Pitt Quidditch team competes for World Cup

By Gwenn Barney

Don’t ask them if the sport is magical.

It’s not. There’s nothing magical about sweat,… Don’t ask them if the sport is magical.

It’s not. There’s nothing magical about sweat, hard work and injuries.

Don’t ask them if they play for Slytherin or Gryffindor.

The answer is neither, and the question is asked far too often.

But ask the members of Pitt’s Quidditch World Cup team who they do play for, and they’ll proudly tell you they represent the Quidditch team that took third place in last year’s international World Cup. And this year, they plan to win it all.

In the three years since the Pitt Quidditch team formed, the young men and women who practice the muggle, or nonmagical, version of the sport popularized in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels have taken the Quidditch world by storm.

100 teams. 2,000 players. One cup.

Friday, Pitt’s Quidditch team will pile into five cars, brooms in tow, and make the drive to Randall’s Island in New York City for the international tournament known as the Quidditch World Cup.

The fifth annual tournament will take place this weekend, and Pitt’s Quidditch team will begin play Saturday against Tufts University, who defeated Pitt in last year’s semifinals. At the conclusion of Sunday’s championship, one team will win the coveted World Cup.

Pitt enters the Quidditch World Cup for the third time this year,ranked 10th internationally by the International Quidditch Association, the nonprofit organization that hosts the annual tournament. One hundred teams are expected to attend this year’s tournament — almost double the number that competed at the World Cup last year. Teams that wish to compete sign up for the World Cup through the IQA.

Most teams represent American universities, but teams from communities and high schools, several Canadian provinces and at least two overseas nations — Finland and the U.K. — will compete as well.

“The World Cup is really the only opportunity to play teams from that far away,” Pitt team founder and co-captain John Battaglia said.

This year’s tournament holds special meaning for Pitt Quidditch. For Battaglia and his broom-riding brigade of seniors, the end is near.

Battaglia and fellow seniors Jeff Moulton, Pat Dalsass, Diane Manovich, Sean O’Brien, Jon Rubin, Jason Lawrence, Doug Puchko and Jared Duffy — most of whom were founding members of Pitt Quidditch — will conclude their collegiate Quidditch careers this weekend.


“For all the seniors, this is our last shot at winning a World Cup. There’s definitely an air of urgency,” Battaglia said.

From books to reality

Quidditch involves players running up and down a 48-by-33-yard oval-shaped field.

“Quidditch players are people who are legitimately athletic and down for just kind of crazy stuff,” Battaglia said.

Like in the “Harry Potter” books, the goal is for the “chasers” (position players like strikers in soccer) to score as many times as possible by throwing a ball, a volleyball known as the quaffle, through the top of one of three lollipop-shaped goals guarded by a “keeper” on either end of the field.

Although unlike in the books, players can’t fly, they must still hold a broom between their legs as they run, according to official International Quidditch Association rules.

Players earn 10 points for each time they successfully throw the quaffle through a goal. However, position players known as beaters are on standby with dodgeballs to temporarily knock chasers out of the game before they can score.

The aspect of Quidditch that sets it apart from most other sports is that it contains a game within the game.

While the chasers, beaters and keepers battle for quaffle points, another position player known as the seeker searches for the snitch. In Potterverse, the snitch is an elusive ball with wings, but in IQA Quidditch, it’s an elusive man or woman dressed in yellow spandex with a sock hanging from his or her waistband.

The snitch leaves the field of play at the beginning of the game to hide, but returns after a predetermined amount of time (usually 15 minutes) to give the seekers a better chance of catching it.

Both teams have a seeker. When a seeker successfully yanks the sock from the snitch’s waistband, that seeker earns 30 points for his team, and the game ends. The game continues until the snitch is caught. However, catching the snitch does not guarantee a victory.

“It’s like a mix of dodgeball, rugby, basketball and soccer,” junior chaser Sara Dugan said.

During Quidditch practices, usually on the Cathedral lawn, members of other club sports teams such as rugby will sometimes inquire what the students on the brooms are up to.

“They’ll ask, ‘What is this? Can we play?’” said Dugan, who believes many of these athletic Quidditch novices come away from a practice with greater respect for the sport.

Taking the team to new heights

The Quidditch club evolved from an after-class escape for five friends to an organization that welcomed 60 students to try out for a 21-member team in 2010.

But gaining respect on campus has proved a struggle for the Quidditch team since its inception in the spring of 2009.

“It took us a little while to be taken seriously,” Battaglia said.

The club had difficulty acquiring funds from the Student Government Board for tournament expenses during its first two years. Battaglia said that trend changed this year when the team received funds from the Allocations Committee to attend the Quidditch World Cup.

“I’m really happy that before I graduate, the club is established and new captains won’t have to go through the stressful time we went through,” he said.

The Quidditch team practices one to three times a week during the more competitive fall season. Dugan said that because of the lack of collegiate Quidditch teams in the area, players often scrimmage among themselves. Last week, Pitt’s team played a scrimmage with Carnegie Mellon’s newly formed Quidditch team. She said that while Pitt’s team has yet to host a game, it hopes to have a tournament on campus in the spring.


How to succeed at muggle Quidditch

There are two major strategies in the world of muggle Quidditch. Teams either rely on muscle or speed. Pitt’s team banks its success on the latter.

“We use our athletic, speedy chasers to get out to an early lead,” Battaglia said.


Team members say that at least half their total goals are scored by arguably the fastest players on the team, sophomore chasers Kurt Rishel and Andrew Bulman.

“We have some big guys, but we mostly rely on finesse and skill, not brawn,” Dugan said.

Pitt will need to bring all the speed, finesse and skill it can muster to New York if it wants to overcome No. 2-ranked University of Kansas, who handed Pitt its only loss this year at the Midwest Quidditch Cup, and No. 1-ranked Middlebury, the school where muggle Quidditch was founded and the champion of all four Quidditch World Cups to date.

“We’ve only lost one major match, and that was by a snitch catch,” junior chaser Heather Kraus said, referring to the loss to University of Kansas. “We’ve never lost by points.”

Die-hard fans and curious Quidditch initiates can watch major games from the World Cup on quidditchcup.com. Pitt’s first-round match will stream on the site Saturday at 8:20 p.m.

“Pitt students should pregame their Saturday night by watching our game, and taking shots every time we score,” Battaglia said.

Just don’t drink and fly.