Dodgeball is back this weekend people! Kent State, last year’s #1 seed at Nationals, is hosting the first tournament of the year, hoping to get off to a fast start. They’ve got plenty of stiff competition coming to town with the 2013 runner-up Michigan State, 2012 National Champion Saginaw Valley State, 2011 National Champion Central Michigan, and powerhouse Kentucky coming to town. For those wondering who to pick to win this tournament, I’ll be listing plenty of reasons for you to pick any of the teams above. I’ll even tell you my personal prediction.
Let’s start with the host team, Kent State. The Golden Flashes are easily one, if not the most under-appreciated teams in the league. They went 21-7 in the regular season last year. Kent went 1-1 against Saginaw Valley last year, winning 2-1 in OT in the first match up, and losing 3-0 in the second one. The Flashes manhandled CMU in their first meeting, 5-0, and also at Nationals 2013 4-0. Kent however did drop all their matches against Michigan State: 3-0 at OSU, 2-0 at MSU, and 3-0 in the National Semifinals. Finally, the Flashes lost all three matches last year against Kentucky, going down by scores of 3-1, 4-0 and 5-0. Kent will have the advantage of waking up in their own beds for the tournament, so that will give them a decent advantage over the other teams. It will be interesting to see how their rookies play this early in the season. Kent features some of the more dynamic players in the country, and it’s rumored that former Captain Kyle Fitzpatrick will be returning to the lineup. Add that to the current Captains Camden Fullmer and Dan Shackelford, as well as a potent lineup of veterans, and this could be a terrific team.
Up next are the Michigan State Spartans, a team with National Championship aspirations. In addition to their three wins over Kent, the Spartans did go 2-1 last year against Saginaw Valley State, including a victory in the National Quarterfinals. Only playing them twice last year, Michigan State slammed CMU 8-1 and beat them again 3-1. In two games against the Wildcats, Michigan State lost 4-0 and 4-2. With Mike Van Ermen stepping into the captaincy, the Spartans should pick up right where they left off at Nationals. Assistant Captain Colin O’Brien should be a huge weapon that State can rely on with all-around play and athleticism. Michigan State will also have to fend off some rivals at this tournament, instate rivals SVSU and CMU will be coming for revenge, and out of state rival Kent looking for their first victory in eight years against their Original Five foe.
SVSU will be looking to perform better than they did last year at Ohio State in their first tournament, a tournament in which they beat Ohio State but were knocked off by Kent and MSU. SVSU will have to deal with the same attrition due to graduation that all teams face, but this will be the second straight season in which they lose the majority of the core of the team. However, studs like Max Siler, Zach Phelps, and Torrie Peplinksi return, and they’ve been promoting having a talented rookie class. Saginaw will likely get a chance to play Kentucky in the first rematch of the 2012 National Championship game, as well as classic matches against MSU and CMU.
Central Michigan will have a full roster this year after the nightmare of a season they had last year. Yes, for CMU, a #7 ranking and beating a handful of teams with only ten men is considered a nightmare. However, having only ten men could in fact be a benefit to the team, as those ten players clearly improved greatly over the course of the season. Featuring the two best catchers in the NCDA in Brett Hadwin and Wes Peters, along with other great players like Tyler Frank and Michael Riley, this is a team that should have an explosive rise up the standings. While they will feature a bunch of rookies making their first appearances, the experience those rookies get will help them get even better by the MDC and Nationals.
The final team appearing at this weekend’s tournament is Kentucky. UK had a great year last year, and despite the fact they didn’t make it back to the National Championship Game, they were definitely better than the 2012 version of the team. Jon Firquin takes the reigns of one of the most talented squads going into the season, filled with rocket arms and underrated catchers. If the Wildcats bring their top squad, it’ll be tough for the teams involved to take them down. Regardless, UK still will have to work on their strategy and technique in this tourney if they want a bigger prize, the National Championship.
First, I’ll start with the individual matchups and give a brief explanation as to why I decided things will go that way.
- Kent v. MSU (3-2, OT): I originally had this as MSU winning 3-2, but after finding out that all of MSU’s all-stars, captain, and assistant captains (excluding Van Ermen) graduated, I see Kent taking this one with Dan Shackelford and Cam Fullmer returning for year two as captains. Definitely a tight game though.
- Kent v. SVSU (3-1): With the loss of Jardine, and Saginaw infamously starting off slow, Kent should take this one in a tough battle.
- Kent v. CMU (4-0): I’m assuming that Central will be working with a depleted roster again. As talented as Central is, Kent’s numbers and talent will overwhelm the Chips.
- Kent v. UK (2-4): Even with the possibility of missing Zac Brown, the Wildcats are too loaded to lose this match.
- MSU v. SVSU (3-1): Even though Saginaw will want revenge for Nationals last year, the Spartans take down the Cardinals in a great rivalry game.
- MSU v. CMU (3-1): I’m giving the Chips the credit for getting up for an in-state matchup and say they make it closer than most people would probably predict.
- MSU v. UK (2-1, OT): This will be a low scoring, snooze fest of a match until they hit OT. I suspect a few nice plays will happen, but the real tension will hit in the 6-6 extra period, with the Spartans bringing this one home.
- SVSU v. CMU (3-1): This game will be close simply due to both teams being from Michigan. Wes Peters will certainly make an effort to get his team to pull this game out, but I suspect they will fall short in the end.
- SVSU v. UK (1-4): UK will certainly want to show their exit at last year’s Nationals was not a sign of a fall from power. They’ll come out firing and take out the 2012 champs.
- CMU v. UK (0-5): Too much talent on the Wildcats, not enough bodies for the Chips. It will be as simple as that.
Obviously these are all subject to what time each team play each other, but as of now this is my breakdown for the weekend:
- Kent (3-1)
- MSU (3-1)
- SVSU (1-3)
- CMU (0-4)
- UK (3-1)
This should be a great opening weekend of dodgeball. No team in this pool can really be considered a “bad” team. I can’t wait for Saturday.
This post was edited by Sam Hiller, formerly of MSU. Sean’s original predictions remain intact.