solo throws, then they too have a chance, but they’ll need to play well when it counts. Other schools that could possibly ruin Grand Valley’s season are Kent State, who will likely be a Top 4 seed at Nationals just because of the amount of games played alone, Central Michigan, who can catch as well as anyone, and Western Kentucky, due to their slow down ball, possession style.
When it comes down to it though, GVSU will probably end their season with a few losses. There is too much parity in the NCDA now for a team to go 102-0 in points like the 2008-2009 Lakers did, and even an undefeated season would take a truly dominant team who catches a few breaks. They are still the hunted, not the hunters, and they will receive everyone’s best shot. Over the course of Sunday at Nationals, when they will play 4-5 games, that will take it’s toll if they cannot stay motivated. However, the leadership of Mark Trippiedi and the pure athleticism of GVSU can probably keep the Lakers from getting over confident. That said, there are too many good teams in the league now, especially non-Michigan schools, for a team to run the table easily. As the Lakers start their season, it will be interesting to see how they perform to expectations and to see if they can pull out championship number five.