Nationals Send-Off Tournament Recap

The following was written by Jeremy Brown:

GVSU Still the Best, Towson Not Far Off

This past Saturday, #2 Towson played host to #1 Grand Valley State and #3 James Madison in what was sure to be an intense final tournament before Nationals. This tournament did not disappoint, with each team providing a clearer image of what to expect at Grand Valley in just a few short weeks. For the purposes of this article, I want to first do a brief breakdown of each game before taking time to look at what this tournament means for Nationals. Let’s get started.

Game 1: #1 GVSU defeats #3 JMU 4-2

            This game was very exciting early on, with JMU storming out to an explosive 1-0 lead. JMU showed everything I wanted to see: talent, trash talk, and team continuity. The second point was looking to be another good one, until Grand Valley turned into a tornado and completely swung the point in a matter of 60 seconds. It felt like Grand Valley was feeling out JMU for the first point, only to unleash destruction the rest of the game. JMU had looked so confident and organized the first point of the game, only to be dismantled by the 6 time defending champs.

Game 2: #1 GVSU defeats #2 Towson 3-2 (OT)

            WOW. This game was FANTASTIC. This game is what I was hoping to have seen in last year’s National Championship Game, and what I am hoping we can expect to see this year in the championship game. Towson won the first point in what was a legitimate back and forth affair, with both teams looking incredibly even. Towson was about to go up 2-0 before the half, until Brandon Meisel decided to have his damn Heisman moment. I stopped taking notes because I was on the edge of my seat and sweating, but I believe Meisel was the only guy left while Towson had 4-5 guys remaining (something like that. Like I said I just couldn’t take notes during this game). All Towson had to do was execute a team throw and they head into halftime up 2-0 on the 12 time defending champs. Instead, a solo throw…at Brandon Meisel… good stuff.

            Anyways, Brandon Meisel tied things up at the half. He went supernova and decided that having a league MVP debate would be too much work for everyone. The second half was more of the same, with both teams clearly separating themselves from the rest of the league. Grand Valley was up 2-1 with 15:00 remaining, and Towson was able to tie things up and head to overtime. Again, I was way too sweaty and nervous to take notes, but Grand Valley won in overtime. Shocker I know. I’ll have more thoughts on this game later.

Game 3: #2 Towson defeats #3 JMU 4-1

            It is really uncomfortable to me that Towson is so superior to JMU. I remember getting annihilated by JMU every time we played them, and now we live in this weird bizarro universe where the rivalry has completely shifted.

Evan Eschenburg should be first team All-American this year, and I hope he recieves the recognition he has deserved for a few years now. I think he goes unnoticed because he is the quietest JMU superstar in the history of ever, but he can flat out ball. He made some insane catches that were reminiscent of Doug Schilling, plus he can make pin-point throws whenever he sees an opportunity. I love Evan’s play style, and I hope the rest of the country takes notice when he quietly dominates teams at Nationals this year.

            Another guy I want to shout-out is Jason Souder. This guy’s hands were glue all day, making big catch after big catch. I was so impressed with what I saw. I wonder if this guy makes a name for himself in the future doing his best Colin O’Brien impersonation.

            Oh crap I’m supposed to recap the game. Towson is just superior this year, but this is still the premier rivalry in the NCDA (in my incredibly biased opinion). I expect this rivalry to go back-and-forth for years. Towson would not be where it is today if it were not for JMU paving the way with their dominance. It was JMU that pushed Towson to where they are today, and these teams will continue to build one another up for years to come. For this year though, Towson has the clear advantage.

Championship Match: #1 GVSU defeats #2 Towson 3-1

            This game was both awesome and weird. I thought both teams were clearly flat. GVSU already proved they were still the top team, and Towson had already proved they could hang. The first point of the game featured a wild sequence that I have never seen in the NCDA before. These teams were so even that they each slowly chipped away at one another, until it turned into a legit 1v1 that lasted for what felt like 15 minutes. It was Aaron Krafft of Grand Valley vs Colin Sporer of Towson. There were shot clock violations, water breaks, and lots of missed throws from two exhausted athletes. The whole gym was quiet throughout, with everyone holding their breath waiting for the dramatic sequence to conclude. It was so weird. These guys just would not give up. It was an amazing mental battle between the two veterans, with Sporer eventually making the winning throw to give Towson a 1-0 lead heading to halftime. (side note: when was the last time GVSU was held scoreless in a half?)      

            The second half featured the storyline of this whole tournament: Towson made mental mistakes that cost them the game. Grand Valley was able to escape some sticky situations due to some Towson shot clock violations, and eventually tied the game 1-1. The game eventually ended up as a 3-1 victory for the 28 time defending champs, but these teams are legit neck and neck in my eyes.

            Side note: did Grand Valley at least get a ribbon or something for winning the “championship match”?

What this means for Nationals

I’m going to tackle this one team at a time:

            For Grand Valley, this tournament means essentially nothing. The 38 time defending champs are still the best. They are undefeated, and get to play Nationals on their own home court. If they do not win the title, the whole league is allowed to tease them forever. That’s the official rule. It’s in the rule book and everything.

Brandon Meisel should be the front runner for MVP after his performance. Aaron Krafft is really good. Ben Smart is amazing and hilarious to watch. Guy x is really good for x and y reasons. We all know Grand Valley is still the king of the mountain. The only question was whether they could stack up well against Towson. I’d say a 2-0 record on Towson’s court answers that.

Something I just want to mention, this team is so honest. I saw guys stepping out when it wasn’t really clear what hit them out. When a ref called them out, they didn’t even argue. They just… listened to the ref… whoa. This is not meant to be a dig at either of the other teams at this tournament, but I just thought it deserved mentioning. I feel like we either complain about Grand Valley being tryhards or being too good that they do not get credit for being such good sports. A lot of us are frustrated by their reign of terror, but they certainly reign with class.

For Towson, it is clear that a championship is within reach. This was weirdly a really great day for them. Towson has been so good all year, but there has always been the death star that is Grand Valley staring down upon them. I gotta say, they stared down the 45 time defending champs and did not get rattled. And at times, they looked to be the superior team. Jordan Watt is, to me, a clear front runner for MVP right behind Meisel. David Guare has such control of the court and is one of the smartest players in the league. Colin Sporer has really grown into a veteran leader of this team, and was able to beat friggin Aaron Krafft one on one. This team is for real, and should go into Nationals with one goal: to take the trophy from Grand Valley on their own court.

Towson is just as talented, and maybe even more talented, than Grand Valley. Their downfall was a series of tiny little mistakes. All sorts of little details that separate Grand Valley from the rest of the dodgeball world. Things like maintaining ball control, calling out crosses, protecting teammates, not throwing bone headed solo throws, and keeping a level head when the game turns chaotic. It was a symphony of little details that gave Grand Valley the edge over Towson. I hope we get a round 3 on Sunday at Nationals, because these two teams look to be the clear 1 and 2 in the country.

For JMU, a Final Four should be the goal heading into Nationals. I know they went 0-2 on the day, but I saw this team go toe-to-toe with Towson and Grand Valley for stretches. This is gonna sound weird, but this team needs to be more confident in itself. When they took the first point against Grand Valley, guys were squaring up to make catches and were not afraid. Once Grand Valley got rolling, a lot of guys for JMU were turning their backs and looked to shy away from making catches. They are talented enough to make those hard catches, and have a decent amount of arms to carry the offense as well. This feels like a weird criticism for a team that talks on the court so much, but the body language showed me they didn’t quite feel like they belonged. Hey JMU, you are really good, and can make a run at the Final Four. When an opponent takes the momentum, take it right back. If a few guys can speak up and direct traffic for the team, it could really benefit the overall cohesiveness of this unit. I hope to see JMU talking trash in the final four.

            Overall, this was a fantastic tournament leading us into Nationals 2019. Grand Valley should be feeling good about winning their 50th straight title, and I really hope we get all three of these teams in the Final Four. It was a pleasure to watch.

Author: Kevin Bailey

Current NCDA Chief of Content. Former Captain for Grand Valley State University (#4).

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