The 2023-2024 season is underway and this is a great opportunity to break down the Michigan region and what to expect. The Michigan region consists of Michigan State University (MSU), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Western Michigan University (WMU), Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), and Central Michigan University. Let’s take a look below at the region.
Michigan State – Defend the Title
Analysis: MSU is coming off a historic season in 2022-2023 where the Spartans won their first National Title in school history, back-to-back Michigan Dodgeball Cups, and had an undefeated season. They enter the year as one of the favorites to bring the title back to East Lansing. The Spartans lost some serious talent and leadership from last year’s team with the departure of the “Core Four”, yet they have young players waiting in the wings to take over. Add on a good recruiting class and look for them to be a force again in the league this year. This well-coached and athletic squad will be a good watch this season as they should be one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country.
Key Contributors & Departures: MSU lost key pieces from last year’s team that were crucial in their success. Three First-Team All-Americans Jack Girling, Barry Butler, and Josh Kramer all graduate. Team leader and Assistant Captain DQ Mclean also graduated. They return some young talent with three All-Rookie players Nick Fedewa, Matt Barriball, and Zack Vanfleet. All look to add on a great second season and take on some leadership roles for the Spartans. Nick Fedewa will especially be a key piece on the court this year, as he looks to man the center for MSU.
Grand Valley- Get Back the Title
Analysis: The Lakers come into this season as hungry as ever. After losing at MDC and in the National Title game last year, this team is looking to get back to dominating the league. With a good mix of experience and youth, they can grow and have sustained success in the coming years. Watching the Lakers this year, expect a brand of dodgeball that is intelligent, well-communicated, and that has timely aggression. They have smart players all around the roster who can make plays, and as usual, the expectation in Allendale is championship or bust.
Key Contributors & Departures: A few focal point players were concluding their GVSU careers in 2023. First Team All-Americans Tyler Peach and Josh Hill along with Second Teamer Owen Israels turn over the keys to the Laker program. Names on this roster to keep an eye on are captains Mason Smith and Matt Budai. These two leaders for the Lakers have some shoes to fill and are primed to do so. They both have big-game experience and are extremely smart. Budai is an underrated player in the league with being almost hidden on such a good GV team, this is his chance to show out and put his name into the MVP conversation. Smith looks to improve on a strong rookie year where he was a good complementary player on the Laker’s left side, making timely plays in transition and learning the GV system. Additionally, GV brings back Ben Smart for another year. As we all know Ben Smart will Ben Smart, but besides Ben, keep the name Darnell Hurse-Rimpson on your scouting reports. Darnell is a confident player with tons of swagger. He has a lot of experience in the league and is a guy who can make any play on the court with his strong arm and sure hands. Don’t be surprised if you see him making big plays for the Lakers this season.
Western Michigan- Continued Improvement
Analysis: Western comes into the season off of what was the most successful season in the young program’s history. The team ended up with nine wins, two against in-state foe SVSU and one big OT win at Nationals against a competitive and scrappy UWP squad. Western looks to build off that success and continue to climb the ranks in the region and in the country. They currently are a few steps behind GV and MSU, but don’t be surprised if they come up with a few wins against mid-tier teams like Bowling Green or Miami. Look for this team to shock some people this year and maybe pull off a few upsets.
Key Contributors & Departures: Leaving the Broncos at the end of the 2023 season were Captain Joshua VanSlambrouck (great name) and Evin Cooper. Returners for the Broncos that’ll make some noise are All-Michigan player Ryan Allor and Veteran Captain Matt Barnett. Allor came on strong in the second semester with strong performances in multiple tournaments. He has great athleticism and can catch with the best in the league. He has a decent arm as well and will need to carry a decent amount of the throwing kills for the Broncos. Barnett will be the other arm WMU leans on to get some kills. He has improved his throwing in the offseason and looks to be a threat alongside Allor on the Bronco’s roster. One surprise name to keep an eye on this year is Rookie Brandon Busttil out of Anchor Bay. He has shown some promise in practices with smart plays and a strong arm. His dodgeball IQ is growing every practice and he is learning the game well. Look for these guys to all have an impact on the Broncos this upcoming season.
Saginaw Valley- Is this the breakout year?
Analysis: It seems as if in the last two seasons SVSU has been in a holding pattern. They can’t quite seem to return to the Saginaw of old competing for National Championships, but they also aren’t a bottom-of-the-barrel team. They have played competitively especially last year getting wins vs. a decent Maryland and Miami team. They have even shown flashes playing well against good teams like GV at MDC in 2023 and hanging with UNL at Nationals with a 3-1 loss. But with losses to in-state opponent WMU and getting handily beaten by top-tier Ohio schools what is SVSU? Can this be the year the Cardinals make a step in the right direction or will it be another year of being stuck in mediocrity?
Key Contributors & Departures: With the losses of Joe Barber and Bryce Stevens, leaders for the Cardinals the last few years, the keys to the Saginaw program fall into Cole Machiela’s hands. Machiela has been a great player for SVSU over the last few years. He has been an All-Rookie player in 2022 along with two All-Michigan teams and a Second Team All-American in 2023. Machiela has a ton of talent and leadership qualities and is an all-around fantastic player. He can’t do it all on his own though, he is going to need some assistance from the youth on the team. New captains Sophomores Owen Folsom and Caden Peirson are who Machiela will look to lean on to make plays for this Cardinal team. Folsom and Peirson last year had good years but went through some growing pains as most rookies do, they are looking to fine-tune their skills this year and be impactful players for Saginaw for years to come. If Saginaw wants to take a step in the right direction these two, along with the rookie class, will need to step up and make big-time plays in big spots for this team.
Central Michigan- What are the Chips?
Analysis: CMU has had a sort of fall from grace since COVID. Before COVID this team was competing for national titles and was hanging with the top dogs around the league, now they are a rebuilding young team. With the Chips making an appearance in regular season competition last year competing in tournaments both semesters, getting wins against start-up CUW and an established Kent squad they seemed to be making moves in the right direction. They were unable to attend Nationals though, which leaves the 2023-24 season up in the air. What will the Chips be? Are they back in the rebuild? Are they taking steps to get out of the basement? Are they dead? We will see.
Key Contributors & Departures: The Chips lose great athlete Tadhg Allen to graduation and don’t return a ton of talent. They will lean heavily on the rookie class to get the program rolling. Getting some shine on their socials is up-and-coming Jack Price and James Wheeler. These might be a few names to be aware of on this young CMU team, that could make an impact this year and in the future for the Chips as they look to get back to their winning ways.
Michigan Region Superlatives
Most underrated player: Darnell Hurse-Rimpson (GVSU)
Athletic, confident, and loud. That is Darnell. He thinks he is better than you and he’ll let you know it with his play and his smack talk. He has a great arm and great fast-twitch ability that puts him into great spots to make plays. Darnell Hurse-Rimpson= DAWG
Program on the rise: Western Michigan University
With veteran leadership in Allor and Barnett the Broncos were an easy pick for the program on the rise this year. With a big win against UWP at Nationals last year they look to add to that success early this season. Don’t let those Broncos get rolling because they will become hard to stop. Row the Boat!!
Biggest Unknown: Saginaw Valley State University
With the departure of Barber and Stevens, Saginaw’s future is up in the air. Machiela has his hands full in keeping this program on pace with the rest of the region. They will need a strong rookie class and good improvement from second-year players to hold serve. Can they do that, we don’t know. But we hope so.
Coach of the Year: Kevin Nguyen (MSU)
With being one of the few head coaches in the region, Kevin Nguyen is once again our coach of the year pick. Coaching the Spartans to an undefeated season last year and winning the national title was a great accomplishment and he looks to do the same this year.
Pre-Season Power Rankings
1. Ben Smart (GVSU)
2. Ryan Allor (WMU)
3. Matt Budai (GVSU)
4. Cole Machiela (SVSU)
5. Alec Deen (MSU)
6. Matt Barriball (MSU)