GVSU club dodgeball looks to win 10th National Championship this season
The time seems ripe for dodgeball to be more widely acknowledged as a legitimate, competitive college sport.
The movie already made a strong push to popularize it, but the fame only lasted a short time (especially since a sequel was not made). The sport did make it to the collegiate level, however, and Grand Valley State made the most of that opportunity.
Since it was established as a collegiate sport at GVSU in 2006, the university team has won nine national championships, more than any other GVSU athletic sport—varsity or club—in that timespan. How did they do it? How did dodgeball become one of the winningest programs in GVSU’s history? According to head coach Dylan Fettig, it’s because dodgeball is a unique sport.
“Everyone gets excited about dodgeball 'cause it’s something different,” Fettig said. “We have guys who were competitive athletes in high school and think, ‘Oh, this might not be serious,’ and then they come and receive a(n) 80-miles-per-hour ball thrown in their face, and they’re like, ‘OK, well, this might actually be a real thing.’”
Dodgeball, and 80 mph hurls, is a real thing, and Fettig firmly believes everyone can find a way to contribute to the team.
“It’s a fun sport to play,” Fettig said. “There are several skills that are valuable to the team. If you can throw hard, that’s obviously a good thing, but we have guys that are really good at blocking. There is also catching. ... There is usually a spot for everyone on our team.”
Fettig is entering his third season as the GVSU dodgeball head coach. In his time with the school, he has won two national championships, and he is aiming for his third straight with a solid core of players who have been playing for him since their freshman year.
“We still have a young team,” he said. “We had a strong freshman class two years ago, and they’re all juniors now. It’s been really nice to have them kind of develop together and just watch it happen. It’s a lot of fun."
GVSU's team is not only young but talented and with a lot of potential, according to second-year captain Brandon Meisel.
“Our freshmen have such a high-talent ceiling,” Meisel said. “Early in the year, their progress was slow, but now, toward the end of this semester, they are becoming better and better dodgeball players at an accelerated rate, really starting to pull their weight in game-time situations."
The hard work is paying off, as GVSU has won six out of their eight first games, only losing to Central Michigan University. In an all-year season, Meisel thinks his team will pick it up in the winter heading into the National Tournament.
“This year, we have started pretty slow," Meisel said. “However, because our freshmen varsity players are getting very good, our team success will only keep rising. Although our level of play is not as consistent as in years past, our ceiling for how well we can play as a team is much higher than normal due to our freshmen being so talented.”
Fettig is also confident in his team’s ability to bounce back in the second half of the season. His main concern is keeping his players healthy physically and mentally.
“Just trying to keep our guys all healthy so that they can play,” Fettig said. “And there is a mental aspect to it. People can get burnt out that way, too. So just keep it fun and keep everyone focused on playing well and practicing well.”
GVSU will have to be tough mentally and physically if they want to make it all the way once again. In order to win it all, they will have to beat their toughest opponent thus far, CMU. Meisel shows no fear about facing a team he has already lost two games against.
“The way we will beat them is to just play our strategy and play it very efficiently,” Meisel said. “Playing smart, strategical dodgeball is what sets us apart from a lot of other teams in the nation. We are known for making very few mistakes in a game. If we can bring that back in the next semester, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will beat CMU.”
If the freshman group reaches its full potential by the end of the season, we could be expecting another piece of hardware in the GVSU dodgeball trophy case.