The Eighth Man

Mid-Atlantic Regionals: A Captain’s Perspective

We could have asked Zach D’Amico to write a critical analysis of everything he saw at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. Or, we could ask the player behind the most famous speech in quidditch history to talk from his heart about his team’s victory in the first American regional. We chose the latter. We hope you enjoy.

 

Villanova University, the winning team at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, huddles before a game to get pumped up. Credit: Zach D’Amico

 

Quidditch is unlike any other sport.

 

You’ve probably heard, and even spoken, these words a million times. Quidditch has four balls on the field at once. Quidditch is co-ed and a full contact sport. Quidditch players hug after they battle it out on the pitch, something foreign to many other sports. These things make quidditch unique, but it is something else that gives quidditch players an experience unknown to those who have never played. This something is a moment in time, it feels like hours but in actuality is only a split second, which freezes each and every player’s minds and hearts in place. The game is tied, the snitch is on the field, and your team is focused on scoring just a few more goals to put it out of range, when suddenly the crowd erupts. Out of nowhere, the ref’s whistle blows, and you turn around to see who bested the snitch.

 

He caught it.

 

As a player, and especially as a captain, there are few moments more stressful than when you know the snitch has been caught, but are unsure of who caught it. This happened on one occasion this past weekend, as I watched 21 members of Villanova Quidditch leave every ounce of themselves on the fields of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. After two days and millions of moments that won’t be leaving my mind any time soon, Villanova was crowned the champions of the Mid-Atlantic Region. This is our story.

 

The ups and downs we experienced that weekend started far in advance of the actual tournament, as two of our team’s recent additions informed me that their Naval ROTC Fall Banquet was Friday night, and they would not be able to attend. One of our seekers, Billy Greco, offered to stay back, driving his car overnight to allow the two girls to make it to the tournament. So as most of us slept, cramped into not enough beds at the Days Inn, a car of five players made its way down I-81, approaching Roanoke just as the sun crested over the Appalachians. The group finally met us at the hotel half an hour before wake-up, and we headed to Green Hill Park to begin our quest for World Cup VI.

 

Just a few hours later, I was on one knee with six of my teammates and closest friends, about to face off against Penn State. Conventional quidditch wisdom said we were the two best teams in Pool 1, but only one of us could win the group, earning the automatic bid to the World Cup. For 30 minutes, players from both teams scratched and clawed, fighting for victory in one of the most important games either team had played all season. The game wasn’t pretty, but when the snitch was caught, we had won 140*-80. We gave everything we had that game, and though we came off the pitch physically weakened, we were mentally stronger because of it.

 

There have been times this year where I wanted nothing more than to not be the captain of this team. From making cuts to yelling at the team, there were too many moments where all I wanted was to let someone else take over. After we beat Penn State, I began to remember why I stuck through those tough moments. Over the next 36 hours I watched Villanova Quidditch turn from a group of players into a team, from a team into friends, and from friends into family. We toppled Carnegie Mellon 150*-0, before finishing out the day by beating the top-ranked team in the group (according to IQA rankings), University of Virginia, 160*-20. After spending the night eating and bowling together, we returned to the pitch in the morning. Picking up where we left off, we defeated University of North Carolina, Greensboro 150*-20 before finishing off group play with a win over Steel City Quidditch Club, 140*-10.

 

After watching University of Richmond earn a bid to World Cup VI in one of the most suspenseful matches I can recall, our team stepped on the field ready to begin our three-game road to the championship. We were happy to qualify for World Cup, without a doubt. But if there’s one thing I know about my team, it’s that they are not satisfied with anything but the best. The team showed that attitude in our quarterfinal match against Richmond, earning every bit of our 130*-0 victory, sending us to the semifinals and a rematch with Penn State.

 

Penn State. Again.

 

The team knew what that meant. The sun had come out from behind the clouds, but it seemed as though the temperature had dropped 10 degrees as soon as we found out who we were facing. As we huddled up before the game, focused and ready for another brutal match, I told my team, “Everyone thinks we could be the team to finally beat Maryland. Well guess what? We can’t be that team if we don’t go out and give 200% right now. Penn State will walk over us if we worry about Maryland. But Penn State already got their chance against Maryland, now it’s our turn.” I didn’t think it was possible, but from the moment “Brooms Up!” was called, the match was twice as ferocious as the first one. We fought back and forth, pulling ahead to an early 20 point lead, only to see it erased immediately. I nearly lost my voice screaming from the sideline, trying to urge the team to the victory we had all worked so hard for.

 

Almost halfway through the game, with my back to the quaffle play, I heard a scream from behind me. Dropping my broom, all the noise around me disappearing, I sprinted to where I saw one of my players—one of my family members—down on the ground. Glennon Waters, recently voted to the tournaments all-star game as a chaser, had gone down defending Penn State all-star Jason Rosenberg. Absolutely terrified, my co-captain and I called the medics over, refusing to leave Glennon’s side until they lifted her off the field to the sidelines. At that moment, after Glennon refused to go to the hospital because she wanted to finish watching the game, we stopped playing for ourselves. We didn’t play to face Maryland, we didn’t even play to win the trophy; we played that game for her. Our players went out and gave it their all for the last 15 minutes, playing the game of their lives so they wouldn’t let her down. When we caught the snitch, I felt more relief than elation, sprinting out onto the field to mob our seeker.

 

After we advanced to the finals, the rest of the tournament was a blur to me. Glennon needed medical attention immediately, and as her captain, I took her to the hospital. I knew the team could beat Maryland without me, and I made sure they knew it too. They had worked the entire year to get to this moment, and they had everything they needed to bring the trophy back to Villanova with us. It was right then, sitting in the waiting room of the emergency room, that I realized it didn’t matter if we won. We had become a family. We had become a group that would stand up for one another both on and off the field. As I realized this, I got the text saying we had won. Without even thinking, I ran across the waiting room, and burst into the room where Glennon was speaking with a doctor.

 

“Sorry Doctor, but this is important. They did it, Glennon. They won.”

 

If you want to know exactly what happened in that championship game, I’m not the person to talk to. We caught the snitch to win 60*-50 in one of the best matches of the tournament, or so I’m told. All I know is when four players came to pick us up from the hospital, it didn’t feel like I had met some of these people just a few months ago. I immediately hugged Billy, my Villanova teammate since three years ago when the team started, and didn’t let go for a long time. I turned to my co-captain Dan Takaki, a sophomore who stepped up and led the team to victory in my absence, and never have I felt prouder of Villanova Quidditch.

 

“We did it for you two,” he said, turning to me and Glennon.

 

We missed the on-field celebration, but this was so much sweeter.

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