This past weekend means we have already played through a quarter of the 2013-14 season. There have already been 45 games played already, including St. Ambrose, Siena Heights, and Davenport’s inducting matches! There have been tournaments played in five different states, at eight different locations. There have been early season surprises, and some teams that are playing exactly how most people expected them to. The only thing that is absolutely certain though, is that we have a long way to go until April.Here’s a brief review of everyone that has played in at least one match so far this season:
Grand Valley State (5-0): One year removed from winning the national title, the Lakers look like they haven’t missed a beat. The team is already halfway to matching their games played total from last year’s regular season, and is looking more dominant than the 2013 squad. Not only have they not lost a match this season, they haven’t lost a single point! Lastly, their leadership looks to be in good hands so far with Kevin Bailey taking over for Mark Trippiedi. It will be a rather frightening thought of what they could do at Nationals in April should the Lakers keep this up
James Madison University (6-0): The Dukes of JMU have looked very strong this year. Having only dropped two points so far. One apiece to Towson and Maryland. These guys from Harrisonburg seem like an early favorite for a deep tournament run at Ohio State this year. The biggest knock against the Dukes though, is the level of competition they have played so far. The East Coast is not a historically great region, only being in the league for three years so far. Though they did beat UMD 3-1, from what I saw the Terrapins did a great job of making the Dukes play towards UMDs preferred style. JMU used a late rally to win the second point, and took the momentum to win a third game before the match ended. It will be interesting to see what happens when JMU plays teams that can be considered tougher competition.
Kent State University (5-1): KSU is a bit of a tough call this early in the season. When they played at home in the Summit Street Slugfest, the Golden Flashes didn’t just look strong, but dominant. Granted, they didn’t start a single rookie during that tournament, and used the help of returning players, such as Kyle Fitzpatrick, to help boost them to an undefeated home record. When they went to Ohio State, Kent had a different roster with a group of rookies thrown into the mix. They did lose to Ohio State, which opens the door to say Kent State is vulnerable, but could very easily just be proof the Ohio State is coming back into greatness. We all know Kent State can make it to the final four, now the question is can they make it to the championship round and ultimately win it.
Saginaw Valley State (4-2): SVSU is proof that Michigan schools don’t rebuild, they reload. Spencer Jardine is back for another season, and the Cardinals have also picked up a stellar recruiting class. After watching Saginaw play at Kent, and hearing how they did at their round robin, it would be hard to say that they have fallen off at all. With leaders like Max Siler and Zach Phelps, this team can only look to get better as the season goes on.
Towson University (4-2): While Towson is 4-2, it would be hard to say that they are on the same level as Saginaw Valley who has the same record. The Tigers have played nothing but East Coast teams so far this season, and have only managed to take one point in two from James Madison. Both matches my team has played against UMD have been tightly contested matches that could have very easily gone either way. With solid victories over VCU and Penn State it is clear that Towson has moved into the second tier of teams, but still has a lot of work to do before moving into the top tier. Depending on who comes to BEAST III, February could be the best chance before Nationals for Towson to prove how much they’ve improved from last year.
Central Michigan University (4-5): CMU is back! Well… sorta. After a rough year of recruiting last year, the Chippewas have come into 2013 with a full roster that is loaded with talent. While CMU is well known for their catching ability, they have shown a lot of promise in becoming a strong throwing team as well. Just comparing scores between their two matches with Saginaw Valley, it is clear that Central has made some solid improvement from September to October. Though a lot of people have been saying Ohio State is this season’s biggest dark horse for Nationals, CMU could be the real dark horse in the mix. Hard to think of a Michigan school as a dark horse, but that’s how open things are this year.
University of Maryland (2-4-1): UMD is by far the one team whose record does not indicate how well they’ve played. Having seen them twice already, I can say that this is easily the most talented squad Maryland has put together in its three years in the league. While it would be easy to say that the Terps are a lower second-tier team, they could very easily have three more wins than they do (two against Towson and one against JMU). Their style of play is very meticulous and meant to limit their mistakes while creating opportunities for other teams to make mistakes. If a team mistakes these guys for not being very good, like I originally did, they will prove you wrong. I certainly can’t wait to see what happens when they get to play some teams away from the East Coast.
Ohio State University (2-0): The Buckeyes have started this season out with a bang. After beating DePaul, OSU took out Kent State which they haven’t done since December of 2012. In most cases, this would come with a “yeah, but” because they played at Ohio State, but that point is moot due the OSU hosting Nationals. While it’ll be great experience for the Buckeyes to go on the road and pick up some good victories there, everything really comes down to what they do in Columbus in April. Starting this year as the primary dark horse, OSU will certainly look to build on their victories in preparation of Nationals.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville (2-0): UWP is going to be hard sell to me this year. Partially due to the fact that I may not get to see them in person until April; also because of whom they get to play. So far they have wins over DePaul and St. Ambrose. While DePaul does seem to have about the same talent level as UWP, most people know that eventually they make their games less about scoring, and more about fun. Looking at St. Ambrose, I’d say it would be impossible and unfair to say what kind of talent they have after their first ever matches in the NCDA. A lot of people have high hopes for Wisconsin this year, and we’ll definitely see how they progress as the year goes on.
Bowling Green State/DePaul University (1-2, 1-3): I put these two teams together because I simply don’t know what to make of them yet. Having never seen BGSU play in person, and having not seen DePaul play in a serious mode, I would consider myself unqualified to say what to expect from them. What I can say for Bowling Green though is that November 9th may provide them a clearer picture of what this team is all about. As for DePaul, I’m never going to argue with a fun loving team like them playing the way they do.
University of Kentucky (1-3): The host of Nationals 2013 started this season off rather roughly. Travelling to the Summit Street Slugfest with a heavily depleted roster, including Wes Hopkins who is in the UK last I checked, the Wildcats do not deserve a solid grade in my mind until they play with a full squad. With Zac Brown stepping down as a leader due to law school commitments, it is up to Jon Firquin to show the rest of the league that their trip to Kent was not how their team will be all year. Hopefully, UK will pick itself back up and make a run for the title this year. As a final note, take a second to imagine a guy like Wes Hopkins standing by Big Ben in London… confusing isn’t it?
Michigan State/Virginia Commonwealth/Penn State (0-4, 0-3, 0-3): Though all three of these teams are winless, none of them are devoid of talent. Michigan State certainly has a lot of work to do if they want to make it back to the title game and take home the gold this year. VCU has certainly improved on strategy in terms of catching, but needs to work on how to maximize their throwing abilities when put in a throwing situation. Penn State has a lot of good arms, but throws a lot of catchable balls, and is limited in strategy. All of these teams have a lot of potential this year, and would surprise me if any of them spent the rest of the season with a goose egg in the win column.
Siena Heights/St. Ambrose/Davenport University (1-2, 0-2, 0-2): Welcome to the league guys! All three teams have played their inducting matches and are now official NCDA members. Personally, though Siena Heights is the only team with a win, all three squads deserve an A+ in my mind for finding enough people to commit and play in their first ever matches. While I don’t know how they played, I hope the best for all three squads, especially Siena and Davenport who will need it playing in Michigan. I truly cannot wait to see these three teams in action, even if I have to wait until April for that to happen.
There are still a lot of teams who haven’t played yet this year, which means there is a lot still to be learned about the league. Forty-five matches is a lot to have this early in the season, and there are a lot more to come. With how things are going so far, this could be the best season ever in college dodgeball!