Reviewing the 2016 MDC

Grand Valley State University won the 2016 Michigan Dodgeball Cup with a 3-0 record.
Grand Valley State University won the 2016 Michigan Dodgeball Cup with a 3-0 record.

On Feb. 27th, Michigan State University hosted the annual Michigan Dodgeball Cup.  In attendance were all four Michigan schools: Central Michigan, Grand Valley State, Michigan State, and Saginaw Valley State.  The stakes were higher than ever, as all four teams were positioned in the top six of the NCDA Standings.  In fact, the schools had a combined record of 51-21 heading into the event, with exactly zero of those 21 losses coming at the hands of a team outside the state of Michigan.

The dominance of the Michigan Region is still alive and well, and anyone who may try to dispute that should take a look at that fact I just mentioned.  Michigan schools this season are a combined 30-0 against teams from other regions.  And there is a very real chance that at the end of the year, no non-Michigan team picks up a win over a Michigan Region team.  I highly doubt that has ever happened before.

I’m not saying the rest of the league isn’t developing, but there is a very real gap between the level of competition in the NCDA’s top region, and that of other regions in this league.  The idea that “competition breeds success” is so clear in the NCDA, where Michigan Region teams benefit greatly from playing tough opponents so frequently, while teams like Ohio State and James Madison have a harder time finding consistent competition.

This past weekend in East Lansing was certainly one of those highly competitive tournaments.   After watching the battles that took place on Feb. 27th at IM Sports West on the campus of Michigan State University, I became even more confident that this year’s College Dodgeball National Champion will come from the Great Lakes State.  Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and give you all a recap of this year’s MDC:

 

GVSU def CMU 1-0

The first match of the day was a highly anticipated one.  CMU and GVSU had taken each of their previous three games to overtime.  This time around, OT was not necessary, as GVSU took the win in regulation with a decisive point earned with only a few minutes to go in the game.

The first point of the game was quite the rollercoaster.  CMU started out very strong, playing aggressive fast paced dodgeball.  After claiming an early man advantage, CMU fell off a bit due in part to GVSU eliminating their offensive catalysts (Brett Hadwin and Michael Riley).

Grand Valley was back in front with a slight man advantage with around ten minutes remaining but due to a few clutch throws and catches CMU took their opponents down to a ten-count shot-clock.  Eventually GVSU was down to three players: Senior Tylar Alcantara (who played a smart point and made a number of crucial plays), along with two rookies who had only made two rosters each prior to MDC (#18 Brandon Meisel, and #14 Alex Jonauskas).

GVSU Freshman Brandon Meisel saved the day for GVSU when he survived for the final few minutes of the first half to keep the game scoreless.
GVSU Freshman Brandon Meisel saved the day for GVSU when he survived for the final few minutes of the first half to keep the game scoreless. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

After making a number of smart decisions to drain the clock, Alcantara was finally eliminated by CMU.  At this point Meisel was able to make a huge catch to bring in GVSU Assistant Captain Ben Tubergen.   After a few throws, Tubergen was hit in transition, and a shot clock violation was called on GVSU shortly after.  This left three veterans for CMU with all ten dodgeballs and a few minutes remaining to take out two rookies for GVSU and earn a 1-0 lead.  Brett Hadwin was caught in a few minutes prior by Tyler Prill (one of CMU’s top performers in this match).  Hadwin was joined by power thrower Alex Holzgen, and one of the top catchers in the building: Jacob Leski.  All signs pointed to a 1-0 lead for CMU.

CMU made a team throw on Jonauskas but he evaded the throws and earned GVSU several dodgeballs back to their side which was a clear game-changer.  Despite this swing in momentum, Hadwin was able to get a foot shot on Jonauskas, leaving Meisel alone with close to a minute to kill before the half.  With a number of well-placed throws, Meisel eventually took the clock down to zero and GVSU celebrated the fact that they survived the first half tied.

GVSU Senior Terrance Spears had a dominant second half against CMU.
GVSU Senior Terrance Spears had a dominant second half against CMU. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The second half brought another long point.  The standout in the second half was easily GVSU senior Terrance Spears, who made three or four catches in that point alone.  Thanks to big catches from Spears and GVSU first-year varsity player James Reyes down the stretch, GVSU was able to take CMU down in another slow point.  The crucial moment in the game was when GVSU, after many failed attempts, was finally able to eliminate CMU standout Ian Ryan on a team throw.  He was one of the top performers for his team in this game, and once he was eliminated, it went downhill quickly for the Chippewas.  At this point, a few well timed team throws by Austin Morley and Alcantara took CMU out, and gave the Lakers a decisive 1-0 lead with under three minute to go.  Three minutes clearly was not enough time for a point to be scored, and GVSU notched the first of many upsets on the day.

 

SVSU def MSU 2-1

Following the upset of CMU by GVSU, the host school took on SVSU in the second match of the day.  This game didn’t go as most would have predicted.  Saginaw played a strong first half thanks in large part to the play of Kyle Foster.  The senior for SVSU was one of the standouts on a team that clearly was playing with a chip on their shoulder.

Kyle Foster had a monster game in SVSU's upset win over MSU.
Kyle Foster had a monster game in SVSU’s upset win over MSU. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

About midway through the first half SVSU was able to earn a point.  With a 1-0 lead, the Cardinals did not let off the gas, as they played fast paced the entire second point.  After SVSU took the Spartans down to the ten-count, it seemed like MSU Junior Noe Galaviz was able to put the team on his back and bring MSU back into it.  Galaviz had a stretch where he made a number of crucial hits, and took SVSU down to two or three players, but at this point he went up to throw, and stepped over the throwline.

With Galaviz eliminated, MSU was down to Matt Jones and Tony Stumpo against SVSU’s Jonathan Airbets and Cody Putnam.  SVSU seemed to choke away the point when a balls over was called on them giving MSU a huge advantage, but on the ensuing team throw by MSU, Putnam made a HUGE catch on Stumpo, then he and his teammates quickly eliminated Jones with a well-timed team throw of their own.  Halftime score: 2-0 SVSU.

The second half of this one was not very exciting.  MSU was able to take a point in the second half, but it took too long, and the last point of the half was won by nobody, as there was not enough time left on the clock for the Spartans to mount a comeback and force overtime.  SVSU celebrated their first win over a Michigan school this year.  As it turns out, they were not done just yet…

 

GVSU def MSU 2-1 OT

Next game on the docket was GVSU vs. MSU.  The Spartans were in desperate need of a win if they wanted to take the MDC title this year, and their game against GVSU was do or die.  On GVSU’s side, it was an opportunity for them to win yet another game that was predicted as a loss by most people.  Despite being ranked higher than MSU (#2 vs. #3), GVSU was picked to lose this match by a number of people leading up to MDC.

Noe Galaviz was the hero of the first half for MSU as they took a 1-0 lead on GVSU.
Noe Galaviz was the hero of the first half for MSU as they took a 1-0 lead on GVSU.

The first half was one of the most back and forth points of the tournament.  MSU and GVSU took each other out pretty evenly all the way until the end.  During this point we saw 3v3 go to 2v2, go to 1v1.  In the end, MSU’s Noe Galaviz had an outstanding throwing performance as he eliminated GVSU rookie Aaron Kraft (who had a great game and you will hear from him later in this game) on a diving catch attempt.  With Galaviz now 1v1 against GVSU’s Terrance Spears, Galaviz made another hard throw that dipped enough that it was dropped by Spears giving MSU a lead with nine minutes left in the half.

The final nine minutes went from slow paced to out of control and MSU nearly took out GVSU in the final minute with a number of outs.  At halftime the score remained 1-0.

The second half was a much different scenario.  This time, GVSU was able to take control, and while it was another long point, it was full of action.  MSU held the ball advantage for a stretch, but once GVSU had most of the dodgeballs on their side, they used efficient teams throws and transition outs to take out MSU.  With a little over nine minutes remaining, GVSU tied it up 1-1.

MSU came out of the gate much more aggressive the next point, and eventually earned all ten dodgeballs.  With the ball advantage they took out a number of Grand Valley’s key players, but eventually GVSU recovered.  Regulation ended with the score tied 1-1.  We were set for the first overtime game of the day.

GVSU Sophomore Kurtis DeYoung was a crucial part of GVSU's offense vs. Michigan State.
GVSU Sophomore Kurtis DeYoung was a crucial part of GVSU’s offense vs. Michigan State. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

GVSU’s overtime six was comprised of Captain Kevin Bailey, Assistants Austin Morley and Ben Tubergen, along with Kurtis DeYoung, and rookies Aaron Kraft and Jacob Devine.  This was the first time two rookies were part of the OT roster in GVSU history.  MSU’s OT six was Colin O’Brien, Alex Zajac, Wes Peters, Lucas Salinas, Noe Galaviz, and Kameron Caldwell.

MSU grabbed the momentum early in OT by gaining the ball advantage, and taking out GVSU’s Devine and Morley (on a Noe Galaviz headshot) in the early going while only Wes Peters had been eliminated for MSU.  After this, Grand Valley relied heavily on the throwing of Bailey and DeYoung as the game turned into a more back and forth battle.

Team throws were utilized by GVSU to take out Galaviz and Caldwell leaving MSU in a tougher situation.  After O’Brien made a clutch hit on GVSU’s Tubergen to even it at 3v3, he made a poor throw. O’Brien chose to make an attempt at GVSU Freshman Aaron Kraft on the far side of the court.  His throw floated just high enough for Kraft to make a diving catch that caused the crowd to erupt, and essentially sealed the win for GV.  From there, Bailey took out Salinas on a toe shot, then a team throw eliminate Zajac to give GVSU another win.

This game came down to the wire, and while MSU was 0-2 after the defeat, they were just an OT win away from being in the driver’s seat in this tournament, with a win over CMU being all that stood in their way.  As it turned out, the ball was bouncing GVSU’s way at MDC, and they took a 2-0 record with them into their final match.

 

SVSU def CMU 2-1 OT

Game of the day.  No question about it.  Saginaw Valley showed up big time at MDC, with this game being their signature win this season.  Did CMU have their best day at MDC? No, but that shouldn’t take away from how impressive Saginaw was.

Garrett Fitzgerald was instrumental in SVSU closing out the first half without giving up a point to the Chippewas.
Garrett Fitzgerald was instrumental in SVSU closing out the first half without giving up a point to the Chippewas. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The first point was back and forth most of the way.  When both teams dropped to the ten-count and it looked like CMU had the edge, but a few clutch plays turned the tables and SVSU took a large man advantage.  A huge catch by Scott La Valley was followed shortly after by an answer catch by Kyle Foster.  A team throw took out Mike Riley, and La valley chose to step out of bounds at that point to give CMU a chance to score before the half.

Central Michigan played a great point leading up to halftime.  They had SVSU down to only four players with two minutes remaining, but the Cardinals were able to preserve the lead and hold off CMU.  #68 Garrett Fitzgerald had an amazing last few minutes of the half, getting a number of huge kills and a catch while also being relied upon to make most of the throws for SVSU.  He did it all well enough to keep the score tied at the end of the first half, and he had reason to celebrate when the buzzer sounded.

In the second half, CMU looked more focused and they took a point from SVSU to tie the score.  With a few minutes to go, nobody scored, and the MDC had another overtime match.

SVSU started off poorly in OT, as they let CMU’s Zach Bachner get the middle ball, then they made a poor throw to give CMU an obvious ball advantage.  Luckily for SVSu, Nick Hazergian was on their side and he made the first kill of overtime when Brett Hadwin came up to the throwline.  Getting Hadwin out was just the start of the action in this overtime.

Best celebration in NCDA history = Cody Putnam, SVSU. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

In a chaotic couple of seconds, SVSU was able to get hits on two of CMU’s top arms: Ian Ryan and Alex Holzgen.  At this point the momentum was in Saginaw’s favor and they

were not going to let up.  Hazergian made another huge throw, knocking Zach Bachner on his back.  Bachner almost pulled off a miraculous catch as he fell down, but the ball bounced just out of reach.  This left two Chippewas on all of SVSU’s OT six.

Right after Bachner was hit, Kyle Foster made a risky throw at Mike Riley, but it worked out for SVSU as Riley dropped the catch.  Then seconds later a team throw took out CMU’s last man standing Shane Willette, and it was all over.  Saginaw’s bench stormed the court as they celebrated a huge win.  This set the stage for the matchup between SVSU and GVSU.  Both teams were undefeated so it would be winner take all for the title.

*Worth noting: Cody Putnam of SVSU, had arguably the best victory celebration of all time following their win over CMU.  That is all…

 

CMU def MSU 2-1

Central Michigan versus Michigan State was supposed to be a decisive match in this MDC, but on this day it was not to be.  MSU and CMU took the floor in this game to see who could escape a brutal MDC with a victory as both teams entered the match 0-2.

Brett Hadwin and CMU earned their only win of the day vs. MSU.
Brett Hadwin and CMU earned their only win of the day vs. MSU.

Not much really needs to be said about this one.  CMU took a point in the first half, but let off the gas a bit in the second.  MSU played a great first point in the second half and demonstrated how good they can be offensively when things are clicking.  While MSU was able to score a point to tie it at one, CMU stormed back and claimed another point before regulation time was up.  2-1 win for CMU, in a game that was clearly less exciting due to how tired both teams were.

Both CMU and MSU had played in two close matches before this one, and it was obvious.  Feb. 27th was not the best day for either school, but they both have the talent to win it all.  The final game of MDC for each of these teams was not the biggest game of the season.  They both will be back better than ever next time they take the court, I can guarantee you that.

 

GVSU def SVSU 2-1

Final match of MDC was fittingly a winner take all contest.  Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley had each pulled out upsets earlier in the day to get them to this point.  The winner of MDC would be determined by the winner of this match.

The last time GVSU and SVSU faced off, GVSU took a big lead at the half but SVSU stormed back to force OT.  The start of this game looked very similar.  Grand Valley had a convincing man advantage for most of the first point, and they took a 1-0 lead with about ten minutes left in the first.  GVSU came on strong in the second point and nearly took a 2-0 lead, but SVSU’s last few players were able to hold of the Lakers’ push.  1-0 at halftime.

Sam Stockdale was one of 11 first year varsity players for GVSU at MDC. Despite the inexperience, the Lakers took home the cup.
Sam Stockdale was one of 11 first year varsity players for GVSU at MDC. Despite the inexperience, the Lakers took home the cup.

In the second half, it was clear the game was on the line.  GVSU played a very smart offensive gameplan in this point and once again had most of their players left when they eliminated SVSU.  With about a quarter of the game left, GVSU was up 2-0 and it looked like the MDC was out of reach.

I have to credit Saginaw Valley’s leaders for keeping their team in the game.  SVSU never quit, and they actually came out so aggressive to start the next point that it caught GVSU off guard.  The Cardinals picked off GVSU one by one and eventually won the point with about six minutes remaining.  It was 2-1 GVSU at this point, and with that much time remaining, the Lakers put their starters back in the game to close out the win.  The final six minutes got pretty crazy as SVSU was playing a very aggressive style.  It didn’t work out for them this time, and when the final buzzer sounded, GVSU was only one or two throws away from taking a third point from SVSU.

The final game of MDC was not as spectacular for the Cardinals as many of their top throwers just ran out of steam.  In my opinion, GVSU’s depth was the difference maker in this game, as the Lakers claimed their second straight Michigan Dodgeball Cup.

No doubt, GVSU and SVSU were the benefactors of the day.  Both teams played great, and showed to the rest of the league that they are capable of winning it all.  SVSU in particular, really changed their reputation around the league.  The Cardinals are for real.  They are undoubtedly in the National Title conversation after Feb. 27th.

 

Final thoughts:

After the MDC, only two Michigan schools changed position in the rankings: GVSU up to 1, and CMU down to 2.  These teams are as tight as can be at the moment.  CMU and GVSU are 2-2 against each other this year.  The fact that GVSU earned the last win may be what gives them the slight advantage in the rankings.  Both team certainly have racked up enough quality wins to have a shot at the 1-seed come Nationals.

Let me give a brief explanation to anyone arguing the fact that SVSU stayed at 6, and MSU stayed at 3, because the standings in my opinion have been very accurate all year in terms of where teams deserve to be.  Remember this is based on what they have done during the whole season.  I will defend the ranking system till the end, because I am very confident in how it will seed teams come Nationals.

This isn’t power ranking the teams at the moment, it is ranking them based off their body of work throughout the entire season!  Michigan State is 16-8 (7-8 vs. Michigan schools), while SVSU is 10-10 (2-10 vs. Michigan schools).

No doubt, SVSU has more momentum at the moment, but Michigan State is far more entitled to a higher ranking due to their success throughout the entire season compared to SVSU. The Spartans have 2 wins each against GVSU and CMU, and 3 over SV. The Cardinals picked up their first wins of the season over MSU and CMU on Feb. 27th, and they are still winless vs. GVSU.

One tournament can’t make up for months of under-performing. If I was to give power rankings right now, SV would certainly be above #6, and MSU probably below #3, but both teams are deserving of their current position in the standings when the entire season is put into consideration.

The 2016 MDC was top to bottom, one of the most competitive regular season tournaments in NCDA history.
The 2016 MDC was top to bottom, one of the most competitive regular season tournaments in NCDA history.

Author: Kevin Bailey

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

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