Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Continuity and Change in Rock Hill

Three years have passed since the World Cup fled the crisp fall of the Northeast for the sunny spring of the South. Along the way, a regular season emerged from unregulated exhibitions and whimsicality drifted into the forgotten past. Regions crystallized with the dawning of regional championships. Pitch shapes, seeking and officiating witnessed astounding transformations to serve a rapidly evolving sport. A new dynasty replaced the old perennial champions, sparking a distinctly new effort to copy and dethrone the best. Small liberal arts colleges virtually disappeared as large universities seized the spotlight. Community teams became legitimate contenders, raising difficult questions and challenges. The original governing body shed its international obligations, allowing distant lands to flourish or fail.

After three years of adventurous experimentation, a new landscape has emerged. A calmer, more sustainable landscape. A landscape where the World Cup has developed into a consistently on-time and successful championship, fostering competitive and healthy gameplay. A landscape where triumphant wins do not guarantee permanent success and heartbreaking losses do not signal permanent decline. A landscape where each new season and each new World Cup is a new beginning. A landscape where the opportunity of tomorrow beckons.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
Quidditch has reached a stage where continuity is acceptable and change is acceptable. Ever since cramming onto Randall’s Island for World Cup V, the quidditch community has gathered at our national championship with a clear vision for how the drama should unfold. Passionately, the quidditch community picked out heroes and villains. With speed, physicality and finesse, the heroes represented the unlimited possibilities for quidditch. The heroes could propel quidditch forward, past the backwardness of capes. Like a superhuman slugger or a lethal scorer, the heroes were heralded and rewarded with infinite name-drops on blogs and spots on Team USA.

The villains embodied the opposite of progress, holding quidditch back from mainstream appeal. The villains rejected the beautiful game and relied on lucky snitch grabs and pesky beating to eliminate the heroes. Each World Cup, new nameless faces were vilified and accused of playing dirty and taking cheap shots. The unexpected accomplishments of the villains were denied, discredited and ridiculed.

From Randall’s Island to North Myrtle Beach, the struggle between heroes and villains headlined the World Cup. As heroes and villains exchanged blows, the quidditch community desperately clamored for continuity or change. If the heroes were the defending champions, we sought continuity. We wanted the continuation of progress and the triumph of athleticism. If the villains were the defending champions, we desired immediate and radical change. We hoped for restoration of the rightful champions, erasing memories of ugly and unearned victories.

Let’s begin with World Cup V. Played in the breezy autumn of New York City, World Cup V was the precursor to the modern era of quidditch. World Cup V bid farewell to the past and foreshadowed the future. Yet World Cup V was far from perfect. Amid a shaky tournament, the quidditch community was screaming for change. We wanted to see Middlebury lose and a new champion emerge. We began a “Beat Middlebury” campaign to unite hundreds of quidditch players behind our common goal. We were disappointed and angered with the events leading to Middlebury’s fifth World Cup title.

A year and a half later, a rejuvenated quidditch community reunited in the sweltering heat of Kissimmee for World Cup VI. Middlebury was gone and change was inevitable. We were hard-pressed to find a proper villain. However, with certain change on the horizon, we wanted to find the perfect hero. We wanted to see a champion that truly embodied the growing athleticism of quidditch. We needed a shining example for quidditch players across the world. We hit the jackpot. We left World Cup VI elated, celebrating the championship of Texas and imagining the bright future of quidditch.

Fast forward a year to World Cup VII and the quidditch community began searching for continuity in the agreeable air of North Myrtle Beach. We anticipated another epic battle in the finals, pitting the best against the best. We wanted to see another uncontroversial, clear and undisputed champion. We thought we had it all figured out. Suddenly, World Cup VII revealed our misconceptions.

We didn’t expect Texas to win back-to-back championships. We weren’t looking for that kind of continuity. We had longed for undefeated Texas A&M to carry on the illustrious legacy of Texas’ World Cup VI squad. We felt that Texas A&M had been denied a shot at the championship in an ugly semifinal marred by stoppages and injuries. We pointed to the opportunities seized by Texas. We weren’t satisfied, but unlike World Cup V, we weren’t 100% ticked off. The attitude was not the same. We began to move on.
Photo by Sofia de la Vega
Why? We began to see the imperfections in our heroes and the virtues of our villains. We didn’t feel as strongly about upholding continuity or motivating change. Ain’t No Ho in Me recolored our views about Texas’ physical juggernaut, showcasing the likability, resiliency and work ethic of the nation’s top program. After losing captain Drew Wasikowski, Texas A&M abandoned their beautiful passing and flawless off-ball movement for illegal hits and yellow cards. The Lost Boys, the darlings of the quidditch community, experienced a ugly and public breakup that quickly threatened their title hopes and avid fan base. The unattractive physical tactics of Texas State were watched, emulated and incorporated into the “beautiful game.” New experiences made us closer, prompting mutual respect and less blind hate, and the increasing size of the quidditch community made us farther away, diffusing flared tempers and bad blood.

With more complicated characters in the drama of the World Cup, we lifted our habitual pressures off the heroes. The usual intrigue about heroes and villains (Could the heroes retake the World Cup title from the villains? Could the heroes defeat the villains again, retaining the World Cup title?) mattered less. The new World Cup experience would not be defined by complete heroism or complete villainy. The great triumph of heroes at World Cup VI and the crushing victory of villains at World Cup V became a relic of the past. Now that heroes had faults and villains had virtues, desperately screaming for massive continuity and change each year was too tiring and too unrewarding. It wasn’t the end of the world if villains succeeded or heroes failed. We settled for little continuities and little changes, perpetrated by both heroes and villains.

World Cup VIII was the living proof that continuity and change are now an expected and welcome part of quidditch’s national championship. When Texas claimed its third straight championship, we didn’t rush to conclusions and bemoan the state of quidditch. We reveled in the invincibility of Augustine Monroe and applauded the results of Texas’ sprawling intramural system. We cautiously applied the word “dynasty,” recalling Middlebury’s hated dynasty. When community teams avenged their World Cup VII disappointments, we adjusted comfortably and turned the spotlight onto the virtues of postgraduate quidditch. However, we wouldn’t have questioned the state of the sport if community teams had fallen once again. World Cup VIII came and went quickly because there was less built-up anticipation for absolute continuity or change.
Photo by Isabella Gong
As memories of snitch range thrillers, no-look passes and improbable long-range beats faded away, we confronted the sudden and unexpected resignations of CEO Alex Benepe and COO Alicia Radford. Before panicking, we peered around and evaluated the current state of quidditch. We looked deep inside, discovered our acceptance of continuity and change and concluded that quidditch will withstand the inevitable shocks of new league initiatives, new champions and new gameplay debates.

At World Cup VIII, we accepted quidditch for what it is. An ever-evolving sport with infinite possibilities for growth and expansion. A well-established sport with enjoyable competition and enthusiastic players, coaches, snitches, referees and volunteers. A flourishing sport made stronger and more resilient in Rock Hill.

JackthePhan's World Cup VIII coverage is not over! The second part will focus on World Cup VIII's continuites (May 13th) and the third part will analyze on World Cup VIII's changes (May 20th).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Texas Dynasty and Continuity

Texas captured its third consecutive World Cup championship. And by Sunday morning, it was kind of inevitable. Quietly, Texas eased through Swiss play, dispatching Arizona QC, Crimson Elite and Tufts in relatively low-profile matches. Victory after victory produced a perfect rhythm of success. The time and place for constructive losses had passed. A brief scare from Blue Mountain forced Texas to gear up, showing off its vaunted and unmatched Sunday willpower. Ultimately, tougher preliminary competition allowed Texas to transition seamlessly into single elimination. Unlike World Cup VII, Texas faced no close calls, walking over the LA Gambits, Blue Mountain and the Lost Boys. Nevertheless, as the thrill of bracket play arrived, Texas became a formidable locomotive, steaming across rickety train tracks at a breakneck speed. With an uphill battle ahead, Texas exploded into a higher gear with a surge of physicality and aggressive Ain’t No Ho In Me spirit. At the bends, Texas proceeded with caution and avoided disruptive mistakes. Texas would not be derailed before reaching its destination.

Rooted in World Cups VI and VII, Texas has mastered the art of controlled chaos. Beaters Michael Duquette and Freddy Salinas teetered on the edge of command and chaos, racing up and down the pitch and flying into tackles. Chasers Paden Pace and Ryan Davis pushed the limits of composure, while Monroe subbed in to restore a confident and relaxed calm. Amid the action-packed quidditch, Texas definitely made defensive miscues, fumbled away possession and earned yellow cards. However, the shortcomings were never enough to seriously threaten the three-time defending champions. The errors were always corrected appropriately and in time.

By sunset, Texas’ controlled chaos confronted its biggest challenge yet. With the World Cup title on the line, Texas stared down the former teammates and quidditch legends who had built the foundations of controlled chaos years ago. To defeat Lone Star, Texas could not abandon either control or chaos. Texas needed the perfect storm.

During its entire championship run, Texas’ win over Lone Star was the most eerily reminiscent of World Cup VII. Although World Cup VIII Lone Star was more battled-tested than World Cup VII Texas State, Texas reacted to both teams similarly and overcame almost identical challenges to claim the title.

At brooms up, Texas barreled into gameplay and quickly fell into a 20-0 hole. In back-to-back years, chasers Tyrell Williams and Chris Scholtz capitalized on an unorganized Texas defense and notched a pair of goals. Almost by design, Texas was forced to play from behind. Like a true dynasty, Texas barely blinked and proceeded with unshakable trust in the system. If they could erase an early 20-0 deficit, why couldn’t a mix of experienced leaders and gritty role players propel Texas into snitch range later? At World Cup VIII, keeper David Acker and chaser Marty Bermudez heeded the call and fired back with two goals. With any hidden doubts or perceived weaknesses flushed away, the time for Augustine Monroe had arrived.

Every season, quidditch analysts obsess over flashy scorers and new impact players from coast to coast. Who will be the difference at World Cup? Who will make the clutch snitch catch or score the go-ahead goal? Predictions and speculations about the World Cup litter quidditch articles and discussion. However,  when the dust clears, Monroe has clearly claimed the Most Valuable Player award and quidditch analysts collectively shrug and move on. With the entire quidditch community gathered around one pitch, how has Monroe’s World Cup championship game dominance escaped the spotlight? Indeed, Monroe is the ultimate silent assassin. Projecting a cool confidence, the quidditch community expects Monroe to dance through defenses and pick out the perfect pass. For three consecutive years, Monroe has jogged onto the pitch and seized control of an evenly-matched championship game. By World Cup VIII, it was entirely predictable and mind-bogglingly unbelievable deja vu.

At World Cups VII and VIII Monroe’s heroics verged on hero-balling. However, Monroe’s hero-balling never seems like a desperate attempt to cover up his teammates shortcomings. Monroe takes the temperature of the opposition and jumps into the action at the ideal time. Like a true superstar, Monroe’s heroics always make Texas appear more invincible. Whether it’s the spectacle and pressure of the World Cup or the never-failing loyalty and support of his teammates, Monroe has defied the odds and solidified a preeminent place in quidditch history.

However, history is never clear and certain until it happens. As the seconds ticked away in Rock Hill, Lone Star weathered Monroe’s storm and unleashed a series of well-timed goals to stay in snitch range. All signs still pointed to a Texas three-peat, but reasonable doubts loomed larger with each resilient, high-energy response. For a deep team like Lone Star, crunch-time plays overwhelmingly came from Texas A&M alumni. Players who have been knocked down repeatedly at the World Cup. Players who have chased an elusive championship for years. Players who have felt cheated, outplayed, outmuscled and unlucky. Players who bounce back from adversity year after year. Wasikowski scored twice, defiantly exploding down the side of the pitch. DuPont lunged for loose balls. Was it a desperate hunger to avoid falling short? Or was it a liberating, nothing-can-hurt-me-now feeling of invincibility?

At the end of the day, Wasikowski and DuPont left without a championship trophy. Yet, World Cup VIII was not a loss for Texas A&M’s tortured alumni. Texas A&M alumni weathered a blistering performance from Monroe and answered with grit. Thanks to Wasikowski, DuPont and Lensing, Lone Star and Texas were neck and neck. In crunch time, Texas A&M alumni carried the flag for Lone Star. For the first time since World Cup V, the quidditch community enjoyed a snitch range championship game. Texas A&M alumni stepped up and exceeded expectations without winning the World Cup.

Overall, World Cup VIII belonged to Texas. Overcoming opponents, injuries and graduations, Texas hoisted three straight championship snitchsocks into the World Cup air. As Texas stormed the pitched, smiled for pictures and lit the tower, the quidditch community contemplated the future of the Texas dynasty. Next fall, throngs of athletes will show up for tryouts. Newer faces will step into leadership roles. Undoubtedly, Texas will have the athleticism and hunger to win a fourth consecutive championship. But will they have the composure? Mr. Clutch will be gone. The Texas dynasty could become the Augustine Monroe dynasty, a de facto Longhorn dynasty extended by the Texas Cavalry. Or the Texas dynasty could be finished. For the first time in quidditch history, a defending World Cup champion could be dethroned at the World Cup. Lone Star QC and Texas State University will be back. Whatever the future holds, the continuity of the Texas dynasty has defined the past three years of quidditch. The Texas dynasty has been fun to watch.