The following was written by NDA board member Kevin Bailey
Semi-pro dodgeball season hits full swing this weekend with a loaded tournament in Kalamazoo. 13 teams are set to attend what will be the biggest National Dodgeball Association event of the season (so far) both in size and significance. The list of teams for Kalamazoo includes a staggering 12 of the top 13 teams in the June NDA Power Rankings.
After the East Coast teams showed out last weekend at a surprisingly deep Washington, D.C. event (the first of two in that region), the baton has been passed back to the Midwest as we continue our race towards the first ever NDA Championship. This weekend we will see the top finishers from the May 6th East Lansing Tour Stop back in action, as well as the season debut for a few intriguing rosters including #6 East Lansing Final Justice, #10 Rubber City Resistance, and #13 Platteville Pickaxers.
Let’s take a closer look at this stacked event.
#1 Grand Rapids Kraken
#2 Grand Rapids Dynasty
#3 Detroit Omerta
The top 3 teams entering this event are the usual suspects. These three rosters have dominated the pinch 8.5 scene for years, and the East Lansing Tour Stop showed that may continue in the newly formed NDA.
Kraken is the headliner, coming off a USAD Pinch Division National Title, this group picked up right where they left off, securing a win at the inaugural NDA event. Kraken continues to perfectly blend veteran experience with young talent, with Tony Stumpo (MSU alum) and Paul Hillebrand (GVSU alum) leading the way for this squad. Look for Aaron Krafft (GVSU alum) to continue his strong season, and keep an eye on Kraken’s 2023 addition of Matt Rosinski (UC) to pay dividends this weekend.
Grand Rapids Dynasty held a 3-1 lead in the finals in East Lansing, but failed to finish the job. This is arguably Dynasty’s biggest drought as a team after falling in the semifinals at USAD Nationals last year at the hands of their rival, Kraken. The most decorated team in pinch dodgeball history will look to rebound in Kalamazoo, though it will be without a few of their core players: Colin O’Brien (MSU alum) and Jalen Gardner (GVSU alum). Dynasty has picked up a few players from the 2023 College Dodgeball National Runner-Ups in Darnell Hurse-Rimpson (GVSU) and Alec Gonzalez (GVSU alum) to fill out their roster as they look for their first tournament win since last July.
Detroit Omerta moved down to #3 in the June Power Rankings, but this team was very much in title contention in East Lansing, losing a tight game to Kraken in the semifinals. Michael Riley (CMU alum), Grant Webber (CMU alum), and Nick Hazergian (SVSU alum) all had standout performances last tournament and will look to lead the way for this roster that is more than capable of coming away with the victory at this loaded event. A 1st Place finish would almost certainly vault Omerta to #1 in the next Power Rankings.
#4 Midwest Mutiny
#5 North Spartans
#6 East Lansing Final Justice
Midwest Mutiny might be the hottest team in dodgeball right now, earning the 1 seed and making the semifinals in East Lansing and following it up with a dominant win at the Washington, D.C. Tour Stop. This group is on the edge of being lumped into the top tier group, and with a bracket play win over one of those teams this weekend they would secure their spot amongst the elite in the NDA this season.
Mutiny will have a few new pieces this weekend compared to their D.C. roster, with Nick Kemer (OSU), Ryan Ginsberg (OSU alum), and Sam Palumbo (OSU alum) all unable to attend. The good news for this young squad is they will add back a few of their core players: Cory Heitmann (UC alum), Ryan Engelman (UC alum), and Cole Machiela (SVSU). It’s hard to imagine Mutiny rolls through this tournament the way they did in D.C. (winning the finals 7-0 over DMV Grizzlies), but if they can ride their momentum, don’t be surprised to see them in title contention on Saturday afternoon.
North Spartans are an intriguing team heading into the Kalamazoo event. This group earned the 4 seed in East Lansing, and forced overtime with Dynasty in their close quarterfinals match. Joe Walsh (CSU alum) is the headliner for this roster that seemed to have strong strategy in place last tournament to keep them in any game. Look for Walsh and Brandon Feltner (BGSU alum) to be key pieces to their offense in Kzoo.
One final team that deserves mention as a contender would be East Lansing Final Justice. This group, composed mainly of Michigan State players and alumni, were unable to attend their home event in East Lansing back in May due to college graduations and injuries. This team (many of whom are fresh off an NCDA National Title) is back in action this weekend and ready to prove they too are title contenders. While FJ will be without a few of their strong contributors due to injury in Kevin Nguyen (MSU alum) and Alec Deen (MSU), they will have plenty of firepower on the roster. Look out for 2023 college player of the year Jack Girling (MSU alum) to have a massive impact on this team’s success along with his classmate from Michigan State, 2x college All-American Barry Butler III (MSU alum).
Looking to bounce back:
#7 Bowling Green Frostbite
#8 Columbus Gamecocks
Bowling Green Frostbite made the championship bracket at their first tournament of the season, but fell 6-1 at the hands of Detroit Omerta. This group, ranked 7th in the June Power Rankings, has the potential to upset some of the higher ranked teams, but at times have struggled to put together complete performances throughout an entire tournament. Look for Max Kowalski (BGSU alum) and Reid Manger (BGSU alum) to lead the way for this group. Frostbite also has a few younger players to watch out for this weekend, in three second year college players: Max Edling (Miami), Terence Checkett (Ohio), and Evan Brown (BGSU).
The Columbus Gamecocks, one of the more well-known teams in the sport, are looking for a major bounce-back after failing to make the top bracket in East Lansing. Ben Johnson (OSU alum) is a key piece for the Gamecocks. This group will also have former Chicago Task Force standout John Kveton and free agent pickup Eric Nelson (CMU alum) filling out their roster this weekend. Expect an improved performance from Gamecocks in Kalamazoo as they jostle for points and positioning in the NDA Standings.
#10 Rubber City Resistance
#13 Platteville Pickaxers
Rubber City Resistance and Platteville Pickaxers will be making their season debuts in Kalamazoo. Both teams are in the middle of the pack in the power rankings and looking to make statements on Saturday. Resistance is an intriguing team, led by Clay Egleston (Akron alum). Look for 2023 College Dodgeball Women’s Player of the Year Alexis Schultz (Akron) to also have an impact on this team’s success.
The Pickaxers are making the trek from Wisconsin to earn some points this weekend. Caleb Laux (UWP) and Eli Huntley (UWP) are two major contributors to watch for this weekend. Both of these squads should have solid chemistry from playing plenty of college matches together, so look for that to help them throughout the tournament.
Time to make a statement:
#11 Great Lakes Storm
#12 Toledo Lake Monsters
#15 Cleveland Chaos
Three final teams attending this event are Great Lakes Storm, Toledo Lake Monsters, and Cleveland Chaos. Chaos was just in action last weekend in D.C. where they turned heads with a few strong games, but ultimately didn’t make the top bracket. Connor Knott (Concordia) is still in his first year of dodgeball, but is already a headliner and intriguing piece on their roster. Keep an eye on the Concordia (Wisc.) captain to have a solid showing.
For the Lake Monsters, look out for human highlight-reel Kalin Strawther (BGSU) to make a statement among other members of this steadily improving roster.
Storm didn’t have their full roster back at East Lansing, and will look to rebound with strong performances from Leon Rockamore (CSU alum), Caleb Newell (UWP), and Matt Barnett (WMU).
This weekend will provide plenty of clarity as we head towards mid-season in the NDA’s inaugural year of competition. With a stacked cast of teams set to compete in Kalamazoo, this event is guaranteed to have some fireworks.
Can Kraken continue their hot streak with another event win? Can Dynasty or Omerta take the top spot and make their case for #1 in the July PR? Is Mutiny worthy of being mentioned among the top group? Which team outside of the top 4 has the best shot at a title? Will the middle of the pack group close the gap? So many storylines worth following this Saturday in what promises to be the best NDA event to date.
Make sure to tune in live starting at 9:30 a.m. ET through the National Dodgeball Association YouTube channel.