NATIONALS: Gone, but not Forgotten

During my three years as the captain of Western Kentucky University’s dodgeball team, I’ve been faced with plenty of tough situations. I’ve had to cut players who didn’t attend practice. After each game, I struggled to walk as the soreness coursed through my body. During my first season in the National College Dodgeball Association, I had to deal with the fallout of a 16-0 thrashing that was so devastating, half my team quit coming to practice.

But none of that measured up to how tough April 10 and 11 were for me. My team attended the NCDA national tournament at Bowling Green State University and I took the court for the final time as captain of WKU’s team. Walking away from the game I love was tough, but my team gave me a grand sendoff. What follows are some of my highlights from that weekend. Some were major and others were minute, but they all added up to one hell of a finale.

I drove to the tournament with Felix Perrone, the alternate captain for our team and my successor.  For two years I’ve trained him on how to run WKU’s team. In a weekend of uncertainty, knowing my team would continue after I left was extremely comforting.

We faced two big setbacks before play even started. On top of drawing the toughest bracket, our two best players wouldn’t be joining us in Ohio. Our title hopes had taken a hit and I wasn’t feeling too confident.

Apparently my shaken confidence continued into Saturday, as I did something I rarely do – lost my cool during a game. Our goal for the weekend was to win our first game on Saturday and then coast through the other two in order to save our arms for Sunday. At half-time of our opening game against the Uni-versity of Wisconsin-Platteville, we were down 2-1. Frustrated, I yelled at my team to “get their s**t to-gether.”

Dodgeball

Walking away from my dejected team, I heard Andrew Swanson, one of our newer players; tell his teammates to keep their cool so UWP couldn’t feed off the negative emotion. Hearing a player rally the team a just a few months after joining, will always be one of my proudest moments as a captain. We came back to beat UWP 4-2 and Andrew won our Nationals MVP.

Our second game was against Grand Valley State University; the defending national champions and the same team that handed us the 16-0 loss three years earlier. We stood no chance and I knew it. So, I devised a strategy that would take away their ball control and ability to counter, two cornerstones of GVSU’s attack. I still had reservations going into the game if my plan would work. It did. We held GVSU to four points and the looks of confusion on their faces proved to be the sweetest kind of revenge.

After the first round of games, Felix and I joined the other alternate captain, Alex Heichelbech, for our traditional dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. We drove 30 minutes and got lost twice, but that just made de-vouring the Triple Prime Burger taste even better.

I finally fell asleep on the hotel bed at 2:30 a.m. Our two late arrivals showed up five minutes later. We had to wake up at 8:00 a.m. It was a rough night.

To make room for our two extra players, Alex and I sat out of Sunday’s games. Our first match-up was against DePaul University and I got to try my hand at pure coaching. We won that game, and in the week after the tournament, I received two offers to coach different dodgeball teams. I’m now rethinking my career plans.

During the DePaul game, a couple of players got into a shoving match. My player was Jared McKinney, who was only playing his second NCDA event. Hardly any of the guys on the team knew him, and yet Kyle Dahl, one of our longest-tenured players, came running to have his back. Kyle got a red card for shoving DePaul’s player away from Jared, but I couldn’t have cared less. My players had their teammates’ backs. I felt like I’d accomplished something right there.

After my final game ended on a left-handed throwing point with Central Michigan University, I was swarmed by other league members, telling me how they appreciated my hard work helping the NCDA grow.  With all the money and time I’d invested into reforming the league’s website – it was the greatest thanks I could have received.

On the drive home, Felix and I talked about how he planned to reform the team next season. I felt a twinge of jealousy about stepping away from my team this semester, because we’re getting some sweet uniforms in the fall. I’m big on uniforms. So, graduate school at Western is now in the cards.

I could keep rambling on about my feelings toward walking away from college dodgeball. I could ex-change a tearful goodbye with my teammates at our end-of-the-year shindig.

But why bother?

WKU is hosting Nationals next year.

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