WKU dodgeball hosts nationals, becomes contender

Andrew Swanson jumps to dodge a ball during WKU’s third game against Saginaw Valley State University on Saturday afternoon at the 2011 National College Dodgeball Association tournament at the Preston Center. WKU lost 2-1.

Cole Claybourn

WKU alumnus and Dodgeball Club founder Josh Raymer admitted that when he started the team in 2006, it was “pretty terrible.”

So bad that in the team’s first year, it didn’t play in any tournaments and only competed in intrasquad games.

In 2007, WKU officially joined the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association, but things didn’t get much easier. The team went 0-7 that season and held the record for the worst loss in league history, 16-0.

But four years later, the team is No. 3 in the nation and was a favorite in this past weekend’s NCDA Dodgeball National Championships, which WKU hosted at the Preston Center.

Assistant Captain Andrew Swanson said the players adopted a new, winning approach and decided they wanted to take it more seriously than they had in the past.

“It was really awesome to see the feedback from our players who accepted the seriousness,” he said. “After last semester, we asked what everyone’s goals were. They all said they wanted to win nationals.”

First, they started by moving from one practice a week to three.

Then they started learning how good teams played.

Raymer said when he started the club, they just went out and played with no plan of action.

“We didn’t know strategy,” he said. “We didn’t know how to throw or block either.”

To remedy that, Team Captain Felix Perrone said they went as far as to study film of other good teams to emulate what worked well for them.

Elizabethtown junior Tyler Jury said it got to a point where the players just wanted to win.

“We just got guys that were tired of being mediocre and wanted to be excellent,” he said. “We just started committing more.”

On top of that, WKU added more games to its schedule — games against top teams.

“One of the best things is to take your team to play a really good team,” Perrone said. “That way they can see how they play and adopt things from them.”

This season, WKU played 11 games before last weekend’s tournament — the most it’s played in a season since its inception in 2006.

That also meant traveling farther to play games, including one to Western Illinois this season, a 7 1/2 hour drive.

Perrone said that’s the farthest the team has ever traveled for a game other than nationals.

What started out as essentially an intramural team had become much more.

Despite it being a club sport, Swanson said the players consider themselves the official WKU dodgeball team.

“We take pride in it,” he said. “These guys really take it as something they can be proud of. We want them to say, ‘Hey, I was in college, and I played dodgeball, and I loved it.’”

WKU lost 3-0 on Sunday to Saginaw Valley State — one of the nation’s top teams — in the second round of the national tournament.

But the fact that WKU could remain competitive with them this year after losing to them 9-0 two years ago is a testament to how far the WKU dodgeball team has come, Raymer said.

“You always dream that when you start something, it will grow and turn into something people can get excited for,” he said. “I never expected it to happen this soon.

“This is only the team’s fifth year of existence. So for it to be what it is now, this early in the development process, is really amazing.”