The annual Spartan Invite took place on Sunday, with three traditionally dominant schools in attendance. Grand Valley State won the day, going 2-0, with Michigan State finishing 1-1, and Central Michigan finishing 0-2. The end result for each game was about what most would expect, but how we got there was a bit more interesting. Below is a recap of each match that took place this past Sunday at IM Sports West.
GVSU def CMU 5-1
The Lakers were victorious over Central Michigan in the first matchup between these two rivals since last season’s national semifinal game (an overtime thriller). The first point of this game was unexpected for those who have followed the results of each team so far this year. The Chippewas grabbed the ball advantage right from the get go, and used it to help them pick off some GVSU players early on. Central used an aggressive playstyle early on in the point, and they connected on some great crosses and counters to catch GVSU off guard. CMU eventually knocked GVSU down to just Ben Smart left on the court, and after some back and forth plays, Jawanza Edwards was able to step up and make a diving catch on a long reset throw from Smart to end the point giving CMU a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Chips, this was the only point they would score against the Lakers on the day. GVSU followed this up by scoring 5-consecutive points to earn a comfortable victory. GVSU’s top arms were present during the win. With players like Nolan Stanko , Alex Jonauskas, and Ben Smart having little trouble picking off CMU players with low throws. GVSU’s role players all seemed to step up as well. The Lakers looked like a pretty deep team in terms of arm talent during this tournament. Which is a great sign for a team that had to replace so many offensive weapons to start this year. CMU, while they didn’t get the result they wanted, did have some bright spots. Doug Daniel was a standout arm in this game, and Kyle Garner showed he has the ability to make great catches against the top arms on the opposing side of the court. Their younger players are starting to turn the corner as well, both offensively and as clutch catchers. Bottom line, the loss wasn’t all bad for CMU. They are making some strides.
MSU def CMU 3-2
This was easily the game of the day. Central Michigan and Michigan State met for the second time this season on Sunday (their first matchup was an OT win for the Spartans). Central Michigan stormed out to an early lead in this game. Kyle Garner, Jared Brown, and Eric Nelson all played great in this game. Those three players seemed to dictate the offensive pace of the game for CMU. The Chippewas went up 2-0 going into halftime. The second point was pretty neck and neck until Nelson made a few consecutive catches to close it out. It looked like CMU had all the momentum and might run away with the win.
The second half was a completely different story. A lot of credit needs to be given to MSU for the way they responded. The Spartans started to communicate much better in the second half, and their standout players started to make plays. One thing about MSU that is underrated is their ‘quick strike’ ability. On a number of occasions in this game, MSU turned one kill into a series of big kills, stealing all the momentum and riding it to a point win. Dennis Sullivan had a great game against CMU, along with Jacob Georges. Each of them were great transition players. As a whole, MSU had a pretty balanced attack in the second half, and played faster and more efficient in transition than CMU. Michigan State ended up taking a 3-2 lead with about 7 minutes to go, then played conservative in the final point to milk the clock and secure the 3-2 win.
The Spartans showed fantastic situational awareness all game long, knowing when to push the pace, and when to play more conservative. This comeback win was impressive for MSU.
GVSU def MSU 5-0
Don’t read into that score too much. Michigan State decided to mix up their lineups in this game, starting the very first point with plenty of rookies on the court. While this was confusing at first to the commentators, it became clear that Michigan State was choosing to use this game against #1 GVSU to get their younger players more in-game experience. With that said, it wasn’t like MSU rolled over. The first two points of the game were very close, in fact, the first point came down to a 1 v 1, with GVSU’s Jonauskas taking down a rookie for MSU to take the 1-0 lead.
The Spartans rookies looked outstanding in this game against the best team in the NCDA. While the final result was a blowout loss, MSU was able to improve the depth of their team through the experience they gained.
Each of these three teams is in a different place right now. Grand Valley State was able to finish off the semester with two convincing wins. They demonstrated the ability to dominate an opponent and finish strong in each game. The Lakers will likely be #1 in the December Power Rankings, with the second consecutive undefeated fall semester. Captain Josh Hill has done a tremendous job keeping things rolling for the GVSU program. They look like legit title contenders as they always do. Only negative I saw all day from GVSU was when they decided to take a team picture at the end of the day. Back when I was a kid, that type of behavior was reserved for when you won a trophy (see MDC and Nationals). But who knows, maybe I’m just getting old and cranky…
Michigan State is the biggest story for me. They might be the most overlooked team in the country right now. The upside of this team is great, and they showed off their potential at times on Sunday, most notably in their comeback win over CMU. MSU might not land in the top 4 or 5 of the December PR, but I have a feeling they will be at least a Final Four team this season. They have a lot of raw talent, and they are obviously taking their improvement seriously, getting their younger players a lot of playing time this weekend. Nearly half their games this season have come against #1 GVSU. That’s a recipe for improvement.
Central Michigan may have gone 0-2 on the day, but they looked far more dangerous than they have in previous tournaments. This team is a bit top heavy at the moment, but overall, they are making improvements. If they can continue to gel as a team and get more offensive output from their role players, they can be a dark horse in the winter semester.
The Michigan Region may not look as loaded as it has in recent years, but there is plenty of potential in the region. Each of the three teams in attendance at the Spartan Invite are poised for a strong second half of the season.