GVSU Tames BEAST

The BEAST has always been an exciting tournament which brings out top level competition and memorable moments for many teams.  While this year’s tournament didn’t have the upsets and big surprises last year’s had, it certainly had some spectacular plays and thrilling finishes.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway is that we are starting to get a clearer picture about where each team on the East Coast stands relative to each other.  It was also a good opportunity to see four potential MVP candidates in action and get a better idea of how the MVP race will play out, along with looking at some other potential All-American players.

GVSU

As the title mentions, the current #1 team in the nation retained their position and came out with some quality wins.  They also probably had the most memorable game of the day in their 4-3 overtime win against Towson.  It was a very back and forth match that anyone could tell early on was gonna be the case.  What stood out the most for the Lakers was their discipline and well organized team throws.  It seemed like 90% of their team throws connected and resulted in kills against the Tigers.  However, the biggest headline of the match came in overtime.

Towson’s objective was clear, take out GVSU’s captains first.  Brandon Meisel and Sam Stockdale were playing at incredibly high levels during this game and throughout the weekend, so Towson wanted to neutralize them early.  That’s exactly what they did, and managed to get the Lakers down to a 1-5 situation which looked to all but seal the victory for Towson.  Enter Alex Jonauskas.  As the lone Laker left in the game, it was certainly a tough position to be in.  However, he took full advantage of the opportunity to showcase his talents and came up with an incredibly clutch catch against Towson’s Mike Hinely to bring back captain Brandon Meisel.  This resulted in a complete momentum swing, leading to both a kill and catch from Meisel along with a kill from Jonauskas, leading to a 3-1 man advantage for the Lakers, ultimately resulting in a team throw from Meisel, Jonauskas, and Stockdale to seal their victory.

While the rest of their matches didn’t have the same flash or dramatic finishes, they picked up a decisive win against JMU, and took care of business against UVA and Stevenson.

GVSU was not the most talented team in attendance, arguably not even second, but they were the best and most organized.  The biggest thing you notice with this squad is consistency among all players and they rarely make big mistakes.  They perform like a well oiled machine that can perform well even without being surrounded by the most elite talent, and even so they do have top tier athletes which makes them a force to be reckoned with.


JMU

There were some interesting takeaways from our host school.  Overall, JMU had a pretty solid day.  They started off with a win over East Coast foe VCU, and followed it up with a comeback win over Towson in overtime.  The day ended on a more somber note with a 3-1 loss to GVSU, but as I said, overall 2-1 is nothing to stress about.

The biggest observation I can make about JMU is that they are probably one of, if not, the most talented teams in the country.  It’s no surprise they feel like a national championship is possible this year.  The best display of their talent from top to bottom came in their win against Towson.  Towson was playing solid dodgeball for most of the match, and had a 3-2 lead with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the match.  That’s when JMU turned it on and showed they can score in a hurry.  In around 5 minutes they were picking off players left and right from Towson’s team to even the score at 3 apiece, sending the match to overtime.

While Doug Schilling put in some good work as expected, from my personal point of view, I’d say Evan Eschenburg was potentially their most impactful player of the day.  He played a large role in their comeback over Towson both during regulation and overtime with both powerful throws and some good catching.  Another person who hasn’t gotten the attention they’ve earned is Garrett McGurl.  He’s got natural ability that would be hard to find on any team.  The kid can move on the court and has an absolute rocket of an arm, possibly even the strongest on the team.

JMU has the potential to be the best team in the league.  In the past, we’ve said this on multiple occasions as more of a reference to their raw talent and ability.  This year however, there’s a little more seriousness in that statement because they no longer look like a team that just picks up a ball and throws it as hard as they can.  While not perfect, they play a lot more strategically than JMU teams of the past which can give them a legitimate shot at securing a trip to the national championship.  Time will tell, but I have them as the current #3/4 with SVSU, and have a strong belief in their ability to compete with any team in the league.


VCU

The Rams pretty much did what they’ve been doing all year.  Winning against teams they’re supposed to beat, losing to teams they are underdogs to.  Overall, VCU finished 2-2 on the day with wins over UVA and Stevenson and losses to JMU and Towson.

They had some good opportunities to steal a few points against JMU in their first game, however JMU’s talent and some unfortunate plays cost VCU, resulting in a 4-0 defeat.  A big part of the loss was due to some uncharacteristic drops, as well as some bad decision making on throws.  They were able to correct these mistakes in their following match against UVA.  After going into the half tied 1-1, VCU came out strong in the second half to win 4-1 against the Cavaliers.  It was almost the exact same result against Stevenson, with the Rams coming out on top with a strong second half performance in that match as well.  In their fourth game of the day, VCU fell to East Coast rival Towson 3-1, but put in a good showing to give the team some confidence moving forward.

While previously I have mentioned how VCU has been a first half team all year, this tournament was the exact opposite, with the exception of their final game against Towson.  The most valuable player for VCU during BEAST was definitely Wayne Shortt.  The Junior was responsible for most of the kills on offense, and secured some big catches throughout the day as well.  If it has not been established already, Shortt should have serious consideration in any All-American discussions going forward.  Freshmen Ike Fleckenstein and Garrett Couell also came up big for VCU at BEAST.  Fleckenstein, along with Shortt, helped carry the load on the offensive end, and had plenty of catches to match, which frustrated opponents all day.  Captain Hunter Ford also contributed considerably with tons of catches against East Coast foes UVA, Stevenson, and Towson.

What VCU lacks in pure talent they make up for in their strategy and organization to compete with many teams.  This was also the first time VCU has played in four matches in one day, and looked well endured enough to play well even late in the day.  They are still searching for a couple signature wins, otherwise they will be stuck in the 11th ranked purgatory they find themselves in.


Towson

It was certainly a heartbreak kind of day for the Tigers.  As mentioned in regards to the previous teams above, Towson had opportunities to take down GVSU and JMU, but fell to both in overtime.  Thankfully, they were able to salvage the day by beating VCU during their last game.

There’s really no need to hit the panic button on Towson, yet.  At 19-6, they’ve certainly proved they are capable of getting wins and being competitive with any team in the league.  This is also top to bottom the most talent Towson has ever had in their program’s history.  They have some really solid freshmen on this squad as well.  Colin Moerman is an example.  Moerman was crucial in Towson’s match against GVSU, coming up with at least 5 catches against the #1 team, and adding some kills as well against some of GVSU’s best.  Jordan Watt and Michael Hinely were also excellent for Towson throughout the day, providing powerful throws to take out opponents all day.  Andrew Kerr also added plenty of catches for Towson throughout the day to keep them in their games against GVSU and JMU.

The biggest issue for Towson is what I said at the end of last season that they needed to work on the most, late game and overtime situations.  Going back all the way to Nationals 2016, they are on a 5-game losing streak in overtime matches.  To be an elite team, you must be better in those situations and come up big when it matters most.  A big part of that is making sure players understand their roles.  While overall, Towson’s players are pretty well-rounded top to bottom, there are certain things their players are better at than not.  When they get players to focus their energy on specific skills they play more efficiently and will have more upset potential come Nationals.


UVA

The Cavaliers finished 1-2, picking up a revenge win against Stevenson and falling to GVSU and VCU.  In a back-to-back-to-back schedule, UVA fared pretty well.  They had some really good flashes, and showed some solid improvements from earlier tournaments this year.  UVA’s Jeremy Shaw had this to say about his team’s weekend:

“Although a 1 and 2 record isn’t necessarily what we wanted, overall, I was incredibly proud of our team’s performance (especially some of the younger players). We came in with a few goals and truly executed them well. Even though GV was likely sitting their 3 best players and not too concerned with the game, we were able to snag one point on them as time ran out.

Stevenson was missing one of their ballers, but going from a 4-2 loss to a 4-1 victory is a pretty serious improvement. Finally, going into halftime 1-1 vs VCU was fantastic…even if we let go of the rope in the second half. To any of the opposing teams that might still be bruised from playing us, you most likely have Zane Durbin to thank. (PS: you might want to write that name down for future years.. trust me.) Vik Gupta, Ryan Kelly, and Marty Knauf were solid leaders out there, and it was great having Peter Smith and Austin Sullivan back. In the end, I’ll say keep an eye on UVA’s ranking this Spring… I’ll just leave it at that.”

With a few more East Coast tournaments before Nationals, UVA will certainly have opportunities to improve their ranking.


Stevenson

The Mustangs unfortunately came out on the short end of the stick from BEAST after finishing 0-3.  While they had some strong moments, they were only able to travel with 10 players, which put them in a hole at the start of every match.  They had matches against UVA, VCU, and GVSU.

Kris DeJesus and Mario Romanelli were certainly important for Stevenson this weekend.  DeJesus took on the role of being the primary thrower for the team and had to carry a big load with a limited cast around him, and Romanelli had plenty of great catches to add to his highlight reel.  Kyle Rudman also had some good moments, picking off some players with sneaky cross court throws on occasion.

Numbers definitely had an effect on this team this weekend.  With the spring semester in full swing, it limits the availability of one of Stevenson’s stars in CJ Kilpatrick due to baseball season.  They proved that they can catch teams off guard if they aren’t careful, and even went up on GVSU after the first point to start the match.  It’s just a matter of extending those hot streaks to last for a full match, something that is hard to do with a limited amount of players.  Like UVA, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to get their ranking up, and I’m hoping they have the chance to come to their first ever Nationals since VCU will be hosting.


All-American Watch

There were some standout performances over the course of BEAST that should be recognized, and players that really made strong cases for themselves as potential All-American players.

Brandon Meisel (#18)

Brandon Meisel (GVSU) – The captain of the Lakers certainly made plays when it mattered, both with his arm and hands.  While being a good athlete, his best competitive advantage is being able to anticipate plays before they happen.  He put himself in a position to make an impact on every single play and made the most out of those opportunities.  Former Laker and NCDA MVP Kevin Bailey believed he had some work to do before he could consider himself a front-runner, but after this tournament he’s put himself with the best of the best.

Sam Stockdale (GVSU) – Like his captain, Stockdale showed a lot of good moments, especially in their first match against Towson where it felt like he was responsible for nearly half of their kills.  A lot of eyes should be on him going forward, if they weren’t already in the first place.

Alex Jonauskas (GVSU) – The hero of GVSU’s overtime comeback gets my nod of approval here.  While he has flown relatively under the radar for awhile, he has found himself in the spotlight.  Even though he does not stand out physically on the court, his play and composure does stand out.  Taking away just the overtime piece, Jonauskas still had some great moments both at BEAST and in previous tournaments for the Lakers.  No one should be sleeping on Jonasukas for the rest of the year.

Doug Schilling (JMU) – I think this weekend reconfirmed my beliefs that Schilling is probably the most naturally talented player in the NCDA.  With a throw that is both powerful and accurate, many old timers of the league should think of the likes of Brent Gromer if they want to compare Schilling to anyone.

Evan Eschenburg (JMU) – Eschenburg definitely earned his right to be in the All-American discussion after BEAST.  He was a one-man wrecking crew at times, and played a large role in JMU’s match against Towson, helping the Dukes come from behind to tie in regulation.

Garrett McGurl (JMU) – We on this staff have done a great disservice to not mention this name more often.  JMU is a team that is known for having some fantastic arms, but like Schilling, McGurl stands out from the rest of them.  He is arguably JMU’s hardest thrower and has deceptive athleticism.  Hopefully he gets some opportunities to shine at Nationals this year because teams are gonna like what they see, assuming they aren’t standing across the court from him.

Wayne Shortt (VCU) – With Hunter Ford still recovering from shoulder surgery, Shortt has taken almost the entire load for VCU’s offense and has done very well with it.  Teams within in the East Coast know how important he is to the Rams, but at some point, teams across the league need to recognize what he brings.  Shortt is great at taking advantage of other team’s mistakes and exploiting it, and has come up with great catches for the team this year as well.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a sport and standingMike Hinely (Towson) – Hinely is a baller, through and through.  This has been acknowledged for awhile.  There is no reason Hinely should end this season without another All-American accolade.

Jordan Watt (Towson) – Never have I seen someone on Towson’s team with a cannon for both his right and left arms.  The kid has some of the most raw power I’ve seen and he uses it very well.  Watt’s catching still needs some tune-ups but it’s not bad by any means, he is just a much more impressive thrower.  He will light anyone up in a hurry.

Kris DeJesus (Stevenson) – It would be hard for me to say DeJesus’s MVP chances didn’t take a hit this weekend, but a rough performance from Stevenson doesn’t help.  Still, Kris showed that his experience from this Elite this summer has brought his skills up to a higher level as he is making smarter decisions both individually and while leading his team.  It would be nice to see him and the Mustangs squad have a chance to travel outside of the East Coast so he can showcase his talents with everyone in the NCDA.

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