By Zach Parise (UK)
Dodgeball is back y’all. Finally the Kentucky and Ohio regions get a piece of the action in what looks to be one of the most exciting semesters in recent NCDA history. UK hosts Western Kentucky University, Kent State University, and Ohio University this weekend. This tournament has a lot to offer for all five teams. Kent State and Western can break out of the middle of the pack, OU can get some good experience and pick up some quality wins, and UK seeks to continue the successful season thus far. Here we will look into each team and what to expect come Saturday.
WKU is currently ranked 10th based on the Gonzalez Ranking system. They are 7-1 and currently on a six game win streak coming into this tournament. WKU has already picked up quality wins against UK, Akron, OU, VCU, GSU, and UNG. This is a completely different team than in years past. The individual talent that Western has to offer, along with the great leadership from veterans Nick Johnson, Dominique Warfield, and Josh Wynn allows this team to flourish in matches against every team. Because of the short drive, Western should be able to bring their full roster to really compete against Kent, UK, and OU.
Based off of standings, Western will be favored against OU, but underdogs against both Kent and UK. This will be Western’s first time playing both Kent and OU this season. Outside of the rivalry between WKU and UK, I believe the Kent and WKU match could be one of the best of the day. With only a one spot difference between the two schools in the ranking, this matchup allows for a possible switch depending on the outcome. I would have to favor Kent just because of their distinctive throwing advantage, but don’t be surprised if Western pulls out a close win.
Kent, currently ranked the 9th team in the Gonzalez Ranking system, has had a pretty good first half of the season. When they bring their full squad, this team is tough to beat. Even with the tough OT loss to VCU, this team has the dynamics to make a run come nationals. Kent has some of the best throwers in the Ohio region, and can catch with the best of them. This team is stacked with veterans like captain Cassie Weaver, Albert DePerro, and Mitchell Aldridge, to name a few.
This weekend is a big test for the school. They have yet to play the Hilltoppers of WKU this season, and that is a matchup I think both teams are excited for. Kent will only be considered underdogs once this weekend when they matchup against UK. Like I said before, the Kent vs. WKU matchup will be the best of the day, and I look forward just to seeing how it turns out. Kent’s biggest struggles have been due to their ability to travel with quality numbers. If they come with a full squad, don’t be surprised for this team to make some noise on Saturday.
Here come the Bobcats! It has been an exciting year for Caleb Arnold and the rest of these OU players. Just a year after not winning a game, they now have multiple wins under their belt, and a lot of overtime experience. This team is no joke, they took OSU to overtime, and was tied with UK 1-1 at halftime at the Miami tournament. I think this team, behind Caleb and Nate, can cause some ruckus at the Kentucky Invite.
Of course we will be seeing repeat matches for this team against UK and WKU, but something here feels different. This team has already played in a tournament this semester where they lost an overtime thriller to PSU, and beat Akron 2-0. This team plays a lot better than their #21 ranking would suggest. Look for these guys to have some close points and maybe steal a match against some higher ranked competition.
Finally, the hometown favorites. The Kentucky Wildcats are currently ranked #4 in the Gonzalez ranking system, sitting pretty at 10-3-2, and are on a 7 game win streak. This team has a lot of raw talent throughout their lineup. With leadership like Colin Hiatt, Brandon Engelman and Ricardo Menchaca, this team has become well disciplined. They are ready for what this semester has to offer. The Wildcats have impressive wins over MSU, OSU and WKU, but still have much to improve on as the rest of the season progresses. With the return of All-American Drew Greenewalt, the ceiling has been raised a little higher for this team.
UK will be large favorites based on the Gonzalez ranking system for each matchup on Saturday, and will certainly benefit from playing on their home court. This will be one of the first tournaments all year where the Wildcats will have a full squad at game time. Just like every year, UK’s two biggest rivals, Kent and WKU, will be on the schedule. These games historically have been extremely close with overtime potential. I think that the UK vs Kent matchup will be the most important one on the weekend for UK since UK has lost in both meetings with the Golden Flashes this season. Both matches could have easily been swung the opposite way. Look out for some stellar play from the Wildcats on their home turf.
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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.
UK vs WKU
Hunter Ford – Really wish I could be there to watch this game. Having played against both teams I know that they match up very well against each other. I’m giving the edge to Kentucky here on the basis of home court advantage. 3-2 UK
Kevin Bailey – I love this rivalry. I don’t see Western Kentucky pulling an upset this time around. 5-0 UK
Felix Perrone – Gotta go with my Alma Mater on this one. 3-2 WKU (OT).
Kent vs OU
HF – As Zach pointed out, Kent is a very talented team. A lot of that comes from strong arms like Bert and Logan, and I believe they will have a big weekend. 3-1 Kent
KB – Kent is still more talented and more experienced than Ohio. I like the progress I am seeing from the Bobcats though. They will at least put a point on the board. 4-1 Kent
FP – I truly believe this will be a close game. I think it will get down to both teams on 10 second shot clocks when the point closes out. 3-1 Kent.
UK vs Kent
HF – Kent has Kentucky’s number this year beating them at Ohio State and Akron. That being said, both matches were close to home for Kent, and now they will face Kentucky on their turf. If this were Vegas, the spread would probably be half a point. 3-2 UK OT
KB – I am really high on Kentucky right now. They will have a full squad too, so I expect a lot from the Wildcats. 3-1 UK
FP – UK has home court advantage here and a solid squad, but I think Kent may come away with this one in an upset. 2-1 Kent (OT)
OU vs WKU
HF – WKU has a lot of arms, but Ohio has some good catchers to match. I believe Adam Hynes will be an X-Factor for the Bobcats, and this will be my bold pick for OU to get their first win over WKU in a close affair. 3-2 OU
KB – This one could be epic. I predict WKU to take it in OT, but maybe Ohio breaks through and wins an overtime match this weekend… WKU 3-2 (OT)
FP – This will be an excellent matchup. WKU has a lot of momentum with their win streak, but OU has a lot of fire. 4-2 WKU.
UK vs OU
HF – Depending on how the day goes, Kentucky has a chance to make this their 10th consecutive victory of the season. This would give them the longest streak in the NCDA for this year. OU’s a solid team, but I think they run out of gas late in the day. 4-1 UK
KB – Kentucky will be way too much for Ohio to handle in this one. Win streak continues for the Cats. 5-0 UK
FP – If OU can rally together and play cohesively as a team, they may be able to make some noise with this one, but I still have to give the advantage to UK. 3-1 UK.
Kent vs WKU
HF – This will certainly be interesting. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about WKU is that they play very hard all the way throughout a tournament this season. This will be a test to see which team has more endurance, but I’m giving it to the team that only has half the drive in what will probably be a low scoring game. 2-1 WKU
KB – I hope Kent State doesn’t overlook the Hilltoppers. They have been playing some solid dodgeball all year. Kent def WKU 3-2
FP – I don’t know. Honestly, it just depends which players show up to this match. If WKU can stay hot and play like they have something to prove, they may be able to clinch this win. They will have to stay vigilant though, because Kent has been known to bring it hard against WKU in the past. 3-2 OT (can’t pick a winner).