Kent State hosted four teams this past weekend in the Summit Street Slugfest and the tournament name was quite an apt way to describe what transpired on Sunday. Along with in state schools Ohio State and Akron, out of state schools Kentucky and Michigan State also made the trip to Kent, Ohio to take part in the five team tournament. A highly competitive day of dodgeball resulted in four tough games for each team. By the end of the tournament, every team had very little left in the tank.
I apologize in advance that this recap will be MSU heavy, but as I played in half the games and reffed another at the tourney, I have a much better recollection of those games rather than the games I could only glance at in passing.
Michigan State (4-0)
The Spartans went undefeated on the day, but had to work to earn every victory. With only 14 players and the absence of several of their top fifteen players, Michigan State faced an uphill battle. MSU opened the tournament against Akron. In the opening point, Akron dominated ball possession. But a flurry of catches and a general superiority of talent allowed MSU to take the point and then the match by a score of 7-0. Although after the first point Akron did realistically threaten to take a point, Akron did possess a couple quality players that were significantly better than what I had seen in their first tournament ever last year at OSU, when MSU played them last.
Following a break to ref, MSU faced Kentucky. The Spartans had no energy out of the gate and Kentucky came out firing. A couple of big catches on key Michigan State players gave the Wildcats the advantage and they did not look back as UK took the first point over of the match. MSU then employed their methodical gameplan and was able to even the score at 1 before halftime. In the second half, the talent edge that favored the Spartans was too much for UK to overcome. State rattled off 3 straight points to open the second half to take a commanding 4-1 lead. With little time left in the match and the outcome determined, the two teams proceeded to have a little fun. Drew Greenawalt was able to catch myself and Wes Peters on consecutive throws, once again displaying why he is one of the best catchers in the league. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, even his great catching ability was not enough to get a win, as MSU took the game 4-1.
The next match was probably the most intriguing match going into the day and it did not disappoint. OSU v MSU in a dodgeball match that was just as competitive as the two schools’ most recent two football games. Ohio State quickly gained a ball advantage early in the match. With that advantage, the Buckeyes methodically picked off Michigan State player by player. However, MSU’s catching ability came through yet again. Periodic catches kept MSU off the ten second shot clock for a majority of the first half. With under ten minutes left in the half, OSU captain Josh Conner made a great throw to hit MSU Assistant Captain Colin O’Brien in the foot on the baseline. This hit ignited the Buckeyes and just seconds later another Spartan was eliminated and forced MSU onto the ten second shot clock. OSU continued to methodically eliminate MSU until only two players remained, Matt Jones and Becca Shappell. OSU organized a team throw on Matt Jones in the corner after a shot clock violation. Jones was able to catch the able while falling out of bounds, but somehow managed to keep his foot on the ground and in bounds. The catch brought Assistant Captain Alex Zajac back into the game. The two of them were the mainstays the rest of the point. Although a couple players were brought back in with a couple catches, with under a minute to go MSU had got OSU down to just three players. After a shot clock violation on OSU, Jones and Zajac team threw on Nico Wong and eliminated him. On their next team throw, Matt Jones stepped well over the line (a problem that happened quite a few times on Sunday due to multiple lines on the court). OSU was unable to eliminate Zajac, despite the 2 on 1 advantage and the game went scoreless into halftime.
OSU opened the second half dominant. The Buckeyes had a ball advantage and just picked off the Spartans one by one with single throws on MSU at the baseline. Eventually, only Matt Jones and Colin O’Brien remained for MSU against 12 or 13 Buckeyes. Despite the main advantage and several shot clock violations, Ohio State could not finish the point. Jones caught Captain Josh Conner, which was a huge blow for OSU with Assistant Captain Jeff Starr first in the out line. Jones and O’Brien seemingly alternated catching OSU players. OSU threw around six catches to the two Spartans. Despite these catches, MSU could not keep their players in. Just when it seemed like MSU had OSU on the ropes, Assistant Captain Alex Zajac threw a catch to one of just two OSU players left, which brought Starr back into the game. However, following a shot clock violation on OSU, Michigan State made Starr’s reentry short-lived as a team throw eliminated him. After another Buckeye elimination and another shot clock violation, MSU had a 3 on 1 player advantage with all the balls in their possession. On the subsequent team throw, O’Brien’s throw missed but throws by Jones and rookie Dalin Clark were on target and eliminated the last OSU player to take the point for MSU with under three minutes left to play. I had a couple big takeaways from this game. First, OSU is a good team that can compete with the best in the league. The Buckeyes very well could have and perhaps should have won this game. Even against a full strength Michigan team (which we should see in two weeks), Ohio State will be able to compete with the best. With the veteran presence of Felix Perrone on the sidelines, OSU has improved their teamwork and overall play. They could make noise this season. My second takeaway is that MSU has gotten over their psychological hump. In my first three seasons, we found inexplicable ways to lose games. Time and time again, MSU would have a commanding lead or advantage and then self-destruct and lose the point and the game. In two consecutive tournaments now, MSU has faced a 12 or 13 on 1 or 2, and both times have come away with the point. That simply did not happen in years past for the Spartans. Michigan State now knows it can always win a point, no matter what the odds are against them.
The final game for MSU was against Kent State. There is something about this matchup that always results in close games. In my four seasons, there have been games won 4-0 that every point is close. But far more often the game is 2-1 or 3-2, with the game undecided until late in the second half. This game was no different. Coming off a thrilling win against OSU, Michigan State came out firing. Good team play allowed MSU to take the first point in a little over 16 minutes. They once again took a quick lead in the second point, but Kent was able to hold on for a long time. In the final minutes, MSU pushed high up the court in an effort to take the point before half. With under thirty seconds left, O’Brien was able to hit the foot of the last remaining Kent player to take the point and a 2-0 lead going into halftime. The story of the second half was the complete opposite of the first. Kent was the dominant team and the Golden Flashes took a quick advantage. However, MSU was able the hold off for a while before Kent State eventually took the point. The time Michigan State killed would prove to be critical. With a 2-1 deficit and roughly nine minutes remaining, Kent State went on the attack. With under three minutes remaining, Wes Peters was one of only three Spartans left. Despite a shot clock violation, Michigan State was able to dodge and recompose. A catch brought Dan Grogis back into the game. Between Grogis and Peters, MSU was able to make the throws needed to reset the shot clock and hold off Kent State to take the match by a score of 2-1. Again, games between these two schools are always close. Both teams were certainly exhausted by their previous three games, but MSU made enough plays to take the game. However, I believe that had Kent been able to the point before the second half time expired, they likely would have won the game in overtime. They had all the momentum and Michigan State was gassed. But unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, MSU proved why they are a top team and killed the half to take the win.
Ohio State (3-1)
Ohio State may have played the best overall dodgeball on the day. Aside from their inability to close out points against MSU, the Buckeyes dominated throughout the day. They opened the day against Kent State in the second round of games. In a game many expected to be close, it was anything but. OSU just picked apart Kent in the first half to go up 2-0 with ease. The Golden Flashes competed to start the second half but Ohio State cruised to a 4-0 victory. OSU defeated Akron next 7-1, but it was 1-1 at one point in the first half. The Buckeyes were able tot go into half 4-1, but kudos to Akron for taking the second point. I didn’t see any if this game, but I’m sure outside if the one point OSU handled Akron with ease. The third game for OSU was the loss against Michigan State. The final game of the day pitted the Buckeyes against Kentucky. OSU once again jumped out to a quick lead, but Kentucky was able to tie the game before halftime. Ohio State was able to take two more points in the second half to seal the victory. No doubt they were exhausted from the day and especially their previous match against MSU, but OSU proved why they are a very good team by finishing the day strong and getting the win. I left the tournament very impressed with Ohio State. It took Ohio State under 7 minutes, under 11 minutes, and under 7 minutes to get their first points in each of their three wins. That pace illustrates the firepower of Ohio State. But even with that offense, Ohio State played very much like a Michigan team in their game against MSU. They were very methodic in their attack and made a conscious effort to protect their ball advantage. It was the only the second game I had ever played that a non-Michigan team had ever played like one, with the first being against JMU at the CMU Showdown last season. Ohio State proved they can play fast and get by with talent alone in their other three games. But when pitted against MSU, the Buckeyes employed the strategies that have been so successful for the Michigan teams over the years. The combination of talent and strategy make Ohio State a very scary team for the rest of the league. It will be very interesting to see how the Buckeyes will play in two weeks against Grand Valley and Saginaw Valley.
(Also, a note to everyone who plays OSU. Fausknight (#30) loves to hide a ball and slowly move up the side of the court. Then when an unsuspecting player moves near him, he fires without the player ever knowing he was there. He must have done this five times that I saw, and I’m sure it was more than that on the day. I was fortunate that he missed me the one time I walked up unsuspectingly, but many others weren’t so lucky.)
Kent State (2-2)
The hosts went an even .500 on the day. They lost to the two top teams according to popular opinion at the tournament and they beat the two teams that popular opinion said they were supposed to. My opinion of Kent State drastically changed from the start of the day to the end. They came out completely flat against in-state rivals OSU. I was surprised to see Kent at home struggle so much (perhaps that says a lot about Ohio State and their level of play). However, they had a completely different attitude in their game against MSU. They were aggressive and fired up to play the Spartans. Despite dropping the first two points, they did not hang their heads and were a couple players away from taking the game to overtime. In their first game of the day against Kentucky, the first half was quite even. After being 1-1 at the half, Kent upped the intensity to take the decisive third point. They also won a rout against Akron 6-0. Overall, Kent State at their best can take a point from anyone. Yet, I did not see a consistent level of play throughout the tournament. The Golden Flashes have several very talented players. The top of Kent can compete with anyone, but it is their depth that will need to continue to develop for the Golden Flashes to consistently compete against the best in the league.
The Wildcats were only able to come away with one win against Akron on Sunday. However, they went into halftime tied 1-1 against Kent State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Thus, the Wildcats clearly can hang with some of the better teams in the league. They completely outplayed Michigan State to take the first point of that game. However, against the Spartans and in the other two losses as well, they were unable to continue their high level of play into the second half. I still say Drew Greenawalt is one of the best catchers in the league. UK is always alive in a point with him on the court. Brandon Englemen also played quite well throughout the tournament. Although their numerous rookies from last year have entered their second season, depth remains an issue for the Wildcats. If not for the play of Greenawalt, their game against Akron very likely would have gone to overtime. He was able to make several catches as the last player left to not only stay alive, but also take the point away from the Zips. The poor play in the second half should definitely be a concern for UK. If Kentucky can figure out how to perform consistently at the levels they displayed in the first halves against Kent, MSU, and OSU, then they may just surprise some teams in the league.
In only their second season, Akron possesses quite a few good players. It is always hard for a new team to compete right away (JMU is seemingly the only team in recent memory to do so). But with only five or so players who played last year, Akron is in pretty good shape. They have the basic tactics down and the returning five players can all compete. Once their rookies get a better feel for the game, it will be interesting to see if Akron can pull off an upset against a more veteran team. They very nearly took Kentucky to overtime, and had it not been for a diving catch made by Drew Greenawalt they would have. They also took a point against OSU to tie that game at 1, a very impressive feat for a new team. That being said, there were a couple of things that did disappoint me about Akron. Although very nice and friendly off the court, there were several times they argued clear calls with the refs. Furthermore, as refs themselves, they did not make the most consistent nor the most accurate calls in the opinions of many playing in those games. It is very hard to ref in general, and I’m sure it is only harder being a new team. But knowledge of the rulebook is vital for every player and even more so as a referee. I hope that at their next tournament the games they ref go more smoothly. Other than that, it is great to see Akron playing at more tournaments than they did last year and competing at a higher level as well. I do hope that they are able to knock off a more veteran team at some point this season and get what would be a signature win for their young program.
Some great dodgeball took place in Kent on Sunday. Some final takeaways from the tournament: Ohio State is for real and certainly can make a splash at Nationals if they continue to improve and play well throughout the year. Michigan State proved that although the Michigan region may be more competitive than ever, the region remains a dominant force in the league. Kentucky has the players but needs to play well in the second half. Akron has improved in their second year, but still remain a new team against more veteran competition. And Kent State has some great players, but need a more consistent effort across all points and games. The NCDA is more competitive than ever, and that only makes for more great days of dodgeball like this past Sunday.