Quidditch World Cup Diary: Day 2

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The fourth annual Quidditch World Cup came to an exciting end today, as the top 24 teams from yesterday progressed into single-elimination bracket play. (Read our diary of the first day here.) Techland was on the scene once again. Here’s what we saw:

The differences between today and yesterday: This year’s tournament was the first ever to expand beyond one day, and in the early hours of day two both the teams and the Cup’s organizers seemed disorganized and discombobulated. Once everything got sorted, however, we noticed a change of a different sort. The move to elimination games ratcheted up the (already-high) intensity of the Cup. No longer could teams go easy on a lesser team, or assuage a defeat by holding out for the next match. A worn-down team could no longer put themselves out of their misery by prematurely snatching the Snitch. (Well, they could, but that would mean the end of their World Cup journey.)

The violence: After some scary injuries yesterday, the referees we saw seemed to be policing roughness with a heavier hand, even going so far as to hand out red cards — OK, one red card that we saw — to particularly violent players. From where we were, though, it didn’t have the intended effect. At times this afternoon it seemed like every other match had a player down on the field at one point. (To be fair, one of these was a guy in St. Lawrence-Vassar who stayed down because he was reportedly waiting for his friend to take a picture of the way his minor head wound was bleeding.) Though this year didn’t have the injury horror stories that the last Cup did, according to Quidditch commissioner Alex Benepe, this weekend saw a dozen players helped off the field by medical personnel. It will be interesting to see how the sport evolves if the IQA gets serious about injuries; almost all of the most successful teams at this year’s tournament play a rough, intense style that features dozens of borderline hits each match.

The results: Credit to our colleague Alan Haburchak for picking a great slate of teams to follow. Of the trio we featured on the first day, two made it to the bracket stage, and  both did so well that they ended up meeting in the semifinals. Vassar, who as we explained yesterday was probably the nicest team in the tournament, came into the second day with a goal of setting an example of good, clean Quidditch. The team saw their finesse passing game fall off a little bit, but were able to compensate with outstanding Seeker play that stopped each game before it got out of hand. Middlebury too came into the day with high hopes. As the defending champions, they spoke with the confident humility of a winner: a lot of great teams, we need to play them all hard, etc. “We’re going to have to lose eventually,” said one. “We just hope it’s not today.” They were penciled in for the finals by nearly everyone attending and they did not disappoint, triumphing over an athletically outmatched Vassar in the semis in a rematch of the first-ever intercollegiate Quidditch match. (In November 2007, Middlebury steamrolled Vassar to the tune of something like 150-0. Today’s match was much closer.)

After the match Vassar’s seniors, who had been freshman during that fateful match, began to cry — but they were tears of pride. The difference between the Vassar squad of 2007 and the squad of 2010, they said, was like night and day. “This [team] is one of the things I’m most proud of during my time at Vassar,” said one girl, between sobs. Captain Molly Cohen consoled her squad, reminding them that there was still the Third Place game to play. The team rallied, and played that match joyously: dancing on the pitch, waving their arms in imitation of a Golden Snitch and attempting trick shots from ridiculously far distances.

But if that half of the bracket sorted out exactly as imagined, the other half was complete chaos. Looking to get our hands on a serious competitor for Middlebury, all the media organizations at the cup fluttered from pretend contender to pretend contender. First it was McGill, with a boisterous suit-wearing manager and a heavy tolerance for Canadian jokes; they fell to Villanova, who fell to Middlebury. We turned towards Chestnut Hill (eliminated in the Round of 16), then Emerson (eliminated in the quarterfinals), then Pittsburgh (eliminated in the semifinals). After the dust cleared, we realized all three teams had been beat by the same squad, one that no one had been paying attention to: Tufts. But after three straight upsets, could Tufts pull off yet another?

The Quidditch World Cup Championship: The final match of the weekend got started with much fanfare, as Benepe led the crowd in showing appreciation for all of the volunteers who had helped make the tournament so magical. (My wordplay, not his.) The announcers earlier had attempted to get Middlebury to guarantee a victory, a request that team’s captain had politely declined, and once the game started the decision was quickly proven wise. Tufts turned out to play the same hard, physical style that Middlebury had made their trademark: contesting every loose ball and never giving up the Quaffle until it was physically pried from their fingers. Using a fast-break offense powered by their Chasers’ excellent ability to weave through traffic, Tufts was able to hang with Middlebury in the early minutes of the game. Unfortunately, Tuft’s shooting accuracy abandoned them down the stretch — they shot around .200 for the match — and by the time the Snitch re-appeared Middlebury’s lead was hovering around 40 points. It was a crucial differential: Even if Tufts caught the Snitch, they would lose narrowly. The Tufts Seeker began to play interference with his Middlebury rival, hoping to hold off the end of the game and give his teammates time to close the gap. But it was not to be: Middlebury’s Beaters and Chasers found ways to slip through Tufts’ defenses, and the lead instead slowly grew. As Middlebury’s score crept up into the triple digits, the Tuft’s Seeker made a decision. He sped at full-speed towards The Snitch Runner — who, concentrating on fending off the Middlebury Seeker, never saw him coming — and snatched the Snitch right off his back. Tufts had caught the Snitch, but Middlebury had won the match, and the Cup. The expected result, but delivered in a wholly unexpected way.

Though Middlebury had won each of the previous World Cups, the team erupted with the glee of a first-time winner. As the team was once again presented with the championship trophy, someone turned on a catchy low-budget rap tune celebrating the school’s charms, and fans and players blended together into a giant dance party at the center of the pitch. Though we are Very Important writers for TIME and they were a group of kids celebrating their college’s club-sport victory, we have to confess: At that moment, we were a tiny bit jealous.

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