The two top ranked teams in the NCDA square off in East Lansing this Saturday for a doubleheader showdown. Currently, GVSU leads the season series 2-1 (we don’t need to talk about the all-time series lead, just go read Kevin Bailey’s most recent article if you want to witness the bloodbath). This will likely be the only time any Michigan schools face off this semester before the Michigan Dodgeball Cup, so a strong performance Saturday for either team could make them a strong favorite to take home the cup on February 19th. Here’s a preview of the two teams and some predictions for who will come out victorious.
#1 Grand Valley State University (13-2-1)
The Lakers are no strangers to seeing the #1 ranking next to their name. GVSU finished last semester with only two losses, an OT loss to SVSU in the Battle of the Valleys and a loss to their opponent this weekend in the first match of the year (also a doubleheader in which they won game two 4-0). However, Grand Valley may have lost more than any other team at the semester break. Both Austin Morley and Anthony Incrocci graduated in December, leaving two big holes in the Laker roster. Most know of Morley, 2016 All-American and OT 6 regular for GVSU, but the loss of Incrocci could be just as big. Anthony was quite the clutch catcher, and made some appearances in OT for GVSU himself. Losing two top players would be tough for any team, but Grand Valley is probably the best equipped to deal with such a loss as their depth has always been the best in the league. The question now will be do they have the experience to continue the GVSU reign of dominance? Three members of their OT 6 against CMU in November are sophomores. While that’s a great thing for continued future success, if there’s one advantage teams like CMU and MSU will have over Grand Valley it will be experience. The flip side to that coin is if the top ranked team has 3 sophomores in their OT 6, they must be pretty good. Expect big things from Brandon Meisel, Sam Stockdale, and Aaron Krafft as they now have an even bigger burden to carry without Morley and Incrocci in the lineup.
Grand Valley X-Factors
Ray Franklin (#15) – A lesser known name on the GV roster, probably due to the fact that he broke his arm last January throwing a dodgeball (more on this later). Regardless, this man can play. He has got a heck of an arm and has the ability to mow people down from the throw line. If he’s feeling it on Saturday, even MSU’s best catchers may be in for an extended period in the out line.
Logan Rohloff (#2) – Logan has developed into one of GVSU’s best players. I believe he suffered a hand injury which took off a chunk of his career as he was sidelined, which may have lead to the lack of league attention. But he’s an assistant captain for GV, and you don’t become that by being bad at dodgeball. He’s also a lefty, which always seems to throw people off.
Aaron Terenzi (#17) – It might seem silly to put Terenzi as an X-factor, but I think that due to the leadership losses, Aaron’s seniority will be big. If GVSU faces adversity on Saturday, Terenzi is the one who’s been through it all. Look for him to play well as the elder statesman for Grand Valley.
Dan Smith (#8) – OK I’m going to be honest here. I don’t know a lot about Dan. All I do know is he played great last time he was at IM West, coming up with some huge catches. So if he can make a habit out of that, that should bode well for GVSU this weekend as well as for the MDC.
#2 Michigan State University (10-3-0)
The fall semester was, in all likelihood, Michigan State’s all-time best semester against the Michigan schools, as they finished with a 6-2 record against the other three. They will want to continue that start with two more wins, which would give the Spartans a winning record against all three in-state rivals. To do that, the MSU stars will once again have to come up big. Sorry for another Bailey article plug, but the NCDA Chief of Content thinks a one Wes Peters was the Mid-season MVP. He played extraordinary in Michigan State’s lone victory over GVSU this season and an OT win over CMU, not to mention consistent play throughout the rest of the semester as well. Lucas Salinas has displayed great leadership in his first season as Captain. Also, look for Alex Zajac to put forth a stronger performance than he did in the 2-1 loss to GV at the Spartan Invite. Perhaps the fact that he was going to propose in just a couple of days weighed heavily on his mind and now as an engaged man his head will be clear of distractions. If these three Spartans have a strong game, then MSU will be tough to beat on their home court.
Michigan State X-Factors
Kameron Caldwell (#57) – Kameron is one of Michigan State’s best catchers. He has single handily turned around points with a series of successive catches (a 10-manned MSU comeback against UK a few years back comes to mind, when Kam was one of 2 Spartans left in). When Caldwell is on catching, MSU loses very few games.
Daniel Kobina Ofori-Dankwa (#31) – I wrote about Dan way back in October and what I said then still holds true. He provides key depth beyond the well known players for Michigan State and has become an overtime regular.
Tony Ethridge (#30) – He’s back! Not to be outdone by Ray Franklin, Mr. Ethridge will once again suit up for the Spartans in his first tournament since breaking his arm throwing a dodgeball. Hopefully the screws in his arm hold strong and prevent another fracture.
Predictions from Kevin Bailey
Game 1: GVSU def MSU 2-1 OT
Game 2: GVSU def MSU 3-1
Historically GVSU and MSU start games out fairly slow. So for this reason I think the first game will be very low scoring. With GVSU down a few guys (and replacing one of the best GV players in recent history in Austin Morley) I wouldn’t be surprised if GV starts off slow. The first game is a toss up in my mind, but I think GV will come out on top. Game two will be a faster-paced game I assume. Whether GVSU wins game one or not, they will come out with more confidence and control in the second game, and their transition offense will help them get a victory. Overall, these will be two great games. Potentially a preview of the National Title Game?
Predictions from Colin O’Brien
Game 1: MSU def GVSU 2-0
Game 2: MSU def GVSU 2-1
I agree with our Chief of Content in the history of slow starts between these two schools. However, as shocking as it may be, we have each picked our respective schools to go 2-0 on the day. I think MSU makes enough plays to pick up 2 close points in game 1. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see both teams on the 10-second shot clock in both points. In game 2 I think the two teams split the first two points to set up a decisive third point in the second half. In a point that can go either way, big catches give Michigan State the edge to go undefeated to start the semester. I also agree with Kevin that the possibility of a National Title preview is well within the cards, but I wouldn’t count out teams like CMU or JMU to crash the championship game party.
Predictions from Kenny Mize
MSU def GVSU 2-1
GVSU def MSU 2-1 (OT)
Kenny didn’t add any commentary but I will say after having two homers pick their own schools to go 2-0 it’s only fitting for an unbiased third party to predict a split.
Interested in watching the two top ranked teams battle it out on Saturday? Check out the GVSU Dodgeball Team page where a livestream of both matches should be streamed.
(Also, sorry for the length of the preview between just two teams. But it’s good to be thorough, right? These are the top two ranked teams and I’m excited.)
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* Zigmas: Ratings have been adjusted to use a home court advantage of +1 and will differ slightly from pre-winter break Ratings.