The National Collegiate Dodgeball Association’s 2018-19 season kicks off this weekend with events happening in several different regions. As we prepare for the new season, it’s only right to take a look at the college dodgeball landscape right now.
Below is the official 2018 Preseason Power Rankings list produced by NCDA Executive Board members Jacob Leski (Director of Recruitment and Retention), and Kevin Bailey (Chief of Content). Please keep in mind: these power rankings have no impact on the actual NCDA Standings.
1) Grand Valley State
Kevin Bailey: Grand Valley will once again enter the new season as the favorites to win the national title. The Lakers are loaded this season, with all but two starters from their 2018 title run back with the club this year. GVSU will bring back two 1st Team All-Americans, three second team All-Americans, plus the return of a few more stars who weren’t on the roster at last year’s Nationals (Ray Franklin and James Reyes). A 22-4 record would be a disappointment with this roster. I expect the 2018-19 Lakers to be even better than last season’s team.
Jacob Leski: There should be no surprise that the 6-time reigning champ is once again expected to take home the title this season. While many may view this team as the team with the most team talent, I disagree. I am not saying this squad isn’t talented, what makes Grand Valley prolific year after year is their structure and organization on the court. They play as a unit, hence why even though they may not have had the “most talented” squad the last 3 years, they continue to win when it matters most because they trust the process, and follow their gameplan to a “T”.
2) James Madison
KB: James Madison will enter the 2018-19 season with sky-high expectations. This team returns nearly their entire roster from a year ago, making them an easy pick at #2 in the preseason rankings. The Dukes have loads of talent, and unlike last year, I think they will reach their potential by Nationals. I don’t see JMU losing any games to their East Coast rivals this year, making it immensely important for this team to travel outside their region to face some Michigan teams during the regular season. This team has what it takes to be top 2 in the country all year and reach the National Title Game.
JL: The Dukes are my pick for the most talented squad this year, and will be the team to watch from September until Day 2 of Nationals in April. Led by First Team All-American Evan Eschenburg, the Dukes lose highly touted alum Doug Schilling, but as far as I am concerned, that is really their only loss. In fact, I reckon JMU will also be the most talented team the East Coast has ever had. Is this the year an East Coast team finally makes the Championship? I see this being the year someone outside of Michigan finally ends the streak. My only concern is whether or not they can strategize and adjust at the level Michigan schools do on a consistent level…
3) Michigan State
KB: As I mentioned at the end of last year, this club has an incredible amount of momentum. Michigan State went from an afterthought to a quarterfinals team last year, and their development is far from complete. The Spartans lost a few stars to graduation, but that has only made more room for new talent to come in and make an impact. I’m willing to bet a lot of money that Michigan State will have one of the deepest and most talented rookie classes in the country this fall. Since the start of last season, no school has put more of an emphasis on recruiting than MSU. Back-to-back stellar recruiting classes is obviously a recipe for future success. Michigan State will still have some growing pains this fall, but by Nationals, they will be an extremely tough out!
JL: The ability to pick their opponents apart by strategy versus skill is a major reason why Michigan schools continue to dominate at Nationals. Speaking of domination, that brings me to Payton “Bob Knight” Schuster, who leads a young Spartan team full of raw talent, that is eager to win and has style doing it. However, their lack of maturity is a red flag to me, hence why I see them climbing up and down our PR’s throughout the year. They will lose games they shouldn’t, but by the time April hits, they should have worked all of the kinks out.
4) Saginaw Valley State
KB: The tradition lately at SVSU is to have a rough first semester but come on strong in the winter/spring and make a deep run at Nationals. That will once again be the case this year, as SVSU will have to replace a few legends. Despite those losses, Kenny Mize, Kyle Bruce and several other key contributors still remain on the roster. They have enough talent (and strategy) to once again be a top 5 team in college dodgeball.
JL: I fully expect the Cardinals to have a slow start to the year as they do every year. With the loss of Nick “Boss Hog” Hazergain, this team will look to Kenny Mize (heading back for grad school) to lead this team back to the Semifinals for a third season in a row. This team always looks like they just picked their players right up off the street before the game started, but whatever they are feeding these players in Saginaw is clearly working. Should Kenny and company develop their players consistently, I see no reason why this squad can’t have the same success as years past.
5) Central Michigan
KB: No team has to replace more than Central Michigan entering the 2018-19 season. In fact, if they didn’t recruit anyone, they wouldn’t even have enough players to field a team! Despite this, we still have this team positioned at #5 in the country. Why? A few main reasons. A) They still have some talent returning, including new captain Austin Brege. B) There is just a winning culture at CMU, and I don’t see it dissolving over the course of one offseason. The Chippewas will find a way to be a solid team this fall, and if they can develop their talent quick enough, who knows, maybe they make a 5th-consecutive National Title Game…
JL: There is so much I would like to say about this squad, for a variety of reasons, one being that they are my former team, and because it amazes me the low expectations people around the league have for this team this year, but I will do us all a favor and keep this short. Michigan schools more often than not, stay competitive year in and year out because they compete with each other all season long. When you are competing against the best, you can only get better, unless you are absolutely horrific at athletics. But I digress, I have high hopes and high expectations for this squad to continue their winning ways regardless of the fact that they are only returning 5 players from last year. Their new players will learn to adapt quickly.
KB: I’m not quite sure what to make of Towson entering this season. They have the talent and depth to once again be a top 7 or 8 team in the NCDA, but what is their ceiling? I don’t yet know if this group has the type of firepower to beat any of the teams listed above them. As the rest of the East Coast continues to improve, the pressure is on for Towson to have a strong year and establish themselves as one of the top 2 teams int he region once again.
JL: Do they still believe that they lost their quarterfinal match to BGSU because Felix is an incompetent ref? Or have they finally accepted that their Captain erroneously stepped out of bounds to end the game? Or that throwing a ball full court to kill the shot clock will almost always end in a catch? Well, I sure hope so, for as Socrates once said, “Stop complaining”. They will once again be second-fiddle to JMU, but this is not a squad you can sleep on, I enjoy their style of play, but is that what is stopping them from getting to the next level? Maybe changes need to be made, because this squad has immense talent, just need to use it.
7) Kent State
KB: I have high hopes for this group despite the loss of a few veterans over the offseason. Every team graduates players each year, but Kent State always seems to have replacements ready to take on bigger roles. Tyler Paalman is the headliner for Kent, and should be in the MVP race this spring if he can lead Kent to a strong season. One more player who I think should be a household name in the NCDA is Parker Morris. I expect him to have a breakout year as Kent tries to climb back to the top in the Ohio Region.
JL: Every damn time that I jump on the Kent train they make me look incompetent. Getting blown out by SVSU in the first half of their quarterfinals matchup last year put me into shock. They need to get over this hump of choking when games matter most. Similar to Towson, they have the talent to compete. I expect big things from Tyler Paalman this season, hoping he can continue to lead this club in the right direction.
8) Bowling Green State
KB: What do the Falcons have up their sleeve as the encore to what was the most successful season in program history? Sure, BGSU loses a few very important players to graduation, but make no mistake, they will still be a competitive squad this year. This is a pivotal season for the BGSU program in my opinion. Can they prove that the success of 2017-18 wasn’t a fluke, and establish themselves as a powerful program for years to come in Ohio? Or will they fall off the map and go back to being the BGSU we are used to seeing? The 2018-19 season is a great opportunity for this group to prove they are here to stay.
JL: This is my big mystery team for this season. I have faith that they will be competitive with all of the teams ranked 3 through 7, but can they be considered in the same tier as the rest of those teams? They lost a lot of leadership to graduation, but I have always been impressed with Reid Manger’s leadership on/off the court. I expect him to keep this team on the right track after taking this squad to their first ever Final Four appearance.
KB: Expectations are absolutely through the roof for Akron heading into the new season. This program has not had very much success in its three years of existence, but that could all change in 2018-19. The pieces are in place for this team to make some serious noise this year. In all seriousness, this team has gone through some growing pains over the past few years, but all that development could pay off this year.
JL: This is a huge season for the Zips. I have heard rumors that for every game they win, Adam Pfeifer will donate $100 to LeBron James “I Promise School” in the hopes LeBron comes to a practice to pay his thanks. If those rumors aren’t true, shouldn’t he do it anyway out of the kindness of his heart?
KB: UVA is another team that ended the 2018 season with a lot of momentum. I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table this season. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Virginia have a monster fall semester where they pull off a few upsets. This team has the talent and leadership to make a run at a quarterfinals finish at Nationals 2019.
JL: This squad has the looks of a true dark-horse squad. They have great leadership with players like Jeremy Shaw, and have young talent in players like Zane Durbin that are ready to take that next step towards being a 1st Team All-American.
KB: I was so pleasantly surprised by how great a year Miami had last season. This team entered the year with no buzz surrounding them, and finished close to being a top 10 team. Will Miami have enough talent to compete for a top spot in the Ohio Region? I’m not sure if they have quite enough top end talent on their roster just yet, but I do know they have a history of exceeding expectations…
JL: They entered Day 2 of Nationals as the 11 seed, and while I expect them to build upon their success last season, I have trouble seeing them beating any of the teams ranked 1-8. I contribute this mainly to their lack of depth. I want to tip my hat to Megan Warner, who I swear takes a headshot at least once a game, and for taking them like a champ (not to mention her concussion on Day 1 of Nationals)!
12) Virginia Commonwealth
KB: VCU faces a test much like BGSU in 2018-19. They need to prove that the success of the previous season was no fluke, while in the process replacing some of the best players in program history. That’s a tall task, but I have faith that VCU will still have enough talent to be competitive in the ever-improving East Coast Region. Will they crack the top 10 this season? I wouldn’t count on it.
JL: I am not very optimistic about this team, hence why I think this ranking is being too kind, but you can thank KB for that one. I have little faith in this team because a little bird has informed me that they are extremely disorganized, on and especially off the court. That can go a very long way, look at CMU after 2011…
KB: Maryland showed everyone they faced at Nationals 2018 that they are no joke. It is refreshing to see a program like this make a resurgence. Don’t be surprised if they continue to improve throughout the season and potentially pull some upsets over the East Coast schools ranked above them.
JL: I am looking forward to seeing how this team has grown over the offseason. They impressed me at Nationals, and while I was upset that they ended Jeff Starr’s career, they have all the makings for a team that can make a run on Day 2 of Nationals.
KB: Kentucky will be a young and inexperienced group still in 2018-19. They will have a lot of second year players contributing heavily. What this means is that they won’t be a top tier team, but I still see enough potential in this group to have them as a top 15 program.
JL: It will be difficult to determine what this team’s identity will be, considering that their two best players will only be around for the fall. If they can develop their young players, and recruit better than last year, they could jump these rankings considerably.
15) Penn State
KB: The hosts for this season’s Nationals will have a lot to prove this fall. PSU must replace a number of great players this fall. With that said, I saw enough of them at Nationals to still feel confident that if they schedule enough games, they will once again be a very tough team to eliminate at Nationals (just ask CMU).
JL: The scare they gave CMU in Round 2 on Day 2 of Nationals still gives me the chills. They have talent, they have experience, what they don’t have is a plan, which is why they have yet to ever make it to the Quarterfinals.
16) Ohio State
KB: Ohio State loses Jeff Starr, but returns a lot of promising young talent. Dylan Greer and Ben Johnson both competed this offseason in Elite Dodgeball, and hopefully they will use that experience to help improve their young squad. This team won’t be in the title hunt next spring, but they certainly have the tools to make some noise in the Ohio Region after a down year in 2017-18.
JL: The loss of Jeff Starr is a huge blow to this team, but with Dylan Greer at the helm, this squad is heading in the right direction. They will need a strong recruiting year, but things are looking good for the Buckeyes.
17) Wisconsin Platteville
KB: UWP starts the year one spot higher than they finished last year. After a rough outing at Nationals 2018, UWP will look to bounce back as they have more experience on their roster this season than last.
JL: Other than their love for cheese, beer, and Aaron Rodgers, I am never quite sure what to expect from the Pioneers. While they seem to return most of their players every season, the lack of competition in their area makes it difficult for them to keep up with teams in other regions.
18) North Georgia
KB: North Georgia will look to make it three years in a row that they are the top team in the South Region. By the way, when are you guys going to make a South Region tournament similar to the Michigan Dodgeball Cup and Ohio Dodgeball Cup? I think January/February 2019 would be the perfect time to start that tradition…
JL: The loss of Kyle Dattelbaum is monumental, but while he was there he did a good job of recruiting solid talent. Do I expect them to be on this list all season? Absolutely not, but I do expect them to be in the top 20 by the end of the season.
19) Central Florida
KB: Central Florida, in year two as a program, will start the season at #19 on the power rankings! Yes, they were ill-prepared to face off against some of the top teams in the league last year at Nationals, but I love the potential in this group. I think they will use that experience and grow from it heading into the 2018-19 season. Don’t be surprised when they are one of the most improved groups in college dodgeball.
JL: I love the culture this team has already with only one season under their belt. They are a loud rambunctious group that loves to have a good time on/off the court. Look for Ethan Kraus to continue to make a name for himself
20) West Virginia
KB: Speaking of teams that will be drastically improved, we are taking a risk and throwing West Virginia in at the #20 spot on our power rankings. If this team can travel to enough tournaments this fall, they have the talent and leadership to turn into a competitive group. The East Coast Region is incredibly deep this year, and WVU will benefit from that level of competition.
JL: Hope to see this squad to travel much more this season. I fully expect Cory Nasiadka (founder) to be a 2nd Team All-American by the end of the season.