1) Grand Valley State
Grand Valley opens yet another season as the predicted top team in college dodgeball. After going undefeated in 2019-20 prior to the Covid-19 shutdown, GVSU comes into the 2021 season with a handful of star players on the roster. The Lakers return 2019-20 NCDA Player of the Year Ben Smart, along with fellow All-American Nolan Stanko. On top of that, Captain Josh Hill is back for his second year at the helm. Collin Freeman is back (for potentially just the fall semester), along with Nick Hehl. Not to mention, GVSU had two All-Rookie performers a year ago, who are poised for a strong sophomore campaign: Tyler Peach and Thomas Williamson. GVSU will need to do a good job recruiting this year to keep the depth that has always made them so dangerous, but overall they have the experience and talent at the top to once again be in the title conversation.
2) Michigan State
Michigan State enters the 2020-21 season with extremely high expectations surrounding their program. Captain Payton Schuster is back from shoulder surgery that ended his 2019-20 campaign. Look for him to pick up where he left off prior to injury. Along with Schuster are a few more veterans poised for amazing seasons: Dennis Sullivan, Jacob Georges, and Jack Hilt. Each of them have been on the team for years and know what it takes to hang with top level teams. MSU’s roster is far more than just those stars. This roster is very deep, including several players who were 1st-Team All-Rookie last year, most notable Rookie of the Year Barry Butler III. The Spartans have the talent and experience to win it all in 2021. Look for this squad to be in the title conversation all year.
Coming into the 2021 season Towson is arguably the most day one ready team in the NCDA. Their only loss from this past season was Peter Morgan, who certainly was important, but when you return literally everyone else from a top 5 team it’s hard to not like the Tigers chances at another title. This includes the return of All-East selections Brandon Kirby, Jeff Hayden, and Hunter Friedman. This also includes arguably the two hardest throwers on the East Coast in Christian Cariello and Alex Hussey. Top this all off with what is expected to be another solid recruiting class and you can throw all the money on the table for a successful Towson season.
4) Ohio State
Ohio State enters the 2021 season with a lot of momentum. The Buckeyes were one of the most intriguing teams to close out the 2020 season, and with so many weapons returning, they are a legitimate title contender. With All-Americans like Dylan Greer and Ben Johnson returning, the top end talent is once again there for OSU. Along with those two, the Buckeyes also return notable players such as Logan Forbes, Matt Mino, Ben Dardia, 2020 rookie sensation Ryan Ginsberg, 2020 Womens MVP Kathryn Mays, and one of the most underrated players in the league: Sam Palumbo. Overall, OSU is built to win, and with 2021 Nationals set to be hosted by the Buckeyes, this team is poised to be in the title conversation all year long!
5) James Madison
The story at JMU for the entirety of their program’s history has been reload instead of recover, always seeming to find the next big player to fill in the shoes of a previous great. With that being said, this upcoming season will require a lot more reloading than past seasons with the departure of some excellent players like Shawn Donahue, Jason Souder, and Evan Eschenburg who is likely done by the end of the Fall semester. Among their top returners are DJ Owen and Jonathan Smith, however time will only tell if they’ll be enough to shoulder the load for the Dukes. There’s a bevy of talent for dodgeball in Harrisonburg, VA if history holds true, so while we might expect some early hiccups we could see the Dukes make a bigger splash in the Spring.
The RedHawks are an interesting team to watch heading into the new season. They lose very few players, but one of them just so happens to be their captain and bona fide superstar, Tom Morand. I’m sure few teams were more disappointed to not be able to see how far they could go at nationals last season than Miami, but there is good news for them, as they will return nine starters. Aside from Tom, they lose Drew Maxwell and Cam Pirochta. With that being said, it will be interesting to see how they fair with new leadership calling the shots, as veteran Ethan Oilar takes over as captain and Hugh Jones as assistant captains. Don’t get it confused though folks, this team is still loaded with firepower and they plan to bring that same intensity headed into a new season. There may be some growing pains early in the season, but expect Miami to be right there fighting for a final four spot come Nationals.
The Bearcats enter the 2020-21 season with lofty expectations, placed upon them not only by the league, but primarily from themselves. Coach Wes Peters has been on the record as stating that this team is final four or bust in only their third season as an NCDA program. Is that realistic? Maybe, maybe not. The positives the Bearcats can point to going into the year are plentiful, however. They return every single player from last season and add former Akron captain Jacob Weber into the fold. With quite a few players looking to take their “sophomore leap”, expect players such as Jacob Bursk, Matt Rosinski, and Ian Bartholomew to become household names for the Bearcats. This team will be exciting to watch this season, but it remains to be seen whether their goals will be actualized.
8) Central Michigan
Few teams lose as many stars as Central Michigan. The Chippewas will need to replace Kyle Garner, Scott Imburgia, Kyle Taylor, Ryan Stevens, and Jared Brown. With all of those players gone, it will be a tough task to remain a top 8 team in the NCDA. 2020 All-Michigan player Jawanza Edwards and star rookie Evan Arrowood will need to step up this season. Look for CMU to struggle early in the year against the likes of GVSU and MSU, but develop into a contender by April.
The Bobcats were in the midst of their best season ever in 2019-20 before COVID-19 shut the season down. Known for their impressive depth and team cohesion, don’t be surprised if Ohio is once again a force in 2020-21. Despite some graduations, OU will have a few stars on their roster in 2021 such as Josh Warneke and Jake Larsen, and women’s star player Jenny McClune (who graduates in December). Don’t count this team out in the loaded Ohio Region.
10) Saginaw Valley State
The Cardinals start the 2021 season just inside the top 10. SVSU was up and down in the 2019-20 season with many of their players lacking the amount of experience that is needed to compete in the Michigan Region. This year, they will be a year older and more experienced. A team that has often succeeded due to their depth, SVSU could be in that same situation in 2021.
11) Bowling Green State
Bowling Green will be an interesting team to watch this season. Captain Max Vincent returns for his senior year with the Falcons, but the team will take a huge blow from losing last year’s Ohio MVP and workout machine, Owen Sill. Owen quite literally kept the Falcons in matches, as well as almost singlehandedly lead them to comeback wins in 2019-20. Additionally, the Falcons will lose Weston Bensman, Ryan Smelewski, and Tyler Shafer. Will they be able to recruit and replace that firepower? Who amongst their returners will step up and take that next leap and be a key contributor for the Falcons? With so many questions for BGSU heading into a new year, it will be interesting to see how they fair in a still loaded Ohio region and at Nationals.
After an up and down 2019-2020 season, the Zips have endured losing their top roster spots, losing AA candidate Jacob Weber, and a pandemic. This Akron squad is young and hungry. Lead by Brandon Snyder and Clay Egleston, they look to bounce back after a few tough losses at the end of their season. Look for last years rookies PJ Antalek and Matt Owen to make that second year leap and really take this team to the next level.
Maryland loses two of their best in Zach Fernald and Shawn Sullivan, but return everyone else. James Klimkiewicz is expected to be the headliner for this team, but he also has some talented teammates in Max Xuan and Daniel Fernald to support him. The Terps also got some solid play out of their Freshmen class including players such as Alec Goodman, Peter Digiacomo, and Connor Engel. If those three are able to make the ‘sophomore jump’ like we see with many NCDA players, then the Terps could sneak further up the rankings this season.
14) Virginia Commonwealth
VCU arguably has the most significant number of losses in both talent and raw numbers from this past offseason. Eight players in total graduated from VCU this past year and will need to make some big recruiting moves to fill that void. Thankfully, they will see the return of Ike Fleckenstein to the team, but it’s hard to say if it will be enough to keep the Rams in a top 3 spot in the East that they’ve enjoyed for the past few seasons.
15) Wisconsin Platteville
Wisconsin Platteville comes in at #15 on the preseason rankings, with a young and promising team. UWP has a few stars on their roster, including Daniel Skoumal, Austin Kurey, and Noah Larscheid. Platteville once again will be the top team in the Midway Conference, and will likely need to schedule some tournaments in other regions in order to face off against strong competition. Look for this team to start the year slow, but be a real threat by the time Nationals 2021 rolls around.
16) West Virginia
West Virginia was in an interesting spot at the end of the 2019-20 season. This team was on the cusp of turning the corner, with a talented roster that was slowly but surely gaining experience. Led by All-American Cory Nasiadka and impressive all-around athlete Andrew Zeigler, WVU does not lack the pieces to be a legitimate force in the NCDA. Heading into 2020-21, if this roster is able to pick up where it left off and continue gaining momentum, they could be a tough out by Nationals 2021.
17) Penn State
Penn State was a bit of enigma last year given that they had some solid games, and some poor showings. However, this upcoming season will be even more of an enigma as they lose seven starters from last year. This includes stars such as Brett Miller, Trevor Scofield, and Jarod Baker. They return some talent with guys like Noah Grube, Brady Eck, and Christian Lannuzzelli, but it will probably be difficult for this group to overcome the top half of the East without large recruitment numbers.
The reigning South Cup Champions come in at number 18 on our list, and could be in for an interesting season. The negatives are that they lose their captain and all-around best player, Daniel LaJeunesse, and that they need to develop some more talent in order to be considered a real threat to make it to the top 8 at nationals this season. It’s far from all bad for the Wildcats though, as they are one of the few teams currently allowed by their university to practice during the fall semester, and they are yet another team who do not lose very many players. We expect the Wildcats to be competitive as Will Taylor, Justin Conti, and David Meade will continue to be key contributors for the Wildcats.
19) North Georgia
North Georgia enters 2020-21 looking to compete with Kentucky for the top spot in the South Region. The big storyline for UNG once again will be about how many tourneys they will be able to travel to, as the competition in the deep south is not yet at the same level as other areas of the country.
20) Western Michigan
Western Michigan was one of the most surprising teams at the end of the 2020 season. Led by Peter Broe, this team went from struggling to score points, to being a legitimate competitor, taking a few impressive wins in the winter / spring. Look for WMU to continue their forward momentum whenever the 2020-21 season begins.