Photo by: Photography by Ali Markus http://photographybyalimarkus.com/
Written by: Daniel Shapiro
This article is part of the “History of…” series curated by The Eighth Man and US Quidditch. The series highlights the individual histories of teams that qualified for US Quidditch Cup 10 to help both players and spectators get to know the story behind the teams. Head over to this link to read more.
Entering the 2016-2017 season, Mizzou Club Quidditch had no official tournament victories under our belt, a history of volatile fluctuating numbers, and four-year-old, screen printed jerseys. Seven months later, the team is currently enjoying our best run ever, and have shot up the national rankings to the point we are being touted as a top college team.
My, how things change.
We’ve won all four of our official tournaments this season, brought consistent depth to tournaments, and have fresh new sublimated jerseys that evoke images of fierce tigers – not a collegiate club sport on a tight budget.
The road to this point has been a mind-numbingly long, frustrating process that has included some of the most fulfilling and rewarding memories of my life. If there were to ever be a phrase to describe Mizzou Club Quidditch, it would be “no pain, no gain.”
The story of the University of Missouri’s quidditch team began six years ago while I was still a senior in high school. The team was formed in the Spring of 2011, playing under the name of the Sirius Black and Gold. While I wasn’t there, I was able to receive insight on the team from former player Erin Miller.
“It was the stereotypical bunch of nerds,” Miller said. “My friends and I showed up to the very next practice and oh boy, it was rough. I think we probably had five people on each side. That was a big theme of the first couple years of the team – not enough people. The leadership changed extremely quickly with basically kicking the original founding member out, then another girl took over who quickly became problematic as well. Before we had a team organized enough to compete in a tournament, five of us went on a road trip to just watch the Hog’s Head tournament in Arkansas. It was a blast and helped us get the name of the team out there. I also distinctly remember not having enough headbands for everybody so we had to guess what positions people were a lot of the time. That was obviously not very conducive to competitive practicing.”
I had heard about quidditch after reading an ESPN article about the sport. As a nerdy sports fanatic, it constantly bounced around in the back of my head and one day came to the forefront when a friend asked if I wanted to go with her to quidditch practice. I made one of the largest decisions of my life and decided to join the quidditch team after the team welcomed myself and all newcomers with wide-open arms.
Mizzou Quidditch’s first match was against the Kansas Jayhawks in September of 2011. “They’d had a fairly well-established team and we had only been playing for just over a semester,” said former captain Travis Zimpfer. “When we piled out of cars with our T-shirt jerseys and brooms of every shape and size, I remember being taken aback by their shiny, blue and red soccer uniforms emblazoned with their own logo and their huge (regulation-sized) hoops. We had practiced with hoops about half that size, and still managed to get pretty accurate. We thought we would cream them on our shooting ability alone.”
That turned out not to be the case.
As we warmed up, they ran laps chanting some abominable version that awful Lee Greenwood song “God Bless the U.S.A.” The Kansas players emphasized, “At least I know I’m free,” at every chorus, a subtle dig at Missouri’s history of being a slave state before the Civil War.
The “Border War” between the University of Kansas and University of Missouri, rooted deep both in our respective universities’ and states’ histories, would transfer over to the quidditch pitch that day. As soon as the match began, the pitch became a battlefield. Zimpfer remembers the match fondly, if only for its ferocity. “Somewhere in collective consciousness of both teams, we had all decided the quaffle and bludgers were a secondary objective,” recalls Zimpfer. “Our biggest guys would slam into their biggest guys, people were ripping and tearing at any loose ball. Both teams were substituting off players quickly, but we were leaving the field a touch quicker. It was our first game, and while we knew full contact was a major part of the sport, we hadn’t gone full force on field before this.”As the dust cleared on Mizzou’s first major tournament, we had lost both of our games against Kansas’ A-squad and managed our only win against their B-team. We walked away with bruises, dented pride, and a whole lot worse. Multiple members of the team swore they would never play against a Kansas Quidditch team again. However, that baptism by fire built a bond between the two teams. At the next Midwest tournament, Kansas cheered for us against some teams and we returned the favor. The ferocity of our first match also gave us a goal to strive for.
We defied expectations and came in fifth at the first Midwest Regional Championship October. “Our first regional tournament actually went a lot better than we initially thought it would,” Zimpfer said. “Only 12 of us could go as; one, we had a small team to begin with, and two, a good deal of players had prior commitments, midterms, etc.” Among those who could not go was our starting keeper and one of the team’s best players, David Nordwald. That put me in the role of starting keeper without a clear back up. A few of the chasers would alternate when I needed a break or could not play – which would happen a lot off and on in games.
In one of our earliest group play games, we faced off against Illinois State’s B-team, the Red Owls. After starting strong, we tapered off a bit and allowed them to get a snitch grab to send us into a five-minute overtime. This match determined whether we would go into bracket play. I remember yelling at the team with my head down before brooms up that for the next five minutes we would just have to play the best quidditch we had ever played before.
And we did.
We got bludger control early and held onto it for the entire five minutes. Another defender or I would make a stop, a save or a steal, heft it back to me, and I would air out a pass to one of our two best chasers, Kevin Grieb and Ryan Toarmina. They would score. We would reset and do it all over again. We ended up scoring 80 points in those five minutes and looked like a team that could compete.
In our first round of bracket play, we went up against the Michigan community team Jetpack Ninja Dinosaurs, who were considered a Top 25 team at the time. We beat them handily.
Then our tournament came to an end against QC Pitt. Pitt’s team was filled with ex-high school track athletes, one of whom was at least 6-foot-8. I stand 5-foot-9 on a good day. All he had to do was take the ball run past or through us and score. I distinctly remember looking at Kevin after this tall, skinny sumbitch scored on me without so much as a glance in my direction. I shrugged my shoulders. Kevin shrugged his shoulders. We kept playing until the game mercifully ended.
I say mercifully because our injury situation had become so unsustainable it wasn’t clear whether we would have enough people to continue playing. Ankles and necks were sprained, knee problems plagued one player, and hits to the head were starting to take their toll. I was only playing in the Pitt game because we had no other option. During the JND game, I took an elbow to the temple and got knocked out for a few minutes. That was nothing though compared a concussion suffered by Sarah Graham, who was hospitalized following the injury.
All told, ten of the twelve of us who went to Indiana had to be taken off the field and subbed for one injury or another. But I’ll always remember that core cluster. A great team that played through pain, exhaustion, and adversity. And we put on a pretty good showing for being so small. We were an underdog, and other teams recognized our quality – even if we were far from being top tier.
Then came the spring.
“The time period [when] we were making the change from a random group of kids playing quidditch to an actual org was a chaotic time,” former team Vice President David Nordwald told me. “Not only were we seeking backing and authorization from the school but there were issues in the hierarchy and how things were being conducted. So there were two phases of what we had to do. One, get official org status. Two, elect new leadership.”
“The first issue was more of an issue of what people wanted out of a quidditch team, and it really boiled down to two sides. The first was a group that just wanted to have fun and the second wanted to be competitive. This of course created a divide because to be competitive you had to do more than just meet up and throw the ball around. We had to start practicing drills, formations, cardio, and just how to play the match as a unit rather than individual players. Those that wanted to have fun simply wanted to be an org since it happened to come with some benefits. In the end we of course decided to become a team that wanted to truly compete, which ended up with a few people leaving the group.”
After an up-and-down semester that saw practices fluctuate between 50 players and eight players, the Sirius Black and Gold were fractured. We had no Facebook, no group text, not even an email chain. Half the team quit and the other half were kicked off due to personal arguments. The original team leader left the team, along with her close friends on the team.
So I looked up everyone’s email address, sent out an email calling for us to have a meeting where we divided the team President into President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Head Captain and two Assistant Captains. I was nominated and elected President – much to my surprise.
“This left the team with about twelve members who all had varying degrees of involvement,” Nordwald said. “It was hard at first as dues didn’t generate much money and the members still had a lot of out of pocket expenses. But in the end the team kept growing as a family and strengthened until it has become the highly competitive force that it now is.”
Nordwald and I began sitting in on a series of meetings with Mizzou Club Sports to make the team an official organization. Treasurer Jessica Johnson and Secretary Erin Miller helped us draft a team Constitution. Towards, the end of my freshman year, the Sirius Black and Gold became Mizzou Quidditch, an official club sport at the University of Missouri. Then, one day as I was bringing the hoops to practice, I had a seizure.
Turns out I was suddenly epileptic.
When I went home that summer, the only thing that could bring me back to Columbia, MO was the fact that I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my quidditch family. Even latecomer Collin Huster, the most excitable beater I’ve ever seen, was encouraging me to return.
I came back rejuvenated. We had a cavalcade of new members as some old members retired, though two stuck around—future team president Josh Ebbesmeyer and future captain Brett Smith.
We were a popular organization for young journalism students to cover – we frequently tried to recruit students from that base. We got our first team jerseys and snapbacks with our alternate logo. We had them made on a budget at a local shirt printer that we knew, but our identity was growing. David and I decided that we would eschew the Harry Potter affiliation to a degree and promote ourselves as a sport first.
We were going to official tournaments, but often carried short rosters ranging between eight and twelve players. We held a Yule Ball that brought in significant profit the night before our first official tournament, Mizzou Spring Breakout 2013.
The tournament was a nightmare, start-to-finish. Club Sports told me the day before our tournament it would have to be canceled due to snow blanketing our home field. We had to beg players to come out – somehow we ended up carrying a roster of 18 people.
We turned our entire Yule Ball profit into a field rental with the Columbia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. We made friends with other teams. We had the tournament recorded, provided commentary, and created the first professional quality quidditch highlight reel. Finally, we were a strong piece of USQ.
At the end of the year, we appointed Josh President and Brett Captain as my workload piled up and Travis graduated. That summer saw us get over three hundred signups for the team. Ultimately, eight or so players stuck around, including stalwart beaters Taylor and Bethany Korte and future captain Jacob Boyce. Josh and Taylor became our longest standing couple on the team – the two are still together and routinely win the quidditch team’s Halloween costume contest.
We began making noise at early tournaments that year and traveled to our third Midwest Regional praying we’d qualify. In our post-game huddle, I cried as David Nordwald and I achieved our long-time goal for the team.
“It was honestly everything I could have asked for,” Nordwald said. “From the start of the team being just a bunch of kids who wanted to get in their Harry Potter fix to a fully competitive team was just an amazing journey. The people truly made the team a family, I honestly believe without that early family core we would never have lasted. To know that we had finally made that large step in qualifying meant that we had been right all of our decisions we had made. At this point there were so few of the original members left that it was the best validation we could have asked for. From Travis being our captain and Josh taking the role as President I could not have been more proud to of all of those I had worked with.”
Josh, Brett, and I arranged for David’s retirement banner to be made, a gift akin to North Carolina’s honored numbers that the team has previously made for longtime members as they retired.
Later that year, Spring Breakout 2014 saw a two-team fantasy draft that brought in players from as far as Los Angeles. We went into World Cup 7 expecting to make some noise, recruiting players without teams to supplement our small roster. Despite being competitive in every game, we were sent home early.
That summer, Josh and I worked tirelessly recruiting and getting as many names as possible. We only had three remaining members from the previous year’s class, so we would take what we could get. Once again, we had more than three hundred names.
As the 2014-2015 season began, our numbers swelled as we had our largest recruiting class in team history – which was much needed as players graduated, studied abroad, or left the team. We added current captain Jacob Parker, who made for a fearsome keeper-combo with Josh and properly filled the void that had been left in David’s wake.
We added a solid group of new chasers in Gabi Pollard, Vincent Woolsey and Kaylee Skistimas. Parker’s brother, Levi, and Drew Mathieu brought a different dynamic to the team’s quaffle game—Vincent loved to make flashy one handed catches and behind-the-back shots. Levi was a scrappy point defender. Drew, a lanky, nerdy looking keeper, mimicked Josh in that he turned out to be a deceptively athletic sniper. David Becker was a fast kid that beater captain Collin Huster immediately demanded be a beater, much like he had with the Korte sisters. George Conner and Ty Etling provided us with our first two players that we could truly dedicate to seeker.
Brett showed off his coaching prowess that semester. The former utility player switched to beating full-time to form a three-headed beating hydra with David and Collin, opting to simply outrun their opponents whenever possible. He moved the tag-team of Josh and I to the second line, allowing our more methodical game to go up against teams after Jacob Parker, Vincent and Boyce hit opponents hard and fast.
We rolled into regionals feeling good—until Vincent broke Josh’s wrist playing flag football in practice and Jacob Parker broke his brother’s nose while fighting for a quaffle. Ty rolled his ankle, leaving us with one seeker to power through the freezing weather facing us at Grand Valley State University.
We went into many of our games against lower seeds in our pool cocky, leaving the games much closer than they needed to be. Against Ohio State, we fought them closer than most teams that semester.
We entered day two as the 12 seed. A 12 seed that was sore and ready to return to World Cup 8.
We blew out Southern Illinois University to qualify. We won on a snitch catch against Central Michigan University in a game that was protested by CMU as a good goal of theirs wasn’t counted. It was against Michigan State University in the Elite 8 that we truly started believing we were a team to beat.
That game went back and forth countless times. David began showing flashes of the dominant beater he would become. Our offense stalled due to the cold. On a no-bludger drive, I couldn’t drive through two defenders to score—something I had routinely done in previous years. Vice President Bobby Ramos told me he expected a dunk, but chalked it up to the cold, not my still sore knee. Finally, George pulled off a snitch catch from his knees and we went to face Ohio State in the Final Four.
We lost, but the game was hard fought. At the post tournament raffle, we won a set of Peterson’s hoops to replace our failing second set of hoops. We were riding high.
But then we were hit with bad news. Brett would be leaving us to join the Marines. Bobby had to take a year off from school and return home. Losing those two key members of our team made the sting of losing Collin to graduation that much worse. Boyce and I were elected co-captains while Jon became our new vice president, running on the slogan of “Vote for Quattle he’s the Baum.”
My knee continued to bug me, swelling after I attended Utah’s Snow Cup with David and Gabi. A week before Spring Breakout 2015, Josh and I discovered that my injury at Southwest Fantasy had truly been a torn ACL and torn meniscus. To this day, we have no idea how I played the entire season on it.
To keep me playing, only Josh, Jon, Taylor and Boyce were told about my knee. I was taking out my personal problems out on the team as I became a short-fused captain with very little communication. However, Brett would go on vacation from the Marines and rejoin us for World Cup 8. That lifted our spirits.
We then proceeded to lose our first game on a snitch catch after we played sloppily the entire time. Josh, usually so happy and kind to everyone, was furious with how we entered the game with arrogance.
“I like to think that was one of the few times I let the stress of being president really show and affect my actions or words, but man I was frustrated about that,” Josh recalled. “We came into that game very confident, which was good, and we deserved to be confident, but we had a roster that had never played on the national stage before, so they only knew what to expect from what we told them coming in, and we didn’t prepare them like we should have. So at that point, it was now or never in my mind if I was ever going to advance or be a part of a Mizzou team reaching bracket play, so I let my emotions out and did what I could to try and get our team’s mentality in the right position to succeed the rest of the day/tournament, and eventually advance. It meant too much to me and others of us there, to waste that opportunity that we had all worked towards so tirelessly.”
We proceeded to defeat quality opponents such as Baylor’s B-team the Osos de Muerte, Loyola of New Orleans and ended our day defeating the University of Miami when they had an accidental snitch catch while down 40.
Our first opponent on Day 2 would determine if we made bracket play. We were given one of the favorites to win it all – the Lost Boys.
That game was a sight to behold as Josh went toe-to-toe with Alex Browne of the Lost Boys and our beaters kept pace with Peter Lee and Chris Seto. While the Los Angeles Gambits were leading Lone Star Quidditch Club by 70 points, we were within snitch range for the majority of our game.
In an alternate universe, those upsets occurred at the same time and the community had a meltdown. In the end, we pulled a suicide catch and prayed that our point differential would carry us to bracket play.
It did. While we lost the first game of bracket play to Blue Mountain Quidditch Club, we held our heads high. Like every year prior, we improved.
After the season ended, Josh graduated early along with longtime team member and utility player Tim Leible. Brett went back to the Marines. I would remain, the lone relic of our early days as a team, as I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri.
Year five of Mizzou Quidditch saw a vast number of changes. With Josh gone, Jon was elected President. I was out for the first half of the year after undergoing knee surgery. Boyce now had two assistant captains in David and Kaylee and the team saw its highest retention rate in years in regards to returning players.
The team started the year off with a blitz – going 13-0 to start the season. Taylor, around for one more semester, and I were leery of this as the competition hadn’t been stellar. The team proceeded to get shell shocked against Marquette when realized our beater depth was a serious issue as we were only four beaters deep.
Fortunately, we were able to get David some necessary backup in the form of Mike Holliday, the cousin of a former team member. Taylor and Maddie McConnell had the cardio to endure for long periods of time as each other’s subs.
We needed it. We played Marquette for the final Nationals qualifying spot out of the Midwest. When David, who Marquette had neutralized earlier in the year, left the game with a bloody nose, the situation seemed dire.
“We had to win,” David said. “We came and played our hearts out because we had to go to Nationals. There was no Plan B. We probably had the hardest path at regionals that year. We played Marquette and Minnesota twice each and had to come out on top.”
In the end, we did whatever it took to win. We stopped David’s nosebleed with a tampon, but all four beaters were occupied with the snitch. With no beaters, Marquette was quickly running up the score with their superior quaffle game and depth.
Then Gabi, who has long been one of the scrappiest chasers on the team, dove on top of the quaffle in the Marquette keeper zone. We soon had a dogpile that lasted five minutes. Marquette wasn’t pulling away any longer.
The beater duel was a sight-to-behold as beaters on both sides caught everything thrown at them. Finally, Marquette’s Matthew Fiebig ended the dogpile and resumed the duel.
But that five-minute rest was all our quaffle players needed to recoup and rejuvenate. We brought the game back in range and then George caught the snitch. We returned to Nationals to chants of “hip hip, Jorge!”
Sadly, we lost both Taylor and Maddie. In that final game, Maddie suffered a concussion. With this being her sixth concussion, she had to hang up her cleats. Taylor was finishing school and Mike’s traveling ability was limited. As a result, Kaylee and Morgan Smith, Brett’s freshman sister, moved to beater. Third string keeper Cole Jost moved to beater as well.
Our next big tournament was Spring Breakout 2016. Somehow, Jon got a tournament with good weather. He forsook playing in the tournament to ref and serve as tournament director and he did it masterfully.
“Running a successful Spring Breakout was 80% luck, 20% screaming,” Jon said of running the tournament. But in the end, he worked tirelessly to make that tournament run smoothly. The fact that he had good weather certainly helped – but the tournament ran smoothly and on time for the first time in four tries.
Going into US Quidditch Cup 9, we felt confident. Our pool had no overwhelming favorite as we went against Ball State University, the Fighting Farmers of America, Rutgers University and Emerson College.
Unfortunately, we only won one game. An overtime victory against Emerson kept us from being swept at nationals and bringing home an even more bitter taste in our mouth. We were angry with our performance because we couldn’t come through big in the clutch. All of the losses were on snitch catches. Every game saw sloppy play by us, leading to questionable calls.
I have no doubt that that bitter taste is what’s fueling this year’s team.
The growth of Kansas City Stampede players like David, Parker, Vincent, Kaylee (now a full-time beater) and Gabi has been critical to a new high-powered offense. We’ve gained plenty of depth over the past two years with second-year players like Drew Matzes providing the team with its second ever power-chaser and Natalie Terzich providing a steady presence at practice and tournaments, in addition to running some pretty sweet social media.
As we began the year, we weren’t expecting much in the way of new recruits, but we were blessed. There are too many to name them all, but four stand out as critical. Dominic Stelzer, built like a linebacker, has provided us with a monstrous seeker that is making highlight grabs in minimal time, including an amazing 6-for-6 showing at this year’s Midwest Regional. Ruthie Polio has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen in quidditch and is practically a magnet for bullet passes. Then we have Ben Schlueter and Justin Dewick providing David with two strong-armed backups and allowing Cole to move back to keeper.
But that isn’t to say this semester hasn’t seen changes already.
Parker, now the head captain, runs practices differently. With a veteran-laden roster, his less-is-more approach to drills has us doing plenty of cardio and scrimmaging. Combined with depth, the slow, grind-it-out games of yesteryear are gone from Mizzou’s playbook.
Jon injured his ankle at our first practice this year. Amidst a heavy senior workload and the injury, Jon has stepped down as President and become a full-time traveling ref with the team. He’s been in demand at tournaments to ref games when he isn’t blowing a train whistle on our sidelines to keep us hyped.
We officially changed our name to “Mizzou Club Quidditch” following a new club sports edict and our new tiger-striped jerseys solidify the new identity.
Cole has become our new team president. As Josh, Jon and I made clear to him, he’s had the smoothest start of any of us with his first two tournaments as President with our surprising victory at Cowboy Cup and undefeated run at Midwest Regionals the week later.
Following Regionals, we’re the second highest ranked collegiate team on The Eighth Man, behind only Bowling Green State University and are ranked sixth overall. Parker has the team going into every game expecting to win, but not letting arrogance set in. After sweeping Spring Breakout 2017, the only thing standing between Mizzou Club Quidditch and nationals is a few weeks of intense practice.
Now, for the first time ever, I truly think Mizzou can make a deep run at US Quidditch Cup 10. We always had upset potential, but now we’re the ones with targets on our backs. Looking back on the short rosters of yesteryear, that is something I thought I could only dream of.