The 6 p.m MegaBus left its Midtown station and set course for Boston on Sunday, November 14, 2010 with more empty seats than expected. The bus was meant to be the Tufts Quidditch team’s ride home from the Quidditch World Cup held in New York City’s Dewitt-Clinton Park.
The thinking was that Tufts, which had entered the day seeded 13th, would be ousted from the Cup with ample time to spare to catch the bus and get some sleep in time for Monday classes.
But as the bus left for Boston, the “Tufflepuffs” were too busy rocking the Quidditch world to its core to make it on board.
In their first-ever appearance at the World Cup last November, the Tufflepuffs shocked Quidditch fans everywhere with an astonishing run all the way through the bracket to the Final. Tufts ultimately lost in the Cup’s decisive match 100-50 to Quidditch juggernaut Middlebury, the school that invented so-called “muggle Quidditch” in 2005 and that has never been defeated in five years of play.
The Tufflepuffs upset two higher-ranked teams –Emerson and Pittsburgh– on that miraculous day, both on match-winning snitch grabs from then-sophomore Drew Fuchs. It was an historic day for Tufts quidditch –even though finding their way back to Boston became a bigger challenge than the team thought it’d be.
“It was pretty incredible, especially for our first year at the World Cup,” sophomore chaser Rajah Reid said. “We had a lot of new players,and no one really knew us. We had that advantage.”
After last year’s stunning finish, the Tufflepuffs no longer have the element of surprise on their side. Instead Tufts will need to rely on its experience to do well at this year’s Cup, which lifts off today at 9 a.m. at Randalls Island in New York City. Tufts’ first match is against the club team Silicon Valley Screwts at 11:10 a.m.
“A successful trip to the World Cup would include improving at least in some way on how we did last year,” said junior beater Carly Boxer, one of the team’s co-captains. “There are more than twice the number of teams this year, so coming in first will be rough. But if we can improve our level of play, our passing, how we work as a team, then that would be successful.”
Boxer is not the only one with cautious expectations for this year’s Tufflepuffs squad. In its final tune up last Sunday, Tufts was swept by Boston-area rival Emerson in three matches played on the Residential Quad, a performance that pushed the Hufflepuffs all the way back to 37th in the latest International Quidditch Association (IQA) rankings.
A week earlier, the Tufflepuffs lost a match handily to 12th-ranked Boston University. Many of the catalysts from last year’s epic run are either abroad or not playing with the team, including tenacious junior chaser Austin Bening. Tufts has been forced to adopt a new, more team-centric style of play to stay competitive.
“We’ve had a few of our best players leave the team, so we’ve done our best to reconstruct the team where we have really strong players but we also a group of players that work really well together,” Boxer said. “We’ve switched from a having a team that’s largely based on the skills of individual players to where we’re really trying to work well as a team.”
Tufts will get a chance to snap its losing streak with the morning game against Silicon Valley –a match that may prove decisive for the Tufflepuffs’ chances to play on Sunday, as the top three teams in each five-team pool make it into Sunday’s single-elimination pool.
Tufts’ other two matches today are against low-seeded Bowling Green State at 3:40 p.m and a highly anticipated rematch with national No.8 Pittsburgh –a physical team the Tufflepuffs knocked off in the semifinals of last year’s Cup. Tufts will then finish pool play at 11 a.m Sunday against the University of Maryland.
“Pitt is a really rough team,” Boxer said. “They’re really athletic, they’re really tall, they are physically imposing and really aggressive.”
In order to pull off a similar upset, the Tufflepuffs will need to get creative and rely on their speed and guile.
“We don’t have the biggest team, but we have a fast team, and we also work really well together,” Reid said. “We’ve spent a lot of bonding time together. We rely more on our team chemistry and our speed than our size.”
Tufts’ recent defeats, combined with the largest pool in World Cup history –nearly 100 teams will take the field today –make another Hufflepuff run to the Final unlikely, perhaps as unlikely as such a run was entering last year’s tournament.
There’s one key difference, however: Tufts won’t be making any premature travel plans this time around.
Follow @benkochman on Twitter for live updates from this year’s Cup. To watch the Tufts-Pittsburgh game streaming live, go to http://quidditchcup.com/2011-quidditch-world-cup at 8:20 p.m.
This post is part of weekend-long Quidditch coverage brought to you by The Score, The Tufts Daily’s sports blog.