Towson University’s varsity sports programs have not won a national championship since 1974, when the men’s lacrosse team edged Hobart in the NCAA’s first Division II tournament final.
Over the weekend, however, the school’s dodgeball club captured its first national crown. The No. 2 seed in the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association tournament, the Tigers upset 10-time reigning national titlist Grand Valley State on Sunday on the Lakers’ home court inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale, Mich.
The victory is still sinking in with a couple of players.
“There was a point when I was just sitting down for about 10 minutes, and was saying, ‘What just happened?’ over and over again,” senior and club vice president David Guare said recently. “I’m still kind of thinking about what happened.”
Added senior Colin Sporer: “I know that we’re all walking around with our national championship T-shirts on. I’m just at a loss for words. I still can’t believe that it happened.”
Towson, which went 23-4 in the regular-season, had fallen short of expectations in the past, losing to Kentucky in the first round of the national tournament in 2016 and Michigan State and Bowling Green in the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Last weekend, the club defeated the Wildcats in Saturday’s round-robin format and the Falcons in the quarterfinals before ousting the Spartans in the semifinals Sunday.
“It was some bittersweet revenge that came around in just a couple of days,” Guare said. “Coming in three years in a row where you’re done before you’re expected to go, it was almost like a buildup all the way to the end. … This year, we were predicted to go all the way. We finally made a prediction come true.”
The Tigers are the first East Coast program to capture the national title, and Hunter Ford, an open director on the NCDA’s executive board, said their emergence is a significant benchmark for the sport.
“Towson’s win represents the growth of the East Coast teams in a relatively short time frame compared to their Midwest counterparts,” Ford, former president of the dodgeball club at Virginia Commonwealth, said via email. “Ultimately, being a collegiate club sport activity, each team faces their own cycles and changes year-in and year-out, but they have proven that a legitimate contender can come from anywhere as long as the team shows the passion and dedication to the sport.”
The Tigers’ club was formed for the 2011-2012 school year by Sean Smith and Jonathan Shaw. Interest has been building to the point that the team drew about 100 recruits to its first meeting this past season before attrition, schoolwork and commitment issues trimmed enrollment to 40.
Guare, whose high school in La Plata banned dodgeball during gym class, said he gets a familiar reaction when he informs strangers that he plays competitive dodgeball.
“Pretty much everyone’s reaction that has never heard about dodgeball is, they kind of give a little chuckle and say, ‘Oh really?’ ” he said. “Then I’ll say, ‘Yeah, but before you judge, you should probably watch it. It’s a lot more intense, and there’s strategy, and it’s still a great time.’”
One common misconception is the free-for-all chaos associated with the playground game. Both Sporer, who grew up in Mount Airy and graduated from South Carroll High, and Guare said more strategy is involved as the club usually staggers its 12 players along the endline with the primary throwers in front and the catchers behind them to snare errant balls and eject opponents. There is also a 15-second shot clock to encourage a faster pace.
And the film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” is not the players’ favorite movie. In fact, Sporer said the 2004 comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller is more of a burden than a blessing.
“We get the phrase a lot, ‘Can you dodge a wrench?’ or ‘Do you know the five D’s of dodgeball?’ ” he said, adding that he has not watched the film for more than three years. “We hear that way more than we need to. It gets old very fast.”
Two of Towson’s four losses occurred against Grand Valley State a few weeks ago, including a setback in which the Lakers overcame a six-to-one player disadvantage to win the point and the game. On Sunday, the tables were turned as the Tigers rallied from a seven-to-two disadvantage to tie the score at 2 and eventually win, 3-2.
“That really changed the momentum of the game at that point,” Sporer said, crediting sophomore Colin Moerman and freshman Hunter Friedman for sparking the comeback.
Ford, the NCDA board member, said Towson’s veteran leadership and depth played key roles in the club’s victory.
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“Experience came in multiple ways,” he pointed out. “This season, Towson played the highest number of games out of any team with 34 total. The next closest was GVSU with 29. Second, Towson also sported six seniors on that squad who have been through both the best and worst of times to help lead the team. This included Colin Sporer, KJ Daniels, Jordan Watt, David Guare, Tyler Schmitz, and Andrew Kerr, all of whom were major players for the team throughout their time in the program. I also mentioned depth, and realistically, this team was able to go their full 18 players deep and not miss a beat. This proves to be extremely valuable when playing in a prolonged tournament like the Nationals.”
By virtue of capturing the national championship, the Tigers now have a target on their backs. But Guare said he thinks the club — under the tutelage of players such as Moerman, Friedman and sophomores Alex Hussey and Dylan Juengert — will be in good hands.
“I think they will do just fine,” he said. “I believe it’s good pressure because being a top team and having a target on your back makes you work a lot harder.”
There is a semi-professional dodgeball league for the graduating seniors, but Guare said he intends to undergo shoulder surgery and Sporer said he will concentrate on finding a job in sports management, which is his major.