Road to Regionals: Western Cup V
I wish I could say that it seems like yesterday that I was heading off to Arizona for my first regional championship. Since I crammed a lot of quidditch into the last four-ish years, the earlier stuff is starting to get a little hazy. So, in an effort to fight the inevitable decay of memory and to share a look back at how someone can go from knowing nothing about quidditch to (arguably) too much, this week my Road to Regionals will begin in Tempe, head up to Roseville, make its way down to Westwood, and come full circle in Peoria.
Let’s go for a ride, guys.
Once Upon a Time…
Back when snitches frolicked off-pitch and many players still remembered playing in capes, I was a rookie. It was the fall of 2013 and I was just one of SJSU Quidditch’s many first-year players. It was a magical, whimsical time. Even our name reflected that: we were the Original Wizarding League of Spartans, or the OWLS for short.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was joining quidditch during its transition from a whimsical nerdy activity (the thing I signed up for) to an organized sport (the thing I stuck around for). The tournament was still called Western Cup but it worked like the regional championships we have now because it was how you qualified to go to World Cup.
Looking back on that event now, with all the experience and cynicism of a seasoned tournament director, I’m surprised that the whole thing even happened. While those of us who were there may make jokes about rain in Arizona and playing in socks (oh yeah, that happened), in hindsight we were lucky to be able to play at all after our long trek to Arizona. So, huge shoutout to everyone who helped make that happen. I know some of you now and I’m still a little in awe of everything you had to do behind the scenes. At the time, I rolled with the weirdness because that’s what I was there for.
It would end up being SJSU’s last major tournament as a student org before we blossomed into a club sport, so our logistics reflected that. Many (most?) of us left Thursday after class, which mean we drove all Thursday night and into Friday morning. We arrived in Arizona as the sun was rising.
I wish I had taken more pictures. It was my first time in the Mojave Desert, my first road trip longer than a jaunt to LA. I remember watching the sun rise and turn the sky red and orange to match the topography of Arizona. I remember pointing it out to my carpool because I could still remember the geology class I took during my sophomore year.
We arrived, crashed, and then waited the next morning to see how the schedule would work out. I remember a trip to Waffle House and a chat with a random UCLA player I didn’t know. Now Chris Grant is playing for the Funky Quaffles and I’m low key jealous of him.
It would be the first of many interactions I’d look back on later and smile on. Always be nice to people you meet in this sport; you never know how or when you’ll run into them again.
SJSU was in that year’s pool of life with the Long Beach Funky Quaffles, Quid Pro Quo from Las Vegas, and the Santa Barbara Blacktips. Little did I know (I feel like that’s becoming a theme?) that I’d end up seeing Long Beach in my regional pool every year I played for SJSU and Santa Barbara nearly as often. I’d also come to adore both of those teams. At the time, though, I just wanted to beat them.
I especially wanted to beat the Blacktips. They were the top ranked team in our pool and their loudmouth captain couldn’t stop crowing about how Santa Barbara was totally going to dominate the pool. I hated that guy. Three and a half years later, we’ve had shared experiences like holding down the same volunteer position, a reputation for being the worst, and an intimate moment on the couch of the original Funky Horror Picture Show, but at the time he was just Evan Bell and I was a nobody who knew nothing.But first came our game against the Funky Quaffles. I remember thinking that they had cool jerseys and letterman jackets. But about the game itself, I only remember two things: we won it and I got a steal off of Tanna Helm, who is now Tanna Bettendorf and a better beater than me. Yes, I know she stopped playing. She’s also #fitnessgoals and started a blog about it while I’m a shameless couch potato who likes to pontificate from the comfort of my couch.
Our next game was against Quid Pro Quo. It was the first time I knew fear in a quidditch game. Their roster was small, but they played hard. Really hard. Not quite in the rules hard. Flipped Marina’s meniscus hard. Hit me so hard that I went airborne and lost my glasses hard. We ended that game with an answer to “But how do you fly?” and the team went into out Blacktips game with a 2-0 record. Meanwhile, my teammate Marina flat out left the game and the tournament altogether with a flipped meniscus, leaving SJSU’s female beating in the hands of two rookies.
Finally, we headed into our game against the Blacktips. They were 2-0. We were 2-0. I don’t remember much of that game either, just that they won (boo) and that loudmouth Evan Bell most likely concussed my fellow beater Victoria (BOOOOOOO), leaving me as the last SJSU female beater standing.
Me, worried? Never. (Always.)
Our first game the next day was against UCLA. As in, the defending champions and World Cup 6 runners-up UCLA. With Victoria and Marina out, the team switched to a two male beater set (before it was cool) which meant that I had to switch to chaser. However, I’d never played chaser before. So, no pressure or anything.
This is where I’d share the only picture of me playing in that tournament, a shot of me fighting Adam Richardson for the quaffle. I’d end up keeping that ball, but I never thought to keep the picture. The photography page is long gone, taking my photo with it and proving that not even the internet is forever.
We wound up losing that match and getting matched up in the consolation bracket against the University of Arizona. Victoria felt good enough to come back and play. I wanted so desperately to play my proper position again that I didn’t stop her.
I remember two things about that game. The first was a moment after I’d been beat. I was running back to hoops when I felt something I would never feel again. I wasn’t tired. I didn’t hurt. I was all adrenaline. I made it back to hoops faster than I expected. I decided that I wanted to feel that euphoria all the time.
Little did I know that (told you that was gonna be a theme) I’d end up hyperextending my knee at practice the night before our next tournament, beginning a long decline of my impact as a player due to knee problems.
My other memory of that game were less than euphoric. I was taking the lion’s share of the minutes since Victoria wasn’t 100%, but even adrenaline only lasts so long. As I was subbing out, Arizona pulled to win. They’d go on to face the Wizards of Westwood and earn a bid to World Cup 7. The Funky Quaffles, who we’d beaten on Day 1, rallied on Day 2 and booked their ticket to Myrtle Beach, too.
There’s something to be said about being a team no one expects much from. Though our day was over, we were satisfied. We’d exceeded expectations. We knew we had a decent chance of getting a deferred bid. (Spoiler alert: U of A dropped and while I don’t think the bid we eventually got was theirs, I’ve convinced myself that it was. It makes for a better story.)
The Birth of a Fangirl
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first tournament outside of NorCal. That means that it was my first time seeing a team I’d only heard about: The Lost Boys.
Yes, they were obviously good at quidditch. As a team built from all-star alumni from UCLA and Emerson with a handful of other players, how could they not be? The won Western Cup that year, but that’s not what made me the not-at-all secret fangirl I am today.
While most teams still had Harry Potter inspired names, they were something different. Or, as I’d say now: their branding was on point. The shield with the second star on the right, the “Never grow up” motto, the iconic jerseys. Meanwhile, not only was I playing in a t-shirt, but a t-shirt with taped numbers on the back.
I thought they were so cool. Can’t say much has changed about that since then. If anything, the interactions I’d have with them in the future would underscore that fact. I’d eventually have friends join that squad. Even now, I’m a little in awe of them. I have friends on The Lost Boys.
Little did I know that I’d be playing against them three years later. Though really, I’d be better off saying “Little did I know that I’d still be playing quidditch three years later.”
But we’ll get to that later.