The Michigan Region’s Undeniable Parity

On Feb. 27th, four schools will battle it out in the most anticipated Michigan Dodgeball Cup of all-time.
On Feb. 27th, four schools will battle it out in the most anticipated Michigan Dodgeball Cup of all-time.

It is no secret that the Michigan Region has been the best region in the country for a long, long time.  In fact, the national champion has been a team from the Great Lakes State each of the past nine seasons.

In a way, I want to simply state that this season should be no different; as there is a chance the title game features two Michigan schools.  Historically, the Michigan Dodgeball Cup winner enters April as the favorite to win it all.  The difference between this season and seasons in the past is that there is an unbelievable level of parity surrounding the NCDA’s top region.  The Michigan Dodgeball Cup will take place on Feb. 27, and if you have been following the league at all this season, you know that it is going to be impossible to predict.

Here is an inside look at the incredibly confusing 2015-16 NCDA season in the Michigan Region:

 

September 20th – EAST LANSING, Mich. (MSU)

Let’s start at the beginning, and no I don’t mean Adam and Eve, I mean Sunday, September 20th 2015, in East Lansing, Michigan.

Alex Zajac and Michigan State were able to start the year off with a historic performance vs. GVSU.
Alex Zajac and Michigan State were able to start the year off with a historic performance vs. GVSU.

Michigan State University kicked off the season for the Michigan Region with a three-team tournament titled the Impact at IM West.  This will undoubtedly go down as one of the most successful days in the history of Michigan State Dodgeball.  The Spartans took down defending champ Grand Valley State 1-0, then defending runner-up Central Michigan 2-0.  To finish the tournament CMU was victorious over GVSU 2-1 in OT.  Essentially this tournament went exactly opposite from how it would have gone had it taken place the season previous.

GVSU was a popular choice to be favorites in the NCDA in 2015-16, but an uncharacteristic 0-2 start to the season changed things.  Oh by the way, the people who didn’t predict GVSU to be #1 were taking CMU instead.  Well, the Spartans shut both those teams out.  It was still September, and this season already had some serious shake ups.

 

September 26th – ALLENDALE, Mich. (GVSU)

Austin Morley played will down the stretch in GVSU's overtime victory over SVSU on Sept. 26th.
Austin Morley played well down the stretch in GVSU’s overtime victory over SVSU on Sept. 26th. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The exciting season continued the following weekend when Grand Valley State hosted Wisconsin Platteville and Saginaw Valley State.  The battle between GVSU and SVSU quickly turned into the game of the year to that point in the season.

The Lakers stormed out of the gate and held a 1-0 lead early in the game, but after that it was all SVSU for the majority of the game.  With under a minute left Saginaw actually was clinging to a 2-1 lead thanks to a slow paced methodical offensive attack for most of the match.  As the clock was winding down SV still had 3 players on the court, giving them a good chance to close out the victory and hand GVSU their third loss to a Michigan school that season.  Despite all of this, the trend of “expecting the unexpected” continued in the Michigan Region as GVSU’s veteran players took out the final three Cardinals with just seconds remaining to force overtime.

At this point the momentum was in the home team’s favor, and GVSU won overtime convincingly, with all 6 players still on the court when the last SVSU player was eliminated.  While it was a great game, and a clutch victory for GVSU, it was a clear statement by SVSU.  After just two weekends of dodgeball, it seemed like any of the four Michigan schools could end up winning a title.

 

October 4th – ALLENDALE, Mich.

It was just the first weekend of October, and yet the season was already a confusing puzzle in the Michigan Region.  Little did we know it was only going to become even more perplexing following a doubleheader between GVSU and MSU.

Colin O'Brien and MSU were able to split their doubleheader with GVSU on Oct. 4th thanks to a big second half comeback.
Colin O’Brien and MSU were able to split their doubleheader with GVSU on Oct. 4th thanks to a big second half comeback.

Entering the first match of that day, the Spartans were the #1 team in the country.  MSU already held wins over GVSU and CMU that year, making it the best start to a season in the program’s history.  The first match between the Lakers and Spartans was very similar to their clash in East Lansing just a few weeks prior: slow paced, strategic offense, and lots of clutch catches.  At the end of regulation it was tied 1-1, but overtime belonged to GVSU, as they dominated the OT session similar to when they beat SVSU earlier in the season.

Game two was almost exactly the same as the first through the first 40 minutes.  One team (MSU) earned a point in the first half, but in the second half it looked to even up as the other team (GVSU) was about to take a point.  On this day, the ball seemed to bounce in MSU’s favor though, as they survived a very close call in the second half.  Colin O’Brien and Dan Grogis in particular came up clutch with a number of bigtime catches in the final few minutes to seal the victory by taking a point on GVSU and earn the 2-0 win.

 

October 11th – ALLENDALE, Mich.

Cody Putnam and SVSU had two close losses at the Grand Valley Gauntlet.
Cody Putnam and SVSU were unable to force overtime in their second match with GVSU this season. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The next chapter in the Michigan Region’s 2015-16 season took place once again at GVSU’s Fieldhouse Arena in the annual Battle of the Valleys.  Following an OT thriller two weekends before, this matchup was a little less dramatic.  Despite a good first half by the Cardinals, they couldn’t hang on, as GVSU’s offensive game plan was too much too handle.  Grand Valley earned a 3-1 win and maybe looked to be getting back on track after an unheard of 2-3 start to the season.  SVSU on the other hand, was struggling to gain momentum with such a young team.

*Worth noting is on this same day, MSU continued their historic fall semester with a crazy 1-0 win over Ohio State in Kent State’s Summit Street Slugfest.  As of mid-February that is still Ohio State’s lone defeat this season.

 

October 25th – ALLENDALE, Mich.

Back to GVSU’s home court for another round of games… this time in the Grand Valley Gauntlet dodgeball tournament which brought teams from three separate NCDA regions into the same building for a fall semester showdown.

Ian Ryan and his Central Michiga Chippewas were able to get revenge on MSU at the Grand Valley Gauntlet.
Ian Ryan and his Central Michigan Chippewas fell in OT to GVSU early in the day, but still managed to get revenge on MSU at the Grand Valley Gauntlet. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The first Michigan v. Michigan matchup of the day occurred in the first round when CMU took on host school GVSU.  Long story short is this one went into overtime just as was the case back in September.  The only difference is that GVSU was victorious in this overtime period, getting their first win over CMU since the National Championship Game back in April of 2015.

Next up was a matchup between CMU and SVSU (their first meeting of the season).  SVSU played a close game with Central, but couldn’t eliminate the last few Chippewas in the second half to force overtime as they lost 2-1.  CMU was back on track quickly, after a loss to GVSU about an hour earlier.

At the same time as that game was taking place, GVSU and MSU were clashing on the main court (this was their fourth match this season!).  As had become the norm, GVSU and MSU had a slow paced back and forth game, with this one stuck at 1-0 at halftime thanks to some first half heroics by GVSU Sophomore McCoy Wondergem.  Following a back and forth first half that GVSU managed to earn a point in, the second half was even slower.  Time ended up running out without a single point being scored in the last 25 minutes, and for a second time this year, GVSU and MSU ended in a 1-0 final, this time Grand Valley had the edge.

The Spartans needed to regroup quickly as they had their first game against Saginaw Valley coming up right afterwards (yes this tournament being title the “gauntlet” was very appropriate).  This was the first matchup between SVSU and MSU since the Quarterfinals of Nationals 2015, and it turned out to be another classic.  The Spartans and Cardinals were not plagued with the slow pace that seemed to take over the GVSU v. MSU match from earlier.  A stellar catching performance by David Cook of SVSU, an impressive game by rookie Kyle Bruce, along with the always crucial offense provided by Cody Putnam and Joe McCumber helped force this game into overtime for Saginaw.  Michigan State was ready for OT this time, and they methodically eliminated the Cardinals in route to a victory.

 

November 8th – UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. (SVSU)

Central Michigan had a huge weekend at the Death Valley Invitational, with wins over SVSU and MSU.
Central Michigan had a huge weekend at the Death Valley Invitational, with wins over SVSU and MSU. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

 

It seemed like a season’s worth of drama had been packed into the first month and a half of 2015, but we were just getting started.  On November 8th, SVSU welcomed a number of schools to their campus including in-state foes CMU and MSU.  The Death Valley Invitational seemed to be a chance for Saginaw to benefit from their home court advantage and avenge close losses to both the Chippewas and Spartans.

Revenge was not at all what took place at SVSU on this day.  In fact, SVSU probably wished they hadn’t invited either Michigan school after they played them.  Michigan State was the first to get a piece of SVSU, and they dominated Saginaw on their home court in a 4-0 blowout.

MSU followed this game up with a showdown against Central Michigan.  The Chips finally got back at MSU after an early season defeat, as they won this one 2-1 in overtime.

The last Michigan matchup of the day was CMU vs. SVSU.  The Chips barely survived this one last time the two schools played at the Grand Valley Gauntlet, so it was expected to be a good match.  Central was not interested in another thrilling match as it turns out.  They rolled to a 6-1 win against Saginaw, proving that the Cardinals were not yet on their level.

 

November 15th – EAST LANSING, Mich.

Noe Galaviz's MSU team limped to the finish line at the end of the first semester, with losses to GVSU and CMU on their home court.
Noe Galaviz’s MSU team limped to the finish line at the end of the first semester, with losses to GVSU and CMU on their home court.

The fall semester was about done for Michigan Region schools, but the Spartan Invite loomed large for attending teams GVSU, CMU, and MSU.  These three schools had emerged as the top three in the region to this point in the year, so the team that came out on top in this tournament would likely be the #1 team in the country heading into the holiday season.

Michigan State was technically ranked first in the nation heading into the tournament but that was far from how it seemed on the court at IM West.  The Spartans started the day with a disappointing performance against Grand Valley.  The Lakers earned a 2-0 win in a game that was far from dramatic.  The Lakers controlled the pace for most of the game, but in the last 10 minutes MSU amped up the pace and nearly got a point on the board thanks to their change in game plan.

MSU had to recover quickly from their second straight loss to GVSU because CMU was up next on the docket for them at this tourney.  Central was the better team on this day and they didn’t need overtime to take the win, as it ended 3-1 in the Chippewas’ favor.

While there were so many matches this day with Bowling Green State, DePaul, and Kent State all in attendance, the only Michigan matchup left was CMU against GVSU, and boy was this a classic.

Jacob Leski, and the Chippewas, enterd the midway point in the season as the top dog in the Michigan Region.
Jacob Leski, and the Chippewas, enterd the midway point in the season as the top dog in the Michigan Region. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

Central Michigan survived a late push by GVSU Sophomore Ben Tubergen and stole a 1-0 lead into halftime thanks in large part to strong play by Shane Willette and Zach Bachner.  The second half began slow paced, but Grand Valley did what they had to do and eventually earned enough of a man advantage to get Central down on the ten count with very few dodgeballs in their possession.  Jacob Leski and Michael Riley were standouts for CMU in that second half but they couldn’t do it all for Central as they eventually were eliminated by Grand Valley.

Overtime began in this game, and the tournament seemed to be minutes from over.  Little did these teams know, this game was far from over.  This overtime game essentially lasted as long as a normal 25 minute half!  Just as they had done on the same court at the start of the season, CMU took a big lead in overtime, quickly taking out all the Lakers besides Captain Kevin Bailey.

Earlier in the season CMU finished off GVSU right there by getting Bailey out, but this time he eliminated CMU one by one until it was a 2 on 1 scenario.  After a balls over call, GVSU’s last man standing stepped over the throw line, finishing the tournament with a Central Michigan victory.  Going into the midseason break, Central certainly had the momentum with the largest win streak of any team in the region, and bragging rights over each of the three teams due to a win in their last matchup with each.

Each Michigan team had displayed their strengths, but also exposed their flaws.  The previous two seasons the top team in the region was clear as day at this point in the year, but not this time.  CMU, GVSU, and MSU all could arguably claim they were deserving of the #1 spot, while SVSU was still improving, but they had tight matches with each of their in-state opponents during the fall.  The stage was clearly set for an interesting winter semester…

 

January 31st – MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (CMU)

MSU eliminated Brett Hadwin with seconds remaining in order to force overtime. The Spartans came away with the win on Jan. 31st. Photo Credit - Alan Holben
MSU eliminated Brett Hadwin with seconds remaining in order to force overtime. The Spartans came away with the win on Jan. 31st. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The second semester had finally begun, and CMU played host to SVSU and MSU in a late-January showdown that would be very telling of where teams were at.  The first game of the day was SVSU vs. MSU, and it was an interesting game to say the least.  After Saginaw took a 1-0 lead and a man advantage in point #2, MSU graduate student Tony Stumpo came up clutch for the Spartans with a big catching performance.  Stumpo and O’Brien were able to make the comeback in that point to tie it at one, and from there it was all MSU as they took the game 3-1.

Following that one, was a game between MSU and CMU that turned out to be arguably the most intense match of the season.  CMU was in control for basically the entire game, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, and using a slow pace to keep things calm in the second half.  All of that changed in a matter of seconds, as MSU turned up the pace and took a man advantage into the final few minutes.

Despite clutch catching by CMU’s Jacob Leski, the Spartans were able to barely close it out with seconds remaining and force the 1-1 game into OT.  Leski once again looked to be the hero for Central in overtime after making a big catch switching it from a 3-1 MSU advantage to 2 v 2, but MSU responded well.  MSU earned a balls-over call during the OT period, and used the ball advantage to knock out CMU star player Brett Hadwin, before closing the game with a catch on Leski.

In a match that apparently was more heated than any other game this year, Michigan State was able to earn an impressive win and take the #1 spot in the NCDA Standings once again.

Central Michigan did finish the tournament off with a dominant 5-0 win over Saginaw’s depleted roster, but the loss to MSU was the story of the day.

 

February 6th – MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich.

SVSU Rookie Nick Hazergian had a standout performance in the King of the Mountain tournament as the Cardinals nearly took down GVSU.
SVSU Rookie Nick Hazergian had a standout performance in the King of the Mountain tournament as the Cardinals nearly took down GVSU.

Central Michigan played host to an 7-team tournament a week after their three-team clash.  This time around, only one Michigan matchup took place, and it was the final game of the day.  It seemed like the play of two rookies stole the show in this one, as the state’s two youngest/least experienced teams went at it.  Saginaw’s Nick Hazergian emerged as a stellar thrower in this one, while GVSU rookie Jacob Devine showed his catching skills all tournament long including in this game.  GVSU went up 2-0 at halftime, but a second half surge by SVSU tied it up 2-2 forcing yet another overtime game.

As it turns out, the amazing second half performances by SVSU’s leaders including Kyle Foster and Cody Putnam wasn’t enough.  Overtime was dominated by GVSU thanks to strong performances by Seniors Steven Snyder, Anthony Incrocci, Kevin Bailey, and Austin Morley along with Devine and Sophomore Ben Tubergen.  This game was won by GVSU, but Saginaw proved a lot to their doubters on this day.  It seemed like they were gaining momentum at the right point in the season (just before MDC).  The final game between Michigan teams before MDC went into overtime, maybe foreshadowing what we will see on the 27th back in East Lansing.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Michigan Region has been far from simple to this point in the year.  Obviously much of the story is yet to be told when it comes to the 2015-16 season.  In a league that is so tight at the top, the #1 seed for Nationals is becoming a more and more important designation.  MSU was #1 in the country after their win over CMU, but they dropped all the way to third when the Chippewas went 4-0 a week later.  The top spot has been possessed by each of the top three Michigan schools, and it is likely to be earned by the winner of MDC.

The bottom line here is that, while the Michigan Dodgeball Cup has been the most important tournament on the regular season schedule for years and years, this one might be even more impactful than usual.  If any team is able to come out of this tourney with an undefeated record, they likely will earn the #1 spot in the standings and stay there until Nationals.

If you have no plans on Feb. 27th between 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., I strongly recommend you make your way to IM West on the campus of Michigan State University.  And if you live too far away to make the trip, that isn’t an excuse either, because each game from this tournament will be broadcast live on the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association’s LiveStream account.  The NCDA has been in existence for over a decade now, and I would argue that this showdown that will take place in a few weeks will be the most anticipated regular season tournament in the history of the league.

Captain Kevin Bailey, and the GVSU Lakers will look to rebound after a four-loss fall semester.
Captain Kevin Bailey and the GVSU Lakers will look to rebound after a four-loss fall semester. Photo Credit – Alan Holben

The parity in the state of Michigan is overwhelming.  I can say confidently that any of the four schools in attendance has what it takes to be the champ.  Central Michigan’s experienced and confident team certainly has what it takes to get back the cup for the first time since 2010, and they are the likely favorites due to their #1 current ranking in the NCDA.

Michigan State can certainly state their case as well.  Clutch situations that always went wrong for MSU in years past are now their strong suit.  After taking down CMU in late January, MSU certainly will head into the MDC with plans on keeping the trophy home for the first time since 2005.

Grand Valley State struggled out of the gate in the fall, thanks to a top-heavy roster that was littered with young, inexperienced players.  That inexperience is no longer an excuse, as the captains for GV have had half the season to develop the talent on their roster.  The Lakers are full of potential, and they are certainly in position to win their second straight Michigan Dodgeball Cup.

Lastly: Saginaw Valley State.  While the initial reaction may be that they don’t stand a chance because they have yet to earn a victory over a Michigan school this year, I would disagree with that.  In a way, it feels like SVSU has everybody right where they want them.  The Cardinals have the talent to win big games, and they are peaking at the right time.  SVSU may have struggled earlier this year, but they will be ready to possibly win their 3rd MDC 5 years!

 

The Michigan Dodgeball Cup looms larger than ever for the four Michigan schools this year.  In an already chaotic season, you better buckle up, because this year’s MDC is going to be unbelievable!


 

Here are the currents records for each matchup in the Michigan Region as of mid-February:

 

CMU 2 v GVSU 1  (3 overtime matches)

CMU 3 v SVSU 0 

GVSU 3 v SVSU 0  (2 overtime matches)

MSU  2 v GVSU 3  (1 overtime match)

MSU 2 v CMU 2  (1 overtime match)

MSU 3 v SVSU 0  (1 overtime match)


 

Author: Kevin Bailey

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

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