The first weekend of NCDA Dodgeball is in the books, with events hosted in three different regions on opening weekend. In the Michigan Region, Michigan State University hosted a five-team tournament titled the Michigan State Open. This tournament, which featured all four Michigan schools plus Kentucky, was very competitive, and yielded some surprising results. Before we dive into the recap, here are all the final scores from the games that took place in East Lansing last Sunday:
CMU def MSU 4-3 OT
SVSU def UK 5-1
SVSU def MSU 3-2 OT
GVSU def UK 4-3
CMU def UK 2-1
GVSU def MSU 4-1
CMU def SVSU 4-3
UK def MSU 2-1
SV-JV def GV-JV 3-2
GVSU def CMU 4-0
GV-JV def MSU-JV 4-3 OT
This tournament, as mentioned above, did not go exactly as planned. According to the Gonzalez Rankings, there was only one technical upset (UK over MSU), but if you asked anyone that follows College Dodgeball closely, a few results from the tournament stood out as major surprises. Below is a recap of each official game that took place at the Michigan State Open, along with an “All-Tournament Team” listed at the end of the article:
CMU def MSU 4-3 (OT)
The first round of the day included two matches (CMU vs. MSU & SVSU vs. UK). The game more likely to be close and competitive (CMU vs. MSU) was placed on the main court, which had a livestream the entire day (you can view these games here and here).
Central Michigan and Michigan State are two of the most recognized teams in college dodgeball history. Both have a long history of finishing near the top of the league. The two programs combine to have 25 Quarterfinals appearances, 17 Final Fours! Despite this rich tradition of success at each school, these two teams entered the 2018 season with plenty of question marks. Central Michigan brought a roster that was majority rookies to this tournament, while Michigan State was not very far off from either. In this early season battle, both teams needed to break in a lot of young, inexperienced talent. The team that could mold those rookies into effective role players within the first two weeks of practice would likely come out on top.
On to the action, the game began with Central Michigan playing extremely impressive dodgeball. The Chippewas benefited from strong 1st half performances by Austin Brege and Kyle “The Gun” Garner to take a quick 2-0 lead in the match. With less than 10 minutes left int he first half, MSU picked up the slack and was able to close the score to 2-1 heading into the break. This point by MSU was interesting, because the Spartans sat a few of their starters, demonstrating that their main focus on the day was to gain experience for their young squad, rather than just win every point.
The second half was another back and forth affair, with MSU tying the game at 2 apiece The Spartans were led in this point by both Payton Schuster and Dennis Sullivan (who had very solid day). With the game locked at 2-2, there was still plenty of time left int he second half, so both teams knew this game was far from over. CMU scored the next point to go up 3-2, but the Spartans used a more aggressive play-style to get it back to a tie just before the end of regulation. With that, we had our first overtime game of the season.
In overtime, Central Michigan’s top 6 proved to be too tough a matchup for Michigan State, taking them down with both well-placed throws and timely catches. Central Michigan was able to come away with the victory, in a very entertaining game. One interesting note: both squads had at least one rookie on their Overtime 6. CMU had 1, MSU had 2. We will certainly see plenty more matchups between these two schools this year.
SVSU def UK 5-1
In possibly the least exciting game of the day, Saginaw Valley State handled Kentucky 5-1. This was the first game of the season for both squads. UK did not have their full roster in attendance, making it no surprise that they would drop this game to a far more experienced team in SVSU. This was a great start to the year for Saginaw, a team that is expected to be in the title race come April. The blowout loss for UK would not be consistent with their play the rest of the day (more on that later).
SVSU def MSU 3-2 (OT)
The second round of matches included a stellar game between SVSU and MSU. This game (livestreamed on the main court), was a great one to watch. Saginaw jumped out to an early lead, but seemed to let off the gas pedal in the second point, as MSU slowly but surely picked apart the Cardinal’s lineup. Rebecca Shappell had a very strong last-player-standing in this game, making a catch or two and avoiding a number of teams throws, before ultimately losing the point.
The second half began with MSU holding onto the momentum that they gained late in the first half, taking a massive lead in player count. With the game tied 1-1, MSU took the SVSU team down to only two players (Kenny Mize and Grayson Hood). These two veterans are more than capable of bringing their team back from this disadvantage, but in this scenario, Michigan State used 3 or 4 ball team throws to eliminate the final two Cardinals. With 19 minutes remaining in the contest, MSU held a 2-1 lead. In the following point, MSU’s heavy reliance on rookies came back to bite them a bit. The Spartans looked a little less coordinated, and eventually dropped the point, forcing this game to head to overtime.
Overtime between SVSU and MSU was not close at all. Saginaw’s overtime roster was absolutely dominant, winning the game with all 6 players remaining on the court. Kenny Mize had a strong performance, with multiple kills in the OT session. The real star of overtime was SVSU Assistant Captain Ryan Anguilm, who went +4 in OT, notching two kills and one catch (on Schuster). This was a big win for SVSU, as they proved their placement in the preseason power rankings below MSU was incorrect.
GVSU def UK 4-3
On the other court during round two, was a game between GVSU and UK. The Lakers were able to win this one by a score of 4-3, as they jumped out to an early lead then gave up a handful of second half points as they gave their rookies some valuable playing time.
While GVSU did have a big lead before pumping the breaks and sitting their stars, UK did perform admirably in the second half. In fact, I’m told if UK was given a bit more time, they would have possibly been able to force overtime, due to how well they were playing down the stretch. In the end, it was a 4-3 win for GVSU, where both teams were able to get some much needed experience for their still improving rosters.
CMU def UK 2-1
Central Michigan was back on the main court for the third round of games as they faced off against the Wildcats of Kentucky. This turned out to be one of the slowest games of the day, finishing with only a 2-1 score. Central Michigan seemed very in control during the first few points of this matchup. At halftime, the Chips held a 2-0 lead thanks to a dominant performance by Austin Brege, and some impressive contributions from CMU rookies.
The second half was a different story for whatever reason. CMU didn’t rely as heavily on their star players in the second half, and the inexperience on their roster started to show. Kentucky took a point from CMU midway through the second half, making the score 2-1. At this point, CMU should have brought the intensity back up and closed out the game with a decisive point or two to win comfortably. Instead, UK refused to let the game get away from them, as their captains led them to another impressive point. When the final buzzer sounded, Central Michigan had only one player left on the court, meaning UK was one hit away from forcing OT against the Chippewas.
This game was a step in the right direction for UK. Despite dropping the first two points of the game, this team’s resilience was on display in the second half.
GVSU def MSU 4-1
The fourth round of games included two interesting games. MSU vs. GVSU was chosen to be played on the main court (MSU is the home team), while CMU and SVSU played on the secondary court.
Grand Valley was clearly the better team in this game. The Lakers picked apart the Spartans quickly in the first few points of the game, leaving no doubt that they are the better team at this point in the season. Aaron Krafft and Brandon Meisel in particular played well in the first half, making MSU’s rookies look as inexperienced as they actually are.
In the second half, the Lakers continued to pile on points before eventually sitting their top players to give a large group of rookies the chance to shine. The final point of the game was essentially rookie class vs. rookie class (with a few exceptions). Michigan State was able to take that point, making the final score 4-1.
CMU def SVSU 4-3
The game of the day was easily Central Michigan’s Clash with Saginaw Valley State. This was the definition of a back and forth game, as SVSU took an early lead, before CMU tied it up. Central Michigan scored again to make it 2-1 in their favor. This game was far from over at this point, and SVSU tied the game back up in the second half, knotting the score at 2-2 with 19 minutes remaining.
The final 10 or so minutes of this game can be viewed on the livestream, though it was a courtside view. Central Michigan played great with the score tied 2-2, with a strong point by Eric Nelson to help them regain the lead once more. At 3-2, and less than 10 minutes to go, it looked like CMU had the chance to ice the game, and possibly finish it out with a 4-2 win. Instead, SVSU came out on fire in the next point, with a number of great plays from Kyle Bruce. Saginaw took the point, making it 3-3 and forcing overtime…
But wait, there were just under 5 minutes to play, so the teams would play out the remainder of regulation before the game went to OT. Central Michigan had different plans. The Chippewas were not willing to play another overtime game, and instead did everything they could to take SVSU down in regulation. Using a strong ball advantage throughout the point, CMU picked off SVSU one player at a time, with huge contributions from both Brege and Nelson on the offensive end. With a minute to go, SVSU had four players remaining.
Central Michigan used a very aggressive strategy in the final minute, pushing up towards the front line, looking for both catches and chances to pick off SVSU if they left themselves open. With 15 seconds to go, SVSU had two players left, one of which was able to pick off a charging Brege before the CMU captain could get his throw off. At this moment, it looked like SVSU would survive to force overtime.
The SVSU players spread apart, one in each corner. The far left corner player was thrown at first, and somehow he lost grip of his ball when thrown at. The blocking ball was knocked out of his hands, by rule eliminating him from the match. As the seconds ticked down 5…4…3… the final SVSU player knew he would not need to throw another ball at CMU, but rather just block the final throws.
Eric Nelson was the last player on Central Michigan’s team with a ball after a couple failed attempts by the Chippewas. With 3 seconds to go he took aim and fired at the last SVSU player on the court. Saginaw’s last man standing was able to get his blocking ball on the throw, but unfortunately for him, Nelson’s throw was dipping downward and towards his right leg, and it skimmed of the block and into the player’s knee, eliminating him from the game and awarding Central Michigan with the win.
This game was a classic. A back and forth early season battle between two of the best teams in the country. It was yet another clutch performance for Nelson, a sophomore whose heroics helped CMU take down GVSU last year in a late season game. Brege and Nelson had phenomenal games for CMU, while SVSU’s Kyle Bruce was dominant as a catcher in the contest.
UK def MSU 2-1
The Michigan State Open moved on to the fifth round of games. In this round, MSU would take on UK in a game between two teams who were winless on the day.
Michigan State seemed out of energy in this one. Their young roster had been through the gauntlet on the day, losing two tight games in overtime, then trying their best to matchup against defending champion Grand Valley.
On the other side, Kentucky was working on continuing their positive momentum, as they had improved each game on the day, losing close games to both GVSU and CMU.
In this game, UK was able to catch very well as a team, but there were three standouts. Daniel Lajeunesse and Evan Kachelhoffer both demonstrated their experience and skill against MSU, picking off players with well timed throws, and chipping in with big catches as well. The best player on the court though, was Ricardo Menchaca.
The game was tied 1-1 in the second half, when Menchaca absolutely took over the final point. Kentucky was able to take a 2-1 lead with around a minute to play thanks in large part to Menchaca’s aggressive play. He was making pinpoint throws and clutch catches throughout the point, helping Kentucky to a HUGE win over an MSU team that entered the day ranked #3 in the most recent power rankings.
This upset is absolutely massive for Kentucky, considering they entered the day as the obvious underdogs in each of their matches. Kentucky’s ability to hang with tough competition like CMU and GVSU, and pull off a big victory over MSU shows that this team is making real progress. UK should make a jump in both the Gonzalez Rankings and next month’s Power Rankings thanks to their performance in East Lansing. The Wildcats were big winners last weekend.
GVSU def CMU 4-0
The final varsity match of the day took place in round six. Grand Valley State took on Central Michigan in a rematch of the 2017 Nationals Title Game. CMU entered the contest with a 3-0 record on the day, including two tight wins over MSU and SVSU. Grand Valley, on the other hand, came into the match having only played two games on the day (wins over UK and MSU).
Point one of this classic rivalry was possibly the slowest point of the season. Central Michigan took an early ball advantage and held it for over ten minutes against the Lakers. The issue for CMU was that they did not take advantage of this while they had it. Both teams picked off one opponent at a time in a very slow manner, eventually knocking both teams down near the ten count.
CMU eventually held a 5 on 2 man advantage, but a few untimely catches (including a close range catch by Alex Jonauskas on Casey Bielec) tipped the scales in Grand Valley’s favor. Top players for GVSU in the first point included Jonauskas, Krafft, along with Sophomore Coda Gallagher and Freshman Justin Selimi who were both big catalysts in the Lakers’ comeback at the end of the point.
The second half was a completely different game than the first half. The big different in the second half was that GVSU was able to gain the ball advantage at the start of the point, and use it to pick apart CMU’s lineup. Grand Valley ended up taking three points in the second half, to finish the game with a very secure victory, 4-0.
CMU’s main downfall in this game (other than their extreme inexperience throughout the roster) was their fixation on getting GVSU’s top players out. It seemed that Central’s top players, especially Brege, spent too much energy trying to pick off Krafft and Meisel. If CMU had worked more on the middle of the court, and made less failed attempt to get out two of the top players in the league, they could’ve knocked GVSU’s player count down, and took care of Meisel and Krafft later in the point. This game proved that GVSU is the clear top dog in the Michigan region at this point in the season.
Here is a list of the top individual performers from the Michigan State Open:
MVP: Aaron Krafft (GVSU)
Was the most dominant player on the court in each of GVSU’s games. His most impressive moment was probably the first point vs. CMU when he took out over half their team.
2) Kyle Bruce (SVSU)
He was catching the top players on opposing teams like it was nothing, and he is arguably SVSU’s hardest thrower now that Hazergian is gone. This was a great start to the NCDA season for Bruce.
3) Austin Brege (CMU)
Has taken over Riley’s spot in the middle of the court for CMU. His throw continues to improve, and it was on display all day. Brege will be in the MVP conversation this April.
4) Eric Nelson (CMU)
Had his best tournament yet at the Michigan State Open. His last second throw (2 seconds left actually) against SVSU will forever be remembered. Nelson is clearly making the sophomore leap, and should be in the All American discussion this season. He is easily CMU’s #2 player behind Brege.
5) Brandon Meisel (GVSU)
He would probably be higher on this list had GVSU played tougher games. Instead, he was able to make the plays he needed to, and focus on molding his rookie class throughout the day.
6) Ricardo Menchaca (UK)
Had a fantastic showing at this tournament, especially the final point against MSU. That was an epic performance by Menchaca. He willed his team to victory over a great team.
7) Ben Smart (GVSU)
The most reliable catcher in the league? Three games into the 2018-19 season, I would say so.
8) Dennis Sullivan (MSU)
Sullivan has a strong day for MSU. Despite the Spartans inability to close out wins in a few tight games, Sullivan shined as a standout sophomore for this team.
9) Evan Kachelhoffer (UK)
What is more difficult, spelling Kachelhoffer’s name, or getting him out? He has stepped it up this season, and he was a big reason why UK was able to knock of MSU.
10) Kenny Mize (SVSU)
Mize performed well for SVSU throughout the day. He was especially strong during the MSU game, helping his team take the victory in overtime.
11) Payton Schuster (MSU)
Schuster, I’m told, is still getting back into form after Elite Nationals took a toll on his shoulder. He was still a strong on court leader for MSU’s young team, and made a great throws when his team needed him.
12) Kyle “The Gun” Garner (CMU)
This guy was really impressive in CMU’s first few games. He struggled mightily to hit target vs. GVSU, but overall he had a strong showing. If Garner continues to improve, he will be one of the best players in the Michigan Region by the end of the year.
HM: Tyler Prill CMU)
Central Michigan benefited greatly from the return of Tyler Prill. Prill was a catching machine early in the day, especially against Michigan State. Probably deserves to be higher on this list.
HM: Nolan Stanko (GVSU)
Stanko was one of GVSU’s top arms over the weekend. His strong performance helped make the absence of several GVSU starters not hurt the team much.
HM: Max Antilla (MSU)
The second year player for MSU only played Fall Semester last year. He was one of Michigan State’s most productive players on Sunday. He is poised to have a breakout season for the Spartans.
HM: Daniel Lajeunesse (UK)
One of UK’s top players at the tourney, he is certainly worthy of some recognition.
HM: Ryan Anguilm (SVSU)
Had a few very strong points for SVSU throughout the day. He will continue to gain recognition throughout the season. Right now, he remains a very underrated player.