GVSU club dodgeball wins fifth consecutive national championship

GVL / Courtesy - GV magazine

GVL / Courtesy – GV magazine

Brendan McMahon

The Grand Valley State club dodgeball team won their fifth straight National Collegiate Dodgeball Association Championship, beating Central Michigan for the third year in a row, 2-1.

This is GVSU’s eighth championship within the past decade.

The Lakers qualified for nationals and solidified themselves as a No. 1 seed in the tournament after finishing the regular season 19-3.

Nationals began Saturday, April 8, when the Lakers began their run against Akron. The Lakers advanced to the next round easily, beating Akron 5-0.

The Lakers’ second round opponent, Bowling Green State, gave the Lakers a scare in the beginning, tying the score 1-1 early on.

“They’ve gotten lot better than in the past and actually put up a fight,” said club president Logan Rohloff. “We underestimated them a little bit at the beginning but were able to eventually beat them.”

Later in the afternoon, the Lakers took on Towson in the field of 32.

“We have a lot of respect for Towson and we knew they were going to be good competition,” said club vice president Aaron Krafft. “They beat us for the first point and we became worried. Then we started playing more of our strategy and didn’t have a problem.”

The Lakers overcame an early 1-0 deficit and went on to win 3-1.

The Lakers finished undefeated on day one, but their path from the Sweet 16 to the championship would be the toughest stretch of games the would play all year.

Western Kentucky was the first team the Lakers would face Sunday, April 9. A few Lakers claimed that it was nothing but a good warm-up game to get loose for the rest of the day, as they went on to roll the Big Red, 5-1.

The Lakers then took on James Madison, a team that no one wanted to see as early as the Elite Eight round. The Lakers faced JMU in November and were fortunate to come away with an overtime win.

According to Krafft, James Madison was one of the most complete teams they faced, but the Lakers jumped out to a lead and never relinquished it.

“We were all catching and team throwing, it was one of the best team victories we had all season,” Krafft said. “Everyone was clicking on all cylinders.”

With a win over JMU, the Lakers advanced to the Final Four to take on in-state foe, Michigan State. The Lakers finished with a 6-2 record against Michigan State in the regular season.

The Lakers fell behind early, trailing 2-0 at halftime.

“We were very, very nervous. No one looked like they wanted to be there by the end of the first half,” Krafft said.

Just while players began bracing themselves for a long and disappointing ride home, they received a much needed pep talk from a surprising teammate.

While Clary Walker is a member of the JV dodgeball team at GVSU and is not listed on the roster, he gave a speech the team took to heart. From coaching them on their first half miscues to motivating the guys by explaining the importance and urgency of the situation, the team responded well in the second half.

The Lakers mounted a comeback and were able to force overtime. The two teams went to overtime in January during a regular season match-up, a game the Spartans won 2-1.

“January, that was long time ago,” Rohloff said. “We’ve gotten a lot better since then. We don’t remember things like that, we knew we could come back again.”

A few thousand people were tuned in via Facebook Live, and the Lakers put on a show—they dominated the overtime period.

Several Lakers’ players threw out the lone Spartan remaining and won the final point, clinching their spot in the NCDA Championship.

The Lakers were set to take on Central Michigan in the championship. After coming off a nail-biting finish in the semifinals, the Lakers felt at ease before taking the court against Central Michigan.

“Even though we’ve played a lot of close games with CMU, we knew that it wouldn’t be much of a (fight). We knew we could win,” Krafft said.

There was no secret strategy to winning the championship game—the Lakers played as if it was any other game.

“We just played smart. CMU is very good at catching and that’s the only way they could have beaten us,” Rohloff said. “They don’t have the arms to beat us throwing-wise. Playing dumb was the only way we were going to lose that game.”

The Lakers hoped for the same production they were receiving all weekend from captain Brandon Meisel and Nolan Stanko, who made paramount catches that aided GVSU’s championship run.

The Lakers took a one point lead before CMU would tie the score. With a 1-1 game, the Lakers took a 2-1 lead with less then two minutes remaining in the game.

The score would remain 2-1 until the clock hit all zeros and the Lakers were once again named NCDA Champions for the fifth straight year. That is the club’s ninth championship since its inception.

“This is incredible,” Krafft said. “I never imagined being apart of something like this when I first came to Grand Valley.”