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Michigan State club dodgeball establishes championship way

Miles Pates

The co-ed club sport is a big deal, with MSU’s team coming into the 2023-24 as the defending national champions.

Michigan State is an emerging dodgeball powerhouse. Yes, you read that correctly. Dodgeball.

The Spartans just capped off their undefeated (19-0) 2023 season with a championship victory over Grand Valley State University, one of the top dodgeball teams in the country. This is MSU’s first title in school history despite boasting two regional championships and 14 final four appearances. They came up just short in 2022, finishing second behind GVSU. Players like Nick Fedewa used that tough loss as motivation.

“Redemption. Getting back at them. That was the main focus,” the Senior and club Vice President said when talking about facing GVSU again. “Working hard at practice and staying focused was the main push.”

Fast forward to the 2023 NCDA championship game. MSU and GVSU find themselves face to face, again. The back and forth match is taken to overtime, where six of the eighteen players on each roster must go head to head. The team to eliminate all six players first wins. MSU picked their rival apart, one at a time, until only one remained. Fedewa, who worked the whole off-season for this moment, stepped up and delivered the final blow to help seal the 2-1 victory. Talk about redemption.

GVSU has been the top dog of the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association since it was founded in 2005. They have won 11 out of 17 NCDA championships, and from 2013 to 2018, six-peated as national champions. The Lakers have ruled over this league for years, but a team just an hour and a half away might have knocked them off the throne for good.

“We knew going into the season they were the team to beat,” junior Assistant Captain and club Vice President Ben Hackman said. “It was just a thrill for them to be the ones we had to beat to win it.”

dodgeball footage.MOV

MSU will look to defend their title and repeat as champions this season. Unfortunately, they will do so without All-Americans Jack Girling, Barry Butler III and Josh Kramer, three of the four team captains from last year. Fedewa, Hackman, junior Alec Deen and sophomore Matt Barriball are expected to fill their shoes.

“They set a good example of leadership last year, but the four of them are gone so now it's up to us,” Fedewa said. “Setting a good foundation that will work this year and for years to come is a big focus.”

That’s what the off-season is for. Practice is every Tuesday and Thursday, from 8-10 p.m at I.M. Circle, and here the club scouts for talent. Head Coach Kevin Nguyen told players during practice the easiest way to earn a spot on the roster is to show that you can catch. This aspect of the game is crucial and Nguyen only wants players who aren’t afraid to make a big play.

Pinch dodgeball consists of 12 starters, six bench players, and 10, 8.5” rubber dodgeballs. It’s called pinch because the dodgeballs are not filled up completely. This allows for the balls to be pinched and thrown in all crazy sorts of ways. You score a point by eliminating all 12 players on the opposing team. With games consisting of two, 25 minute halves, the objective is to earn more points than your opponent before time runs out.

If someone is joining this club thinking it’s going to be anything like high school gym class, good luck to them. It really is concerning when the noise of the dodgeball alone is intimidating. It almost makes a sizzling type of sound when traveling through the air. Players are chucking dodgeballs up to 60 mph across the court, and to make it worse, they are curving in every direction imaginable.

The amount of skill it takes to be successful in this sport makes MSU’s historic undefeated season that much more impressive. Finishing with a perfect record might come with some extra added pressure, but Head Captain Alec Deen doesn’t see it that way. Deen, who was the NCDA Rookie of the Year in 2022, remained humble when talking about the team’s recent success. If his veteran experience has taught him anything, it’s to always take things one game at a time.

“I don’t know if it’s really pressure. It’s just the next game,” said Deen. “As a team, you just have to keep rolling.”

MSU will roll into next season more motivated than ever. They come in as the second ranked team in the country behind Ohio State, which the NCDA attributes to the loss of last year’s captains. Ohio State is expected to return ten starters, but MSU still believes they should be number one. Perhaps this fuels the fire for another NCDA championship run in 2024.

“To place them number one before us, it’s a chip on the shoulder,” said Fedewa.

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