UT quidditch team looks to reclaim title as U.S. Cup returns to Round Rock

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For three years straight, the University of Texas at Austin quidditch team was at the top of the sport, winning the U.S. Quidditch Cup from 2013-2015 and helping transform the sport made famous by the Harry Potter franchise into the physical game it is today.

But a disappointing loss in last year’s championship game has the team’s seniors hungry to claim a title of their own before they graduate.

“We’re hoping to come back and come back stronger,” Kylie McBride, Texas Quidditch’s captain, told KXAN at a scrimmage Thursday ahead of this weekend’s U.S. Quidditch Cup in Round Rock.

More than 80 teams, split into collegiate and community divisions, will converge on the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex for the second year in a row to battle it out Saturday and Sunday.

Quidditch, a mixed-gender, full-contact sport, combines elements of rugby, basketball, lacrosse, dodgeball, and football, said Sarah Woolsey, executive director of U.S. Quidditch, the country’s organizing body.

“The game is evolving every year,” she said. Players originally wore capes and held onto brooms with bristles as an homage to the wizard sport; now it’s all business, with jerseys and streamlined “broomsticks” that players have to straddle the entire match.

Harry Potter fans will know the basic rules: players called chasers try to score the “quaffle” (in this case a volleyball) through three hoops at different heights. Beaters throw dodgeballs (“bludgers”) at other players who then have to retreat to their own goalposts before continuing play. The game only ends when one team’s seeker captures the “snitch,” in this case a ball attached to a neutral runner who uses any means necessary to keep it away from both seekers. 

“It can be a pretty physical sport,” McBride said, “but that makes it more fun.”

The UT team took it easy during the scrimmage so as not to hurt each other or their chances during the tournament, but players tackle one another and jostle for position without pads or helmets.

Woolsey explained UT is responsible for some of the increased physicality the sport has seen over the last several years. As the team surged to its championship three-peat, it brought an athleticism and intensity to the pitch. 

“They’ve continued to remain a really strong team,” Woolsey said.

Middlebury College in Vermont started the first official quidditch team in 2005 and won the first U.S. Quidditch Cup two years later. The first championship featured just two teams, and the sport’s popularity has been on the rise ever since. 

Community teams are springing up around the country, too, as players graduate from their college teams with a desire to keep playing. Last year, U.S. Quidditch spun off the community competition from the collegiate one. Both still happen at the same Cup event.

Nine college teams from Texas are competing (including Texas State University, Texas Tech, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Baylor, and Texas A&M), along with four community teams from the state, three of which come from central Texas.

The International Quidditch Association hosts the Quidditch World Cup every two years (the U.S. won gold last year), and Major League Quidditch hosts professional matches between 15 teams from around the country, including one in Austin.

“I definitely think the future of the sport is trending upwards,” Alex Russell, a senior chaser with Texas Quidditch, said. With twice-weekly practices, plus additional training in between, he’s ready to claim the championship before leaving school. “It’s been a lot of hard work going into this year… and you really want to see it all pay off.”

McBride is optimistic about their chances. “It’s going to be a good weekend.”

The first match is at 9 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are available online or at the gate.

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