Jack: "What can you tell me about URochester and RIT for this upcoming season?"
Mike: "From a completely unbiased perspective, UR has the higher ceiling but RIT is better now. RIT is older; their core is about to graduate. UR is a team built around a core of sophomores and a few juniors."
This was news to me. The University of Rochester had failed to qualify for US Quidditch Cup 9 in 2016, losing to Emerson College at the 2015 Northeast Regional Championship on their home turf. Before that, Rochester had always languished in the middle tiers of the Northeast, best known around the country for its crosstown rivalry with Rochester Institute of Technology and for an unfortunate string of losses in the first round of bracket play at Nationals (Ives Pond. Michigan State. UCLA. Blue Mountain. Florida's Finest). After missing Nationals altogether, I had counted them out and left them for dead. I certainly did not think of them as a team with a high ceiling. The prospects for any rebuilding college team looked incredibly bleak at the time.
Two years later, thanks in large part to the landmark decision by US Quidditch to divide college and community teams into separate tournaments at Nationals, Rochester is a national champion. The core of now juniors and a few seniors, supported by a fast-learning class of freshmen and vaulted over the finish line by three snitch catches from Pascutoi, defeated the three-time national champion University of Texas on Sunday.
|Photo by Miguel Esparza. Courtesy of the Eighth Man.|
As the new and worthy champion, Rochester now carries the flag for the college division of the sport. Rochester becomes only the third college team to claim the US Quidditch national championship after Middlebury College and the University of Texas. The eventual champions suffered a Saturday loss to Arizona State, but finished with an impressive 9-1 record at the tournament. On the road to the championship game, Rochester defeated a long list of teams from four regions: Oklahoma State, RPI, Texas Tech, Lock Haven, Penn State, UTSA and Kansas.
Rochester's championship is even more remarkable because the team has played only two official games this spring. Over 100 inches of snow rained down on the city of Rochester this winter, making practices almost impossible. Yet, after capturing the 2017 Northeast Regional Championship with a dominant 6-0 record in November, Rochester showed few signs of rust.
Rochester is nicknamed the Thestrals, the skeletal horses from the Harry Potter series visible only to those who have witnessed death. The nickname is eerily fitting for a team that survived the crushing failure to qualify for Nationals only two years ago. A team that survived many graduations and rebuilt from the bottom up. A team that always faces one of the longest and coldest winters in the United States. A team that stumbled on Saturday, but eventually found its groove.
|Photo by Miguel Esparza. Courtesy of the Eighth Man.|
But beyond wins and losses at the highest level of the sport, I think and I hope that US Quidditch Cup 11 marked a new beginning for quidditch. The large crowds and jubilant scenes under the lights harkened back to World Cup V at Icahn Stadium in New York City. The long and well-deserved tunnels, snaking across the fields, showed a healthy and supportive community.
Over the summer, following the long-awaited announcement of a college community split, I wrote an article for this blog but never published it. I quickly forgot about it until I logged in to The QuidKid tonight. I just posted the piece, which is not exactly my best work but nicely captures the feeling at the time. Here is an excerpt from that article.
All of the sudden, the 2017-18 season is very interesting again and most of that intrigue comes from the brand new college division. Although Texas State is perhaps the early favorite, there is that exhilarating feeling that the national championship in the college division is up for grabs. It is the same feeling that made the 2012-13 season and World Cup VI so special. Back then, teams like Texas, UCLA, Baylor, Bowling Green and Emerson dared to dream because anything was possible in the absence of Middlebury. The team with much more experience and all the advantages was gone. Now that the best all-star community teams are also out of the picture, college teams can once again think big and shoot for the moon. And maybe that's what convinces an athletic recruit to stick around for another tournament or an average backup to spend extra hours in the gym.
Think about it. In less than 10 months, 21 new individuals somewhere out there right now will get to call themselves national champions. There will be school newspaper articles, victory celebrations, congratulatory tweets, social media posts, shoutouts from famous alumni and local media features. There will be much greater name recognition for the team on campus and dozens of new faces at tryouts in the fall. On a smaller scale, similar things will happen for college teams that win regional championships or make dramatic runs to the Final Four or Elite Eight. As younger, inexperienced players get a taste of success on the national stage, up-and-coming programs gain momentum for the next season.
So get excited! The 2017-18 season and beyond now offers incredible opportunities for college teams. With all the twists and turns, it is sure going to be fun to watch.
|Photo by Miguel Esparza. Courtesy of the Eighth Man|