by Alex Benepe | October 10th, 2011
Kansas University, a team few had heard of a couple months ago, has made their debut on the national quidditch scene in a major way today. In a stunning comeback, KU went from being down 40 points against Pittsburgh QC in the Midwest Cup championship match to pulling out a 70-40 win, clinching their title in the Midwest.
Read the Day 1 report here.
After Kansas upset apparent favorites Michigan State in a close 100-70 semi-final match with the snitch snatch, and Pittsburgh knocked out Illinois State University with a convincing 90-40 win (ISU’s snatch) in the other semi-final, KU and Pitt were locked in for an epic showdown.
The final match initially looked like another steamroller victory from Pitt, as they took an early 50-10 lead over the blue crew from the Midwest. But the match gradually transformed into a nailbiter. The comeback started when chaser Hai Nguyen received a beautiful pass deep in the Pitt keeper zone and slammed it in the hoops, bringing the game back into the magic 30-point zone, where the prospect of an overtime-inducing snitch grab can revive a team’s flagging hope.
This moment did not go unnoticed by the crowd (composed primarily of over a half-dozen other Midwest teams) who began chanting “MIDWEST, MIDWEST” to egg on their peers. The fact that Pitt destroyed most of these teams all day long by point differentials often reaching over 200 — and that Pitt had the audacity to attend the Midwest Cup to begin with — did not make them crowd favorites, even though most teams I spoke to were in awe of their skill.
“It’s inspiring to watch them; they handle the ball differently than anyone else,” observed Purdue first year Kyle Marpe.
Pitt, under the sage leadership of grizzled captain and four-year veteran John Battaglia, lived up to their usual high caliber play. They exhibited mind-boggling breakaway speed down Kansas’ flanks (Andrew Bulman in particular), along with fantastic footwork (Sara Dugan executed one of the best legal slide tackles I’ve ever seen on a guy twice her size), and amazing behind-the-back passes that left their opponents guessing where the next attack would come from. They have developed a go-to move (Bulman and Kurt Rishel in particular) where they approach the hoops from the front but whip under them with the scoring hand at the last second and slam it in from the backside – a difficult maneuver but almost impossible to block (I think I’m going to call it “the reacharound” from now on). It also helped that their keeper Jeff Moulton stands a good two feet above the average quidditch player and is fast enough on his feet to accompany every chaser charge down to their opponent’s hoops and beat it back to his own in time to easily defend against the next attack, essentially like a midfielder in soccer.
Despite all these great features, the raw athletic skill, undaunted rookie spirit, home-crowd support, and fresh-looking uniforms of the Kansas squad (led by President Nicole Denney and Captain Doug Whiston) combined to upend the veteran squad from the Northeast. While Pitt went for the penetrating maneuvers and fast short passes, Kansas went for more of a guided missile approach, sending long-bomb, deadly-accurate passes into the Pitt zone where Nguyen picked them out of the sky (despite being frequently thwarted by the anti-aircraft gun/keeper known as Moulton) and dropped them in the hoops to gradually bring the game to a 50-40 Pitt lead.
However, MVP for the game needs to go sophomore Aaron Pope, the Kansas seeker, who was the final conversion factor not only for the Kansas victory but also the semi-final against MSU. Within minutes of the snitch returning to the field in the championship match, Pope completed the snatch and secured the Cup for his team. And this was no fluke. Pope, a demure, gazelle-like predator disguised as a human, is a seeking machine. Pegging him easily as a veteran cross-country runner, I asked him earlier in the day for his best time in the 5k (a 5,000 meter, or 3.1 mile, race, which is the most common distance in high-school cross country), and he revealed that he clocked in at a sizzling 16:01. When I asked him where that put him at his state championships, he replied modestly, “oh, around 12th or 13th.”
Indeed, there is a new breed of athlete playing quidditch these days.
Congratulations to Kansas Quidditch and all of the Midwest quidditch teams for a fantastic conclusion to the Midwest Cup.
Results and highlights from the single elimination bracket and a full video of the final match are below, and more details on the Midwest Cup will be released later this week and in the next issue of the Seer.
FINAL MATCH VIDEO and other match videos coming soon
A few corrections to the original article from Kansas VP Cassie Slocum:
While Hai Nguyen was a major factor in us winning the tournament and he is a player definitely worth mentioning, several of our goals were scored by the combined effort of Tyler Amble, Nick Caldwell and Jake Wernel. I just want to give credit where credit is due to those guys who also worked just as hard as Hai. Also in our game against Michigan State our snitch was grabbed by Nick Caldwell.