College Dodgeball, welcome back… you’ve been missed! The 2017-18 season will be underway soon. In the meantime, let’s kick off a series of articles previewing each NCDA Region one by one. Today I’ll briefly preview what to expect this season in the Michigan Region. Enjoy:
Let’s start by identifying a favorite to win this region: Grand Valley State University. Plain and simple. You can’t bet against a team that has won the last 5 National Titles, and 9 of the last 11. I predict GVSU’s well-oiled machine will continue to churn full steam ahead this year.
The Lakers return Junior Captain Brandon Meisel, who had an outstanding last month of the season in 2017. They also return Aaron Krafft, an all-around player who has been on the team’s overtime roster since his freshman year. A few more headliners who will lead this team include Sam Stockdale, a strong throwing lefty, and Ray Franklin, the guy who burst onto the scene last year with his 79 mph throw.
In other news, my sources tell me that Senior Ben Tubergen will possibly be around for another full season, rather than just the fall semester. That’s huge news for GVSU, as he was an All-American last season, and one of their top players.
Looking at that group of 5 players alone makes me concerned for any opponent who attempts to get in their way. But there are a few more players on this roster outside of those headliners that I expect to have a strong season. Seasoned veterans Aaron VanFleteren, Alex Jonauskas, and McCoy Wondergem will all be relied upon much more this year. James Reyes returns to the court after studying abroad last year. Dan Jilote has been an under the radar player who has continuously improved over the past few seasons. His valuable experience as a participant in both the Ultimate Dodgeball Championships and Elite Dodgeball will show on the court this year. And finally, Ben Smart and Nolan Stanko. I predict these two guys, who were confident catchers last year, will round out their game and become more all-around players for GVSU this season.
Overall, it is hard to look at the GVSU roster, and say they aren’t poised for a 6-Peat. If they can put together a strong rookie class, they will be a very difficult team to beat.
As you will see below, there are three separate sections in this article. “Favorite”, “Other contenders”, and “On the outside looking in”. I consider the other three current teams in the Michigan Region to all be in this section, because, as we have seen over the past few years, anybody in Michigan can beat anybody else. So let’s go through them in the order that I see them finishing this year:
Saginaw Valley State
SVSU is going to have a tough team this year. After a second straight fall semester in which they were considered one of the lower level teams in the region, SVSU turned up the heat in the winter, claiming second at MDC, and a Final Four berth at Nationals last year.
While the Cardinals weren’t able to make it back to the title game, they showed me enough to make me consider them a championship contender in 2018. SVSU won it all back in 2012, on their home court. Since that time they have only managed to make it back to the title game once (2014). This year could be the year they get back there, and potentially end that title drought altogether.
Nick Hazergian is the headliner for SVSU. He is well known in this league thanks to his powerful throw. Will he be able to lead SVSU past rival GVSU this season? Only time will tell.
Kyle Bruce enters his third season of dodgeball as one of the top players in the league in my eyes. He is an all-around player that is extremely difficult to get out. The one-two punch of Hazergian and Bruce will be hard for any team to deal with.
Beyond those two, there are a couple well-known veterans on this team who are dying to win it all for SVSU.
Kenny Mize returns this year. His catching will be crucial for the Cardinals, especially early in the season as they develop new talent to round out the roster.
Cody Putnam’s body has seen better days. But that certainly won’t stop him from leaving it all on the court this season. The veteran player for Saginaw will probably play until one of his arms or legs actually falls off. Will he finally get that elusive national title? No time better than the present.
Central Michigan is right up there with SVSU in my opinion. As we enter this new season of dodgeball, the Chippewas will be tasked with replacing a handful of stellar players. CMU has finished runner-up three straight seasons, and will need to find new talent to fill the void left by many of the athletes that led the charge during that three-year stretch.
This year’s captain will be Mike Riley. One of the most dangerous players in the league as both a thrower and a catcher, Riley certainly doesn’t lack confidence in his team. In fact, Riley is so confident in CMU, that he has made a $20 bet with several NCDA alumni (namely myself, Colin O’Brien, and Dylan Fettig) claiming his team will not lose a single point all season! Yep, you read that right. CMU’s captain does not expect them to drop a point all year.
I hate to say it, but Mike Riley’s net worth will drop by about $60 sometime this fall, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a solid squad to work with this year.
Grant Webber was an afterthought last season on a loaded CMU roster, but now that he has a solid year of dodgeball under his belt, I predict it will be a breakout 2017-18 for him. He is another NCDAer who will benefit greatly from developing his skills over the summer in Elite Dodgeball tournaments, and if he takes one of the 12 All-American spots next spring, I won’t be surprised at all.
Everything I just said about Grant, also goes for Bryce Belen. This guy is the real deal both as an offensive player, and as a catcher. The league will take notice this year.
Austin Brege is the last Chippewa that I will mention in this preview. He is a solid all-around guy that will be relied upon much more this season for Central.
I am confident that the Chips will play well together this year. This program went downhill in the early 2010’s, but has since bounced back. The Chips have their work cut out for them if they want to get back to the title game for a fourth straight season, but with the talent on this team, it is certainly not out of the question.
This is the biggest question mark in the region. The Spartans were hit harder by graduation this year than any other team in the league. How they respond will be a very interesting storyline to follow.
Sandros Rivera-Letcher will take over the role of captain this season for the team from East Lansing. He has huge shoes to fill, as the last four MSU captains have all successfully brought their team to the Final Four at least once.
Rebecca Shappel will also be in a leadership role for the Spartans on the court this season. Luckily for MSU, she has more dodgeball experience than most captains in the league, through her participation in the NCDA, UDC, and Elite Dodgeball. Rebecca will be counted on heavily this year for Michigan State.
Noe Galaviz will be back this season for MSU. That’s a massive shot in the arm for a team that will need to replace most of its offensive production from a year ago. Galaviz is going to be the top arm for the Spartans this year, so don’t be surprised if he has a ball in his hands 99% of the time.
Kameron Caldwell is also returning for another year. He will need to be a consistent catching machine this year to help MSU keep up with their in-state competition.
Daniel Kobina Ofori-Dankwa not only has one of the best names in the NCDA, he is also one of the best transition players. An incredibly fast player who is difficult to hit, Daniel will be one of MSU top players this season.
Lastly, I have very high expectations for second year player Hunter Whitehill. He proved to be one of the better throwers for MSU last year, and will be a big part of their offense this coming season. If he continues to develop his all-around game, I wouldn’t be shocked to see his name on the All-American list at season’s end.
Sure, MSU lost a lot of talented players. But what remains is a solid core group of athletes that can still compete in this league. Michigan State needs a strong recruiting class to round out the back end of their roster. With that said, I am optimistic that this squad will recover from the graduation losses and still have a decent year. There is no doubt that MSU is in the midst of a rebuild, but how massive of a rebuilding project will this be? We will know a lot more after they play their first tournament!
On the outside looking in
According to Jacob Leski, the Broncos are slowly but surely in the process of becoming an NCDA member team, thanks to former CMU (and GVSU) player Peter Broe! Stay on a look out for the new addition to the Michigan Region later this season.