By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Baylor Quidditch is one step closer to winning a championship.
The Bears qualified for the U.S. Quidditch Cup this past February when they competed in the Southwest Regional Championships.
The tournament, which runs Sat. and Sun. in Kissimmee, Fla., pits the top 60 Quidditch programs against one another in a single-loss elimination bracket to determine U.S. Quidditch supremacy.
Earning the berth to the most prestigious Quidditch tournament was far from easy for Baylor. The regional tournament was an uphill battle as the Bears squared off with both Texas A&M and Sam Houston State University, both teams they were expected to lose to.
After dropping a heartbreaker to Texas A&M, however, Baylor battled back from a 40-0 deficit to Sam Houston State to tie the match before ultimately catching the snitch, giving itself a chance to compete for the ultimate Quidditch glory.
Senior beater Blake Stroncek said the team was overwhelmed with emotion knowing they had qualified. Beating one of their biggest rivals to get that berth was an added bonus.
“When the whistle blew to end our Sam Houston game it was so surreal,” Stroncek said. “People on our team were screaming and hugging each other and more than a few of us were crying.”
Stroncek also stressed how much the team’s success this season can help the program moving forward, especially after failing to qualify for nationals in 2016.
“This has been our goal ever since we came short of making nationals last year,” Stroncek said. “This team has worked so hard to get here, and accomplishing our goal goes a long way toward re-establishing our legitimacy amongst the Quidditch community as one of the top programs, not to mention the fact that it will help a lot with recruiting back at Baylor next year.”
Baylor welcomed many new faces to the team this season between freshmen and first-year players. At times, it was challenging to not only teach the game, but also find roles where they could be successful.
Senior chaser Steffi Hoffman said the youth and experience have meshed well over time and the mix of the two has even developed some new tricks on the pitch.
“The fact that we are overall a young team cannot be stressed enough. Fortunately, we had a lot to work with. Thanks to our coach, we were able to not only develop our new members, but also teach ourselves new tricks,” Hoffman said. “More than ever, our chasers and beaters work together to ensure success on the field. Overall, Baylor Quidditch has not only continued the skillful play we are known for, but have turned into an incredibly smart team as well.”
As Baylor hits the road this weekend, new challenges and styles will confront them on the pitch. While playing in the Southwest Region, most of the teams rely on quickness and physical attacking to defend and look for scoring opportunities. Other regions rely more on in-game strategy and less on physical attacks to defeat opponents.
Senior chaser Ashley Marino said that Baylor’s keys would be how they deal with new styles of play and how well they can stick to their brand of Quidditch.
“The greatest challenge we’ll face this weekend is for sure the element of unfamiliarity,” Marino said. “We’ve watched film of the teams in our pool, so we’ve killed the element of surprise they may have had on us. Now all we need to do is not psych ourselves out and play the game we know how to play.”
The tournament takes place over the course of two days with day one being pool play. Each team will play four matches against other teams in their pool with the top three advancing to bracket-style playing beginning on day two.
Baylor will open with Minnesota, two teams that mirror each other in defensive style against one another. For Stroncek, the link between the two schools goes much deeper than defensive style.
“I personally am really excited for this game because it’s where my dad went to school,” Stroncek said. “They also have the distinction of being the only other team, aside from Baylor, to successfully run a zone defense back in the early days of Quidditch. I have no clue if they still run a zone, but it would be fun to match up against another good zone team.”
Baylor and Minnesota will square off beginning at 9:40 a.m. Saturday on pitch No. 4. The Bears will continue at 1 p.m. against Rensselaer Quidditch on pitch No. 8, 5 p.m. against the Silicon Valley Skrewts on pitch No. 1 and 7:40 p.m. against Maryland on pitch No. 3.
All matches can be live streamed at https://livestream.com/usquidditch.