The last tournament before Nationals west of Maryland (who are hosting the next day) will be on March 26th in Cincinnati, Ohio. Yes, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats will be playing host to a trio of teams as we get one last look at a handful of teams this weekend prior to everyone meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan for our league’s first National Championship Tournament in three long years.
The Bearcats will welcome the Pioneers of Wisconsin-Platteville, the Wildcats of Kentucky, and the Bobcats of Ohio to town for the Clifton Heights Classic, a tournament they plan to make annual as a perhaps last stop event before April’s winner-take-all affair. There are a handful of good storylines to pay attention to this weekend for each team, so let’s take a look.
Cincinnati Bearcats (14-2)
For the Bearcats, the mission is simple: Take care of business on your home floor. A 3-0 performance Saturday would lock Cincinnati into the 1 seed going into Nationals, the first time ever since the creation of the Gonzalez ranking system (Kent State was the last Ohio-region team to be the #1 team going into Nationals, back in 2012/13 season).
Cincinnati has a roster loaded with talent, and frankly several candidates for both All-Ohio and 1st and 2nd Team All-American. We would be remiss if we did not first mention our February Baller of the Month and league MVP candidate, Assistant Captain Cory Heitmann. Cory has had a dominating campaign this year, leading the way on the court for the Bearcats. Captain Brett Liming, a 2020 All-Ohio honors-recipient, will be back in the lineup for UC this weekend. Look for Cory and Brett to develop some chemistry, with Cory sliding over to the right side, away from his typical middle position.
A name absolutely worthy of attention, and arguably the Bearcats 2nd best player this season, is #00, Matt “Ski” Rosinski. Ski has been undoubtedly a Top-2 player for the Bearcats this season. He’s a fast-paced, power arm lefty who should have been on every team’s radar after Cincinnati’s September dismantling of Ohio State and Akron. Ski is every bit as deserving of notoriety and attention as Cory and Brett are for the Bearcats.
When it comes down to it though, in order to vanquish their foes this weekend, particularly a surging Bobcats team, Cincinnati will need to continue to get big performances from their bottom half of the lineup. Contributions from graduating seniors Luke Grace (who is technically a rookie as he joined during COVID) and Adam Holtz would be massive for Cincinnati. Finally, some clutch contributions from rookies Isaiah Montgomery, Ethan Schlesinger, Nathan Rolfes, and Sterling Gauche would go a long way toward keeping this red hot team fresh going into Nationals, and improving their league best record to 17-2.
Kentucky Wildcats (1-2)
There are a lot of things we don’t yet know about the Kentucky Wildcats, because they have only attended one tournament, Cincinnati’s December event, the Cincinnati Super Smackdown. With only three matches played this season, and none since early December, it will be interesting to see just how much this team has developed its core of young talent. The Wildcats are poised to make some noise this weekend and surprise some folks, so let’s see who they expect to grab your attention.
Worthy of highlight are all 4 Captains and Assistant Captains for the Wildcats: Tyler Kratzer, Justin Conti, David Mead, and Ethan Pale. All four are core contributors on the team, and apart of the “overtime six”. We also wanted to be sure to highlight a couple of rookies making the trip this weekend from Lexington. First is rookie FNU Akshat, who goes by Ash. While Ash is just a rookie, they are also a top half player on Kentucky’s roster, someone they would already be comfortable calling upon should the Wildcats find themselves going to overtime. The last player Kentucky wants to make sure you are aware of is A’marion Gibson, another rookie who is playing in his very first tournament, but has been extremely solid for them at practice since joining the club.
It’s important to remember that while the Wildcats have some good returning talent, this is still a very young team. Expect them to take some lumps this weekend, but gaining invaluable experience along the way, though I wouldn’t be so quick to mark them down as going 0-3 on the day..
Ohio Bobcats (5-4)
Coming into our last tournament before Nationals, it is important to reflect on how far Ohio has come as a team this season alone. They started out the year with only five returning members, but have managed to turn it around and have brought a full roster to every event they’ve attended. There are of course the big, mainstay names for Ohio like Alex Jonauskas, Caleb Arnold, and Maxie, but let’s highlight some not-so-well-known contributors to this squad who are all worth of their own distinction.
The first two worth recognizing for Ohio are Max Soeckel, their Vice President, and Jon Rupp, a team safety officer. Both are seniors at Ohio who have been with the team since their freshman year. Max has stepped up as one of the team’s best arms and an absolute leader of grown men on and off the court. Max may be well known for his rocket of an arm, but his catching definitely goes under the radar. Jon has hit a very nice stride as a player this season and is currently playing the best dodgeball of his career thus far. He is perhaps Ohio’s most confident catcher, and is somebody you don’t want to be throwing at late in points as he has a propensity for being clutch in those types of moments.
Also worthy of highlight is junior Hunter Humphreys, who joined the club right before COVID hit when Ohio was 2nd in the Nation. Though Hunter lacks in overall tournament experience, you wouldn’t know it when you see him play. He has the agility of a deer and the power of an elephant behind his throws. The last two names for Ohio we will highlight are rookies Sean O’Donnell and Judson Jones. When they joined in the fall, they both had no clue what was going on and didn’t figure to pan out as core contributors. However, they have both made incredible strides throughout the year, with Sean developing a very solid throw and shows great comfort anywhere on the court, and Judson has quickly become one of the team’s best catchers. Both players were in Ohio’s starting 12 for The War V back in February, but will have to fight for their spots as it appears seniors Brian Fleischhauer and Zach Howman both look poised to rejoin the team. Expect big, big things from Ohio down the stretch this season.
Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneers (3-9)
In the case for Platteville, the question becomes can they figure things out and put a complete performance together. This tournament will tell them exactly what kind of team they are and how they will perform at nationals. Platteville will have close to a full roster, which is going to be big in building team chemistry. The goal for UWP is obviously to get wins, but more importantly to get everyone on the same page and make sure they do the little things right. Work as a team and not make simple mistakes so that they can stay close in points and be competitive.
For the Pioneers, they will need their veterans players Noah Larscheid and Eli Huntley to be active and throwing from the start. They will also need Caleb Newell to provide coverage and pressure to keep the other teams at bay to allow UWP to play their game. The Pioneers will also need for their rookies Alex Cutty, Jalen Sims, and Nicholas Stocks to step up and do what they do best on the court. If they can play together and communicate effectively, they will play some tough games against their opponents this weekend. We expect a much more competitive lineup to attend the Clifton Heights Clash than back in February at Akron’s The War V.