I spent all last season on this long journey from Spartan to Skrewt, only to have a bit of a relapse this year. Or maybe it would be better to call it a reset? I don’t have to be one or the other. I can be both. I’m still playing for and managing the Skrewts, but now I’m coaching my alma mater, too.
I started to draft this on Tuesday morning, my body still aching from the weekend. I went from fourth string to second string and played seven games in two days. I finally played against my alma mater but I didn’t come away with the championship that I obviously, desperatly wanted because NorCal crowned a new champion.
There’s a lot to unpack. Let’s get into this.
Okay, this might be a bit of a lukewarm take. This was supposed to go up last night, but between Portuguese school, trying to cook dinner, and deciding that watching The Great British Baking Show was a better way to spend my night, this got put off to today.
A little over two weeks ago, I was sitting at the airport, putting together the fundraiser for the Skrewts postseason tournament. I found myself pausing when asked to give it a title. I’m a planner by nature and that means planning for the worst case scenario. I’d quietly mentioned Consolation Cup to our team president at our last practice before regionals and he looked fit to kill me. I evaded a swift death but reminding him that I believed in our team and telling him to pretend that the whole conversation had never happened.
But I couldn’t pretend. After several minutes of staring at my laptop, I typed “Help the Skrewts Go East” into the box because both Texas and Florida are east of Silicon Valley and I didn’t want to jinx things. I might be a hockey atheist, but the Spirit of St. Quidditch is still real to me.
I’m also a big believer in stories. I have a degree in them, after all. Taking events and piecing them together into a narrative helps me bring meaning to life. As I sat in that airport terminal, I was apprehensive. Would the coming weekend be the beginning of the twilight of the Skrewts? It felt like the narrative I deserved after playing Achilles in his tent earlier this season.
Yes, I know that this is late and that I’ve been to regionals and back again. But considering how things went for the Spartans (woo for day 2!) and Skrewts (woo for not qualifying in the last spot!), it feels fitting that I finish this thing with this year’s regional fresh on my mind.
After I wrote about being a community player who had to play against their old college team, I did something I hadn’t done before; I shared my blog in the larger quidditch forums. Normally I don’t think my writing has a place there, since most of my reflections on the sport are personal or locally focused, but the college-community split is impacting the whole league and I wanted to see what other people in my position were thinking.
While I did get some agreement, I was surprised to see that not everyone had the same great experience with their college team that I did. Call me a little narrow-minded, I guess. It’s a shame, but not everyone’s experience with the sport is the same, for better or for worse.
With that in mind, I considered myself especially lucky to be welcomed back with open arms. Even though the Skrewts and Spartans were scheduled to play one another, there wasn’t an ounce of ill-will on either side. Things hadn’t always been that way. I’d even been a part of the more heated moments in Skrewt/Spartan history. Today’s SJSU team doesn’t remember that rough patch, and the Skrewts, known for their long institutional memory, didn’t hold it against me or my alma mater.
Speaking of that history, there’s one thing that’s never happened in my four seasons and counting of quidditch: SJSU had never beaten the Skrewts. My first game at Spartan Stadium would put that record to the test.
But first, SJSU would open the tournament with a matchup against the Vipers, another team we hadn’t been able to defeat during my time in blue and gold. That particular streak came to an end after a close game that never left snitch range. Watching (and photographing) that win was the biggest thrill of my day, more exciting that anything I felt while wearing red and black.
SJSU went 0-16 last year in official games. We had got some wins at NCQC College, which was unofficial because the weather moved us to a venue that was just barely under legal size. We took second at Best Coast Classic and fourth at the NCQC Championship, but those games weren’t submitted. They were after nationals, I thought rankings didn’t matter anymore, and I had no idea Elo would be a thing.
Since SJSU didn’t have many graduates last year, I was looking forward to watching them build on last year’s upward trajectory by adding a few rookies but sticking with the core that had improved over the year. I feel like I was right, even if the two overtime losses SJSU took to the Dobbys and Stanford at NCQC @ Skrewts kept my Spartans in the losing column.
That losing streak was a monkey I was dying for my team to get off their back. What better place to do it than on our home (football) turf? For the first time, I didn’t join SJSU as they celebrated a victory. I settled for (attempting) to capture it.
Then it was time to start preparing for my first game. I’m always a hot mess for the first matchup of the day, so the added emotional stakes were adding to my already heightened nerves. I can say this now that the game’s behind me, but I didn’t want the story to be “Haha, Liz turned traitor to play for the Skrewts but couldn’t beat SJSU.” I didn’t want to beat my old team, but I also didn’t want to be the reason my new team lost.
I had nothing to worry about. The Skrewts won, but I had nothing to do with it. My teammate and fellow beater, Natalie Pollard, played the whole game. And she was a baller at it, too. Not only that, but she apologized to me, scrub queen supreme and chronic practice absentee, for taking all the minutes in that game. Instead, I thanked her for taking those minutes from me. I was not prepared mentally or physically for that game.
I’ve spent enough time gushing about my Spartans. Let me take a minute to shower the Skrewts with some much-deserved love. We’re known for a lot of things: producing referees, a long pedigree of high-level volunteers, being the home of some of the louder voices in the sport.
These things are certainly true of several individuals, but the thing you don’t realize until you join this team is that we’re a team. We play board games and go to escape rooms together. We make Brandon Sanderson/Broadway/Disney references on the regular. But we also take care of one another. I loved being a part of SJSU Quidditch, but as their Team Mom, I took care of them. On the Skrewts, we take care of one another. Some of us are better at quidditch than others, some of us are better at other things, but I’m one of many peers now. Neither team dynamic was a bad one; this is just the best place for me now.
We went on to go 3-0, with wins against the Golden Snitches and Stanford. The relatively pressure-free situation of an unofficial game let me get my head screwed on right. I got to shut up and play quidditch. I wasn’t preoccupied with tournament logistics, I hadn’t stayed up the night before fixing a schedule or making sure everyone was housed.
It was absolutely liberating.
Then I landed on my knee wrong in warmups and sat out the Stanford game. Typical.
I still felt like a part of the team as we came together for our pregame huddle. I remember resenting Andrew Covel for joining the Skrewts back when SJSU was unsure of being official. That resentment simmered longer than he deserved. Now, I was hanging on his every word as he urged us to think of this game not as the last of the day, but the first of our regionals journey. I was fired up and I knew I wasn’t going to play.
Instead, I watched as my team played beautiful, clean quidditch. We shut out Stanford 120* – 0. It was good way to start our road to regionals. Next stop: being a better teammate and actually showing up to practice.
This is it. This is what I came back to quidditch for. Not to let the cold damp of Sacramento sink into my bones, not even really to play at regionals (and maybe nationals) one more time—though that would be sweet.
No, this weekend I am taking to the field to live one of my dreams. I am playing quidditch at SJSU’s Spartan Stadium. (Yes, I know they changed the name this year. No, I don’t care.) I never dreamed that it would happen. I’d accepted quidditch’s place as a nerd sport on campus, I knew that SJSU Athletics was stingy about their facilities, and I was just happy to have been a part of the transition from club to club sport at SJSU.
So when I heard that my kids managed to book Spartan Stadium, I was overjoyed. Never mind that we’re not playing in it all day. I wore my quidditch jersey the last time I set foot there, so it just feels like it was always meant to be.
And because fate is cruel (and so is Chris Lock, who wrote the NCQC schedule this year) my quidditch homecoming also marks the first time I play against the team I poured so much of myself into. As I packed my things to move out of Casa Barcelos and into Casa Gold Bar, I kept unearthing pieces of my SJSU Quidditch history. Binders full of quidditch players (aka my trading card collection). Newspapers. All the artifacts of my quidditch life are marked with the blue and gold of Sparta.
While playing at Spartan Stadium was always a dream of mine, beating the Skrewts was one, too. After graduating, I decided that if I couldn’t beat them, I might as well join them. Considering that I’m still winless as a Skrewt, I’m going to be pretty invested in not letting that happen this time around. No matter how the game ends, it’s going to be one of the hardest postgame hug lines to walk through.
I hate to say it, but I’m still more emotionally invested in my college team. I put so much effort into running and growing that team that it’s hard to switch gears. Every time one of them calls me Mom, my heart grows three sizes. I want them to do well but I also want my team to do well.
I can’t be the only college to community player that feels this way, right? I love the Skrewts, they’re my people, they work harder than I do (please don’t ask me how much I’ve practiced lately), but I still feel like a Spartan in Skrewts clothing. I imagine it’s probably easier for people who move away from their team, like the Spartans who headed north to play for the Seattle Admirals or the University of Richmond contingent we have on the Skrewts. Still, I think most players making the college to community transition have it harder than you’d realize.