In a tournament that produced some intense and exciting moments, Saginaw Valley had all the reason to cheer.
Going into the tournament, Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley were viewed as the top contenders for the Cup and this prediction turned out to be true. However, the underdog was able to pull out on top. Although after watching the tournament, one would be confused who the underdogs actually were.
The Spartans had their own fair share of exciting moments, going 2-2 on the day and finishing third overall.
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Game 1 vs. Central Michigan University (0-0)
This game between two evenly matched teams began neck and neck, with Central leading 1-0 approaching halftime. The Spartans struggled while giving up the first point, throwing way too many catches. However, the momentum soon shifted with one of the most exciting moments of the tournament.
After a team catch brought senior Eric Paul back into the game, he decided to make the most of his presence, catching a throw and then sniping the foot of the final CMU player with only two seconds left in the half.
“That was arguably one of the most intense and most stressful points I’ve ever been a part of,” Michigan State captain Mike Van Ermen said. “It’s the least amount of time in a half that I’ve ever seen a point taken. It was stressful and I’m still shaking about it.”
From that point on, Michigan State took charge, scoring on a catch thrown by CMU captain Wesley Peters and by hitting the Chips’ Michael Riley, giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead which they kept until the end. After the Spartans’ dominating second half, they looked to keep the momentum going in an intense second game matchup vs. Saginaw Valley State.
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Game 2 vs. Saginaw Valley State University (1-0)
Saginaw Valley came out strong, and seemingly dominated the first half by shutting out the Spartans and scoring two points themselves. It was not until 10 minutes left in the second half that the Spartans were able to put a point on the board. The energy in the game was tense, almost too tense.
The story of this second half was not only the action on the court, but also the action in the stands. With some trash talk being thrown around between the teams, a few fans also began joining in on the banter, which triggered Siena Heights’ captain and acting referee Mike McCarthy to call a timeout and talk to the fans and players.
“Saginaw Valley always has great fans, and same with Michigan State, they always have great fans…so we had to call a timeout, break everything apart, tell the fans to please stay in the fan section and don’t come onto the court,” McCarthy said.
Despite the interruption, Saginaw Valley State continued to keep up the intensity and took the game by a score of 3-1. After the game, tensions began to settle.
“We have some real class players, but we also have some antagonizers as well. Everybody has that kind of mix,” SVSU captain Max Siler said. “After the game, we walk up, shake hands, and say no hard feelings. It’s just the heat of the moment kind of things, it happens, it’s happened for years.”
The loss brought the Spartans to 1-1 on the day and gave them the opportunity to bounce back against Siena Heights in their third game.
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Game 3 vs. Siena Heights (0-1)
This game quickly got off to strong start for MSU. According to NCDA rules, each team can have a maximum of 15 players, but a minimum of 10 players to compete in a match. Siena Heights was only able to bring 12 players to the tournament, which hurt their game and allowed the Spartans to take an early lead.
The Spartans took a 4-0 lead with 6:32 left in the first half and kept on rolling, easily defeating Siena Heights to improve to 2-1 on the day. The victory brought them into a tough matchup against the reigning Michigan Dodgeball Cup Champion Grand Valley State Lakers in the Spartans’ fourth and final game of the day.
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Game 4 vs. Grand Valley State (1-1)
Ten minutes before the game began, GVSU suffered their first loss of the season in a close and intense game against Saginaw Valley. The reigning Cup champs, and now one-loss Lakers had something to prove going into the matchup.
With Saginaw Valley clinching the cup in the win, GVSU and MSU were now battling for second place. Grand Valley started the game showing exactly what they were made of, shutting out the Spartans in the first half and taking a 3-0 lead with 22 minutes to go in the game.
As time dwindled down, a loss and a third place finish for the Spartans seemed almost inevitable, until they were able to surge and attempt their comeback. As the Spartan faithful in the stands started to make noise, so did the team, scoring two unanswered points to create a 3-2 game, narrowing the Lakers lead to one with five minutes left to play. However, the comeback efforts turned futile as time soon expired, giving Grand Valley a 3-2 victory and subsequently pushing the Spartans into third place and an even record of 2-2 in the 2014 Michigan Dodgeball Cup.
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The two dominant teams in Michigan dodgeball sure held their status. The NCDA No. 1 ranked Lakers played an extremely tense game against the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals in the Championship match, but were unable to finish their comeback, falling to their rivals from the east in a close 2-1 game.
The two teams met midway through the tournament with undefeated records and knew that this game could determine the outcome of the tournament. Saginaw Valley started off with a surprising 2-0 lead that held for the majority of the contest until a late surge by Grand Valley made the battle interesting.
“We knew that the winner of that game was most likely going to take the Michigan Dodgeball Cup,” junior Grand Valley captain Kevin Bailey said. “We were down 2-0 and knew we had nothing to lose at that point, so we just came out with a lot of intensity…That was the best dodgeball we played all day. I was so proud of the way we ended that game.”
After the win, Saginaw Valley clinched the cup and the celebration ensued, as the players tried to emulate the Spartans’ “Yes!” chant, albeit not performed as well as the Izzone version. Still, Saginaw had all the reason to cheer, upsetting the No. 1 undefeated Lakers and taking home the 2014 Michigan Dodgeball Cup trophy.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” SVSU senior captain Max Siler said. “That was our main goal the whole tournament, coming into it for weeks on end…When we saw the schedule come out, that we had to play three in a row with the third game being Grand Valley, we knew it was gonna be an uphill battle the whole time.”
Although Michigan State placed third, the tournament was an overall success for the Spartans.
“The future is very bright for MSU dodgeball,” MSU captain Mike Van Ermen said. “Obviously, we’re 2-2 and I’d rather be 4-0, but hey, baby steps. We’re gonna continue to work on it, we’ve got practice every week and the mistakes that we made today, we’re gonna correct them.”
The Spartans are filled with young first year players and experience will only continue to help the team. Michigan State senior Eric Paul kept an optimistic attitude and vowed his team would come back even stronger.
“We’re a really young team,” Paul said. “We’re growing. (GVSU) are the No. 1 team in the nation and we almost had them. Next time we’ll get them for sure.”
The Spartans hope to have all their mistakes cleaned up by the time they travel to Columbus, Ohio on April 12 12th for the 2014 Nationals.
Brett Kast is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports