Few teams around the league can say that they are as excited to kickoff the 2013 season as Michigan State. They ended last season at Nationals’ as the runner-up to 5x NCDA Champion Grand Valley State University. While last season was widely considered to be their most successful season, captain Mike Van Ermen put everyone on notice that second place just isn’t good enough anymore. From here on out, it’s “championship or bust.”
TD: As one of the longest tenured teams in the NCDA, is it safe to assume that last season was the most successful in team history?
MVE: It definitely was the most successful. We took only 17 people to Nationals and battled through several injuries. We beat a great team in SVSU, who also happens to be one of our biggest rivals, and a team who had beaten us earlier in the year. That being said, we aren’t satisfied with our “most successful year ever”. Our goal is still championship or bust.
TD: Can you describe the feeling of the run you guys had leading up to the National Championship game against Grand Valley?
MVE: Honestly, we were just taking it one point at a time. In the morning, we took a very talented UWP too lightly and we almost went to overtime (barely hung on with two people left at the end). That was our wake up call that we had to start performing. Nobody really said anything about the National Chamionship game until right before the game against Kent State. We didn’t really take any game for granted, and we felt like if we were going to advance past every round then we were going to have to earn it.
TD:You mentioned some injuries on the team Sunday at Nationals. I heard about a member of the team playing after breaking a toe. Is that true?
MVE: (Ha ha) It was either a break or a dislocation, I don’t quite remember which. But it was Andy Lieblich, one of our current assistant captains. He injured it in the semifinal game vs Kent State, and we didn’t even have enough people to properly help him off the court. Thankfully Zac Brown’s parents are two of the nicest people you’ve ever met, and took him across the street to the UK medical center. He came back for the championship game and said “There’s no way I’m not playing.” He was limited in his mobility, but thankfully he’s a very talented catcher anyways. He was on the back line mostly, but got a kill or two in the process.
TD: Wow. That probably took quite a bit of determination. In the midst of the championship game, GVSU’s captain Mark Trippiedi did something special for your team. What did he do?
MVE: Well towards the end of the championship game, MSU was down 3-0 with about 2 minutes left. Our captain Sam Hiller was first in the out line, so I went over to Mark (who was also in the out line) and asked him if one of his guys would throw up a catch so Sam could be on the court for the final seconds of his career. Before he could tell his players to lob one up, our team got a catch anyways. Unfortunately, Sam got hit in the face within a few seconds of getting in. So with Sam buried 10 deep in the out line, Mark called a timeout, and told me to put Sam at the front of the out line (something I’m sure is legal, right Zig?!). Right out of the timeout, a GV player purposely threw a catch so Sam could come back in. I know it meant a lot to Sam, and I can’t say enough good things about the entire Grand Valley team. I believe that they are hands down the most respectable team in the league, and I enjoy every match we play with them.
TD: No doubt they manage to combine an awesome brand of dodgeball with just being an all-around great group of people. I can only imagine how that moment felt for Sam. Without him, who will join you in heading the team for this season?
MVE: I have assumed position as head captain, and Andy Lieblich and Colin O’Brien will be my assistant captains. Colin and Andy are both great players, and they both have great dodgeball minds. We also still have Ian Childs, a former head captain for MSU, who is a great leader as well. I’m confident that our leadership will be a strong suit this year.
TD: Other than being crowned National Champions at season’s end, are there anymore goals you have set for this team?
MVE: Well like you said, National Champions is goal number one, and probably goal number two and three as well. But as of right now I’d really like to build up our club again. We graduated several great players last year, and I would consider our team on the older end of the spectrum. I want to make sure that when I leave, our club is in a position where we’ll be able to compete for a National Title.
TD: Winning National Titles are somewhat of a tradition up there in Michigan, with the last 7 NCs being won by a team from the state. The whole league knows that there’s 4 teams (CMU, MSU, GVSU, and SVSU) in Michigan that have the fiercest rivalries in the league. What non-Michigan teams pose the greatest threat to ending the streak.
MVE: I would have to say UK poses the greatest non-Michigan threat. Even though they were extremely talented last year, I thought one of their greatest assets was their team cohesion. I thought that they played extremely smart, and if I remember correctly, they still have a lot of those pieces on their team. Definitely be careful for them in April.
TD:With the big guy returning for UK (Wes Hopkins), they’ll be a load for any team this year. What’s the team’s schedule look like so far for the season?
MVE: Well, hopefully we’ll be travelling down to Kent State on September 21st for our first tournament of the year. Past that, we’re planning on a solo match against SVSU some time in October, and planning the biggest Spartan Invite in MSU history. Ideally, we’d have 10-12 teams come to East Lansing and play over two days. Once I get word that gym time is granted to me, I’m going to start taking official commitments from teams. Second semester we’re going to go to the always-successful Chicago Dodgeball Open, and we’ll host the Michigan Dodgeball Cup again. I’m sure we’ll get in a game or two that I haven’t thought of yet, so if any captains are interested in scheduling something, let me know!
TD: Regardless of it’s at the CDO in Chicago or at Nationals in Ohio, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you and the team very soon to witness this planned title run.
MVE: The pleasure will be all mine my friend.