Buckeye Showcase Recap

There’s never a dull weekend in Columbus. Last Sunday’s Buckeye Showcase proved to be the most exhilarating season opener yet (and arguably the most exciting thing to happen in Columbus that weekend). Ohio State hosted 5 schools for the third annual Buckeye Showcase, and my oh my, what a day of close matches. Obviously, teams can change a lot between the start of the season and Nationals, but if these teams continue to play like they did at the Showcase, the Ohio Region very well could claim the National Title this season. 

If you weren’t at this event, the above claim probably doesn’t hold a lot of weight – there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s go team by team to evaluate what we saw and speculate the future of these teams.

Bobcats Climb to the Top

Ohio 5-1 Akron
Ohio 4-3 OSU
Ohio 4-3 (OT) UC
Score Total: 13-7
Record: 3-0

Ohio ended the 2021-2022 season on an exponential curve. Rookies settled into their roles, and veterans like Caleb Arnold and Alex Jonauskas led the Bobcats to the Quarterfinals. They started this season ranked 4th nationally and entered the Showcase ready to climb towards the #1 spot. Of course, that starts with a fight with the top Ohio Region team. The Bobcats played Akron, Cincinnati, and Ohio State. In game one, Ohio picked off player after player, point after point with Akron only scoring one point against them. The Bobcats moved on to play two closer games against Ohio State (coming back from 0-3 in the second half) and then Cincinnati (clutching a 1v1 OT). Despite these very close games and several highly contested calls, Ohio came out victorious – ending the day undefeated.

So what led to their success? Why did other teams underestimate the Bobcats’ abilities? And is Ohio University the region’s top team? I can only comment on what I saw: throwline presence, veteran leadership, and cohesive plays. The Bobcats are a close knit team. They push up and block for each other. They fight for balls reentering the neutral zone. They coordinate across the court. And they have immense veteran leadership that not only steps up when needed but also pushes rookies onto the throwline. Terence Checkett, Caleb Arnold, Alex Jonauskas, and Max Stoeckel pushed this team, learned other teams’ weaknesses, and quickly figured out how to put themselves back on everybody’s radar.

Same Old Cincy (Pretty Much)

UC 7-1 CSU
UC 5-2 Akron
UC 3-4 (OT) Ohio
Score Total: 15-7
Record: 3-1

The Buckeye Showcase was the second tournament for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Just weeks prior, they went head to head with the Miami RedHawks and posted a 5-2 victory. Coming into Columbus, they were nationally ranked #3 and held the title as the top Ohio Region team. That may not be the case anymore. The Cincinnati Bearcats played CSU, Akron, and Ohio. They (kindly) destroyed CSU and only gave them one point of the eight played, and they held a strong lead against Akron with some quick early points. But the Bearcats fell victim to the Bobcats, with an overtime loss to Ohio. A harsh loss to be sure, but one that instilled a fire to fight harder next time.

So, is Cincinnati still the top Ohio team? How did they lose to Ohio? And is this their peak form? Again, a biased response based on what I saw, but let’s step back and put this in perspective. Cincinnati played the Bobcats last. Cincinnati picked up Colby Briceland (former Akron captain). And Cincinnati played without Cory Heitmann (current Cincinnati captain, All-American, and All-Ohio player). I’m not saying they lost to Ohio because they were gassed and didn’t have a leader like Heitmann on the court – again, just offering perspective. But I will say their team is pretty much the same as last season with the addition of Briceland; their OT-6 doesn’t even change with a full roster. Consistency doesn’t hurt, but it begs the question, have they hit their peak? I guess we will see on October 1st.

Promising Buckeye Rookies

OSU 3-4 Ohio
OSU 3-2 Akron
Score Total: 14-6
Record: 2-1

On to our host school – Ohio State. The Buckeyes came into the season with a ranking well below their liking (#8 nationally). Despite the loss of big names like Dylan Greer and Sam Palumbo, Ohio State’s roster has a solid squad and they continue to foster some of the best rookies in the league. The Ohio State Buckeyes played CSU, Ohio, and Akron. They had absolutely no mercy on CSU with a blowout 8-0 game. They lost to OU in the last 10 seconds of the game (but was it a catch though?). And they came back from an 0-2 deficit to Akron. Ohio State has had its ups and downs since their 2006 National Championship. While many thought the last title could be theirs, they also continue to struggle with injuries – the latest being Captain Ryan Ginsberg’s broken thumb. The future of the Buckeyes may be unknown.

So how will Ohio State perform without their captain in upcoming weeks? Do they have a shot at beating Cincy? And how do they continue to recruit top talent? As a former Buckeye, I can confidently say this team is resilient. Despite setbacks, hard losses, and injuries (two broken arms and four broken fingers in the past few years from what I recall), the Buckeyes fight hard and fight together. They are close on and off the court evaluating past plays that went wrong and honing in on individual strengths. But arguably the gold mine to Buckeye success this season will be their rookie class. Nick Kemer is a prime example of a RoTY candidate – he took roughly 40% of the throws for the Buckeyes and ended several points by himself. He has been called the next Derrek Kemper of Ohio State players. But he’s not alone. Alden Prohaska and Will Bryan are on the rise, following the footsteps of Ethan Lehmkuhl, Evan Utterback, and Elijah Thomas. They will no doubt be instrumental in Ohio State’s success at Ohio University next weekend.

Akron Just Wants a Win

Akron 2-5 UC
Akron 1-5 Ohio
Akron 2-3 OSU
Score Total: 5-13
Record: 0-3

Akron B 2-3 CSU
Score Total: 2-3
Record: 0-1

A program on the rise, Akron has always put up a fight, but falls slightly short. They came into the season ranked 12th in the country, and got their first dose of a game at CSU’s scrimmage a couple of weeks ago. They have a plethora of veteran talent with leaders like Clay Egleston and PJ Antalek, as well as a surge of new players – leading to the creation of Akron B with its debut at the Showcase. The Zips played Cincinnati, Ohio, and Ohio State, and their B Team put up a fight against CSU. But no wins came to fruition, and they left with an 0-3 overall record for the A Team (B Team finished 0-1). Akron has all the components of a well rounded team – throwers, catchers, survivors, depth, and dedication – but they still struggle to work together.

So why is this team struggling? How can they put together the pieces? And will they shift their trajectory for the next tournament? There is no doubt they can shift the trajectory, but that means it will need to be a priority at practice. Akron has the depth that most teams lack. They have more than a “handful of throwers”, and most players know how to survive critical points with elite blocking, catching, and surviving. Akron just needs to reassess and coordinate. With leadership from captains and seasoned vets like Arik Kavanagh and Alex Acevedo, the Zips will be able to end games in their favor and hold down opponents. As the season progresses, we can certainly expect upsets and closer matches.

CSU Can’t Communicate

CSU 1-7 UC
CSU 3-2 Akron B
Score Total: 4-17
Record: 1-2

Cleveland State started the 2022 season ranked 14th, but they lost a key offensive player, Joe Walsh. They started this season at the CSU Scrimmage with a win against Kent but a loss against Akron. Cleveland State is a very young team with few experienced players, but loads of opportunity for growth. The Vikings played Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Akron B. The team struggled to survive against the Bearcats and Buckeyes (giving up 15 points in two games), and their game against Akron B was surprisingly close. They ended the day with a 1-2 overall record and hours of film to learn from. 

So how can this team improve with little veteran leadership? Can CSU bounce back from their current rank? And what will success look like? I’ll start with the last question. Success for the Vikings starts with closer games. They need to diminish the eight point difference in score to two or three. Eventually, they’ll win more matches, but they need to improve step by step, and this will gradually bump them back up in the rankings. Despite a key departure, CSU has strong captains like Jostein Sagnes and Jordan Jones who can lead players and make key plays. They also have two experienced coaches helping call plays and offer an outside perspective. Despite the leadership though, Cleveland State needs to communicate more effectively on and off the court. Dodgeball is a team sport, and while individual contributions can go far, the team needs to be on the same page to win points.

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