That’s how long it had been since the last time Michigan State University’s dodgeball club members could call themselves Michigan Dodgeball Cup Champions. 17 years of heartbreak. 17 years of what-ifs. 17 years of being the butt of jokes from rival Michigan teams when February rolled around.
What started as a two-team event highlighting the rivalry between Michigan State and Delta College, turned into arguably the most historic regular season event in collegiate dodgeball. Back in 2005, when the Spartans were victorious over Delta College by a score of 8-3 in the Inaugural Michigan Dodgeball Cup, nobody could’ve foreseen the suffering the program would go through at this particular event over the next 17 years.
Over the course of the following 17 years, as more programs popped up around MSU throughout the state of Michigan (three of which winning both MDC titles and National titles along the way), MSU amassed a less than respectable 14-30 record at the event that they created. That included a 4-year stretch from 2015-2018 when the Spartans went winless at the event despite boasting talented rosters and being legitimate contenders on the national stage.
Enough about the past. On Saturday afternoon at IM West in East Lansing, Michigan, the Spartans ended the streak. MSU faced a brutal 3-0 deficit at halftime of the championship game against Grand Valley State (a team that hadn’t lost a single game at this particular event since 2014). That’s when the Spartans decided enough was enough. With 3 points in the second half, including a full point earned in the final three and a half minutes, MSU somehow forced overtime. The OT period was a classic back and forth affair, with both teams making clutch plays, but in the end, the Spartans finally found a way to to get their hands back on the Michigan Dodgeball Cup. 8 minutes and 22 seconds into the overtime period, Daquan McClean connected on a throw at GVSU’s Josh Hill, and the celebration commenced.
Not only was it an improbable comeback win over the most storied program in college dodgeball history, but it happened at the event that had long been MSU’s kryptonite. Recency bias may be in play here, but that matchup seems like a top 10 game all time in league history. Certainly a day that no player on that team, or coaches Kevin Nguyen and Rebecca Shappell (or club founder and NCDA legend Aleks Bomis who was in attendance) will soon forget. The curse was finally lifted, and the Spartans now look like one of the favorites to win a national title (another monkey they could rip off their back in 2022).
- GVSU def SVSU 4-1
- MSU def WMU 10-0
- GVSU def WMU 8-0
- MSU def SVSU 6-1
- SVSU def WMU 5-0
- MSU def GVSU 4-3 (OT)
Full event stream:
Or… if you just want the Michigan State vs. Grand Valley State game in HD:
Names to Know:
We could go around talking about the regular stars for each team, but this seems like a good time to point out some top performers from MDC that might not be household names throughout the league just yet. Before we get to that, my pick for MDC MVP would’ve gone to either Jack Girling of Michigan State or Josh Hill of Grand Valley State. Here’s a list of 12 lesser known players that stood out at this event (in no particular order):
Alec Deen (MSU)
A couple years ago, MSU Coach Rebecca Shappell was pounding the table that Barry Butler would be in the Rookie of the Year conversation. We saw him in action that year and instantly agreed. Well, this year she’s been echoing that same sort of praise toward current rookie Alec Deen, and once again she is spot on. Deen was all over the court this weekend. The first thing that jumps out at you about this guy is his arm talent. Clearly he has a natural arm, and will be a force for years to come thanks to that, but he also has the intangibles. Deen looked very comfortable out there executing MSU’s strategies throughout the day, knowing when to back off and when to get aggressive (most notably at the end of MSU-GVSU regulation when he was counted on to make some clutch throws). I haven’t seen rookies from other regions in person yet, but as of now, Deen sits atop my shortlist for National Rookie of the Year.
Cole Machiela (SVSU)
NCDA commentator Tony Stumpo pointed out to me early in the broadcast that Macheila, while a rookie, was already an assistant captain for the Cardinals. After seeing him in action, it was no longer a surprise. Machiela is easily one of the best rookies in the nation. He already looks at home out on the court, and has a natural knack for making plays in transition. He was a problem for GVSU throughout that match, and while he didn’t play as well against MSU later in the day, he was one of the names that the commentators kept calling for SVSU.
Owen Israels (GVSU)
A second year player for Grand Valley, Israels instantly stood out as one of the Lakers’ best players. In the absence of reigning MVP Ben Smart, Israels stepped up as a higher volume thrower and looked at home. He was an easy choice to make the OT 6 for GVSU, and if the Lakers have plans of hoisting the National Championship Trophy in April, he will be a big reason why.
Jonathan Crockett (MSU)
Crockett is another Michigan State rookie that burst onto the scene at MDC. He has a strong arm that will only get better as he dials in his accuracy. His instincts, and knack for making a big catch were off the charts for a rookie. Crockett made some massive plays in MSU’s win over GVSU, and deservedly made the OT 6 for the Spartans in that one. Look for him to continue a stellar freshmen campaign next time we see MSU in action.
Evin Cooper (WMU)
Cooper was a standout all day long for Western Michigan. Outside of Peter Broe, Cooper looked the most comfortable on the court for the Broncos. He has a great arm, and his over-the-top throwing motion gave him plenty of kills throughout the tourney. Despite their 0-3 record, Cooper had an outstanding day at MDC.
Chris Rucker (SVSU)
Rucker made some outstanding catches (most notably against GVSU), making a name for himself early in the tournament. He is clearly one of the top players on Saginaw’s roster, and not a player that opponents should solo-throw at. Just saying…
Tristan Baller (SVSU)
I believe he earned some all-rookie team recognition a few years back, but Baller deserves more publicity. He is an incredibly difficult player to get out, and is one of SVSU’s leaders. The Cardinals are coming on strong down the stretch this season, and he is a big reason why.
Aidan Jacobs (GVSU)
This GVSU rookie showed promise throughout the event. An athletic player with plenty of upside. Expect to see more of him in the future.
Ryan Paddock (GVSU)
Another GVSU rookie. Paddock made some nice catches at MDC, and is deserving of some recognition for his play.
Randy Santana-Jimenez (WMU)
This guy had an up and down day (which is bound to happen when you come to a tourney with only 9 players and face 3 of the top 12 teams in the country), but I loved the athleticism and aggressiveness he showed. Santana-Jimenez is one of the leaders on the Bronco roster, and will need to continue to step up heading into Nationals.
Scott Harnden (SVSU)
A second SVSU rookie on this list, and another player that seems to have stepped up into a big role for the Cardinals despite his youth. Harnden is only going to improve moving forward, but already seems to have a good grasp on the game and the strategies in play. He was often a big reason why SVSU could dictate the pace of the game against opponents, thanks to his strong transition play.
Matt Budai (GVSU)
Yet another GVSU rookie. This guy made the OT roster as a freshman, which puts him in some good company. He made quite a few big catches against MSU, including a few against their top players.
MSU’s performance on Saturday, particularly the second half against GVSU, was outstanding to say the least. They have a good core of leaders and a talented and deep rookie class. With the MDC in hand, MSU is in the driver’s seat to be #1 in the Power Rankings come March.
GVSU on the other hand, had an awful finish to what looked like another routine MDC. With Ben Smart injured, their depth players stepped up, and all looked well until they went to an overly conservative strategy late in the game against MSU. Good news for GVSU is this loss can be used as a learning opportunity and motivation moving forward. Last time GVSU lost the MDC they went on to win the national title. That is still a very real possibility for this squad.
Saginaw Valley State was MUCH better than expected at this tournament. The Cardinals are historically a squad that comes on strong in the second half of the season, and this year looks no different. They are a young roster, but one that could make some noise if they continue to improve. Their best bet would be to schedule as many events as they can the rest of the regular season, particularly against some out of state competition.
Lastly, Western Michigan is a work in progress. Peter Broe and WMU were certainly hit harder than most by the pandemic. It’s tough to grow a program from the ground up when a pandemic is keeping you from practicing or recruiting. Props to the Broncos for making it out to this event and competing with some top teams. And props to Broe for his leadership with this roster. One highlight of the tournament in my eyes was Broe calling out his own players if they broke a harmless rule like coming in off a catch through the sideline rather than the baseline. Good stuff.
This year’s MDC only had one truly exciting game, but each team showed some promise at the event. All four schools in attendance have young rosters, but certainly are not void of talent. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for each of these teams.