The Eighth Man

Their Time to Shine: Michigan State University

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Credit: Monica Wheeler

Editor’s Note: When Luke’s rankings had the Spartans significantly higher than the rest of our site’s ballots, I felt the need to follow up, asking him to introduce the rest of the world to this Michigan State team that he truly believes will contend in Myrtle Beach. I plan for this to be the beginning of a series really breaking down some of the middle-tier underdogs that have flown under the radar so far. Enjoy!

The Midwest has been a cluster of confusion this season, with seven teams – No. 9 Bowling Green, No. 11 Kansas, No. 15 Michigan State, Ball State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Central Michigan – virtually even with each other, and several more just barely a step below. Combine that with virtually no video exposure, and it’s safe to say that the Midwest is easily the most unpredictable region. However, one team has been flying under the radar all season. Most likely it’s because they haven’t won a tournament, but I feel that it’s also because nobody has had a chance to really look at their program. That team is Michigan State, and this is why they’re a power, not just regionally, but nationally.

I know your first questions is going to be: If they’re so great, where have they been? Well, Michigan State has lost in tournament finals twice this season. Once in their first tournament, when they were still putting this roster together, and the other against Ball State after an injury to Kevin Fennell, their star point chaser, who is probably the only player on the team capable of taking down some of Ball State’s stars one-on-one. At Regionals, Michigan State dominated a heavily favored Ohio State team, and was the only team to beat Kansas in quaffle points.

Since Regionals, this team has only gotten better. Bobby Casler still hadn’t mastered the sport at that point, and wasn’t even a part of the Regionals team. Similarly, Sara DeLongchamp had only been playing for a couple months and had yet to figure out how she fit in. At the time, she was only third string, but has rapidly become a clear starter. Some coaching and rotational issues bogged Michigan State down for a while, but now Michigan State will be naming a designated sidelines coach to deal with those issues, freeing Ian Hoopingarner up to play more, and likely solving the issue of Heppe not getting enough time in SWIM situations.

In short, this team has been here all year, they just hadn’t put the pieces together yet. But now, the puzzle is finished, and it’s a masterpiece.

Player-By-Player

Keepers

Jacob Heppe is a name you may have heard when talking about top seekers. It’s true, he has a 100 percent SWIM this season, but since he’s always worn out from being one of the best keepers in the region, he doesn’t always have time to rest up and get in the game at seeker. He’s fast – like sub-five 40-yards fast – strong and stocky, and though he’s short, he has the vertical to cover every hoop.

Heppe is a player who can put a team on his back and win. He’s nearly impossible to bring down, if you can even get a hand on him to begin with. He has an incredible finesse shot, and works well off the ball as well. Really, he’s the closest thing the Midwest has to a Tony Rodriguez; a player who dominates every game he plays in.

Heppe dishing out a big hit, then going coast-to-coast against Ball State.

Backing up Heppe, Griffin Engel is a major threat as well. Engel is much taller that Heppe, which allows him to pick off more passes near the hoops, and also a better distributor. His driving ability is astounding, and he almost never misses a mid-range shot. If it wasn’t for Heppe, Engel would easily be a starter, and likely considered one of the top keepers in the region.

Chasers

Kevin Fennell is a top-notch point chaser by any standards. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Fennell has the size to match up relatively well with anyone, and has the determination to never let go once he wraps up. Fennell was missing from the Michigan State team at Midwest Regionals due to a shoulder injury, and with him, there’s not a doubt in my mind they would have won regionals.

He is also a defensive nightmare for opponents, and has some of the best offensive positioning, hands and awareness in the region. He’s one of the few Midwest players – many of whom are on Michigan State’s team, I might add – who has mastered receiving an alley-oop, and with his size, he’s a threat to drive as well.

Nic Dzaidosz and Engel might as well be the same person on the pitch, separated only by Engel’s fiery red hair. Their builds are similar, their minds are similar, their driving ability is similar and their mid-range shooting is nearly perfect. As a result, Dzaidosz and Engel are a perfect storm offensively. As a keeper, Engel will have the ball most often while coming up the pitch, but with these two, it’s impossible to tell where the final shot will come from.

Nic Dzaidosz makes a heads-up play, adjusting to catch, shoot, and score off of a tipped shot.

Sara DeLongchamp is a Freshman, but is easily one of the best female chasers in the Midwest, and possibly in the nation. She has spent this year becoming the best catcher on the Michigan State roster, and her height makes her an easy target near the hoops. She has a quick release paired with great hands, which we all know translates into easy goals. She’s already the top female chaser on Michigan State’s roster, and she’s only been playing for a semester. By the end of this semester, it will be impossible to have a conversation about Midwest female chasers without her name coming up.

Ian Hoopingarner is a fierce competitor, and has gained a lot of enemies on the pitch. However, his determination to win shines through every second he’s on the field. One of the fastest players on Michigan State’s team, Hoopingarner pairs his great speed with a very athletic build that allows him to power through all but the stingiest of point defenders. This past semester, he was forced into a coaching role for Michigan State, but what little time he has spent on the pitch has been productive.

Meyessa Mansour is a veteran of the game, and uses her knowledge and experience to her advantage. Her small stature makes her a tougher target than DeLongchamp near the hoops, but she makes up for it with gritty play and quick thinking.  Mansour has been a consistent scorer for Michigan State for years, and she’s a perfect sub for the DeLongChamp, because the team doesn’t lose anything except some height.

Bobby Casler is a junior, but he’s a first year quidditch player, and was a great find for Michigan State. His football background brought their chaser lines some much-needed physicality, and his raw athleticism translates into opportunities everywhere. Like DeLongchamp, as the season has gone on, he has gotten exponentially better, especially at off-ball chasing and catch-and-release shots near the hoops. Casler is built similarly to Heppe, with hands like DeLongchamp. He’s an off-ball slasher with an extra dose of physicality on defense.

Kevin McCoy, another first year quidditch player, has become a staple on the Spartan bench. He’s one of the faster players on the team, and one of the better point defenders. He’s not the best by any means, but he can fill a lot of roles. He’s good at sticking with a man, and he’s good at making cuts or finding an opening to shoot on offense. A true Jack-of-all-trades, he filled in as point chaser at Regionals for the injured Fennell, and Michigan State reached the Final Four without ever being outscored in the quaffle game.

Beaters

Jim Richert is the headliner of this dynamic beating group. Richert has a powerful arm and isn’t afraid to use it. On an overall scale, he leans a bit conservative, and doesn’t like to waste his bludger, but when he makes up his mind to throw, it’s always on target, regardless of distance. His powerful arm has saved many goals for the Spartans, and his conservative nature allows them to hold onto bludger control for long periods of time.

Jacob “Bubbles” Bobeldyk is a much more aggressive beater. Similar to Chris Seto or Peter Lee of the No. 2 Lost Boys, Bobeldyk uses his speed to his advantage and loves to clear up space on offense. However, unlike Seto or Lee, Bobeldyk doesn’t use his arm as much, and instead relies on his positioning to force the issue around him, using his speed to be wherever it helps the most. However, he thrives on snitch beating. Bobeldyk is fast enough to keep up with snitch play, and smart enough to target the right player in the snitch game. He’s a large reason that Red Team was able to win the Midwest Winter Fantasy tournament, as no seeker was able to get close to the snitch when he was on it.

Bobeldyk (#23) takes out Ashley Calhoun and David Preuter of Central Michigan over a few seconds, without losing track of the snitch.

Tim Glew is just a freshman, and as such, he’s still learning the nuances of beating, but his natural ability far outshines any strategic disadvantages. His speed pretty makes him a menace at brooms up, and his aggression paired with a cannon arm is reminiscent of Asher Abramson, but younger and less certain of himself.

Shelby Atkinson is a prototypical “ghost” or “back” beater. She knows perfectly when to throw so that receivers don’t have a chance to dodge or block, and she knows that she’s sometimes the last line of defense and acts accordingly. Her throws are never wild, and her rebounds are always recoverable. She plays with incredible precision that’s hard to replicate.

Danielle White is to Atkinson what Bobeldyk is to Richert. She’s fast and aggressive, and never hesitates to take you out of the play. Her aggressive play can get her into trouble at times if she misses, but more often it kills opponent’s plays before they even get started.

Really, what allows the Michigan State beaters to thrive is their adaptability in the beater game. If they want to really dominate the game with beaters, they play Bobeldyk or Glew with White. If they want to reel it in and shore up their defense, they play Richert and Atkinson. If they want a solid mind with an aggressive undertone, Richert and White; a high-pressure front and a clean-up in back, Bobeldyk and Atkinson; all male chaser line, White on point and Atkinson as ghost; two male beaters, Richert and Bobeldyk can control any game, or throw in Glew as a wild card to really dominate the whole field.

This versatility is unmatched, and Michigan State can play as many beating strategies as they have beaters, and this is without even mentioning their third string beaters, Brandon Ollio and Maria DeNunzio, who, while young, work very well as a pair and even better with some guidance.

Their chaser lines may be deep, but the versatility of their beaters is what makes Michigan State elite.

Seekers

Finally, the closers. What does Michigan State have that will give them that little extra? How about two of the top three seekers in the Midwest? Heppe is renowned for his seeking, and I’ve yet to see a snitch last more than a minute on a pitch with him, but Jack Norgren is one of the best around as well. His Tae Kwon Do background taught him a lot of fighting skills, which are very useful in seeking, and his lanky build allows him to get around most snitches with ease. An argument could be made that Michigan State should have won their semifinals matchup at MWRC when Norgren caught the snitch, but it was ruled off because the snitch backed into him and impeded himself. Suffice to say, these two seekers in rotation are virtually unstoppable.

Vulnerabilities?

This Michigan State team doesn’t have many weaknesses, but their main weakness is also their main strength. Keeper Jacob Heppe, when given the chance, will put a game on his shoulders. With so many weapons around him, if you just focus on shutting down Heppe, he’ll be able to distribute with ease and the Spartans will rack up points. However, if you let Heppe do his thing, and take away his options, he’ll do it all himself.

This creates the one and only problem for the Spartans, Heppe doesn’t conserve energy – when he’s on the field, he’s giving 100 percent every play. This, paired with keeper being the only position with any kind of depth issues on the team, can lead to Heppe getting tired when Michigan State needs him the most: at the end of the game as a seeker. Norgren is a fantastic seeker in his own right, but has been streaky in the past, whereas Heppe has always been automatic. If you can get Heppe tired during the game, he might not have enough energy left to finish things off.

An Example of Heppe’s endless hustle as he chases down what appears to be an easy goal.

It’s a gamble to let another team’s best player go loosely guarded, but Michigan State’s only losses this season are when Heppe has played too much keeper, and therefore can’t seek right away.

One Comment

  1. Nic DZIADOSZ

    February 27, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    You will never get it right.

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