At the start of his first year, Robert Mast tagged along to Club Fest with a friend. He jokingly signed up for NYU Quidditch on a whim, and when his friend asked him if he planned to attend the information session later that day, he laughed.
“I was like, ‘No, obviously I’m not going to actually go to the quidditch meeting,’” Mast quipped. “But then I was like, ‘You know, I just got to college. I’m willing to do whatever.’”
Last weekend, the Gallatin senior played one of his final matches for the varsity quidditch team at the U.S. Quidditch Cup in Austin, Texas, where NYU made it to the final four — the furthest the team has ever advanced in its nine-year history. The team beat the likes of Virginia Tech, University of California Los Angeles and the University of Maryland before losing out to the University of California, Berkeley.
“I think I cried maybe five or six times throughout the course of the day,” Mast said with a smile.
NYU Quidditch is a university club broken into two teams: Varsity, for high-level competitive play, and the Pigeons, the developmental team for people who just want to have fun and dip their toes into the sport. The varsity team, comprised of 24 players, competes in eight tournaments during the school year, facing off against various east coast teams.
You may be imagining flying broomsticks and a snitch that buzzes about, swiftly fluttering in and out of view. In a muggle quidditch match like the ones NYU students play, however, everyone’s feet are firmly on the ground. Instead of brooms, players run about with PVC pipes between their legs. The snitch is not a tiny, magic ball with wings, but rather a neutral player with a flag football-esque tail attached to their shorts. There are seven players per team allowed on the field at once: one seeker, three chasers, two beaters and one keeper.
CAS senior Aidan Claffey joined NYU Quidditch his first year, and noted the team’s growth and its different approach to this year’s national tournament.
“We’ve consistently underperformed at the regional tournament [in the fall],” Claffey said. “This year, we lost in the semifinals, which was really disappointing. So I think we played the rest of the season with a chip on our shoulder.”
Because the quidditch team is simply a club and not an official club sport or NYU athletics team, the team faces unique difficulties. Finding free field space in New York City for practice, scraping together the funds to travel to and from games and having to rely on a generous team member to store the equipment — brooms, hoops and all — are just some of the issues the student-run organization contends with.
Going into the tournament, nationally 12th-ranked NYU was underestimated by onlookers as it faced higher-ranked teams. As the team progressed, however, people began to take notice and even cheer in support.
“It was crazy,” Steinhardt sophomore Katelyn Martinez said. “They started shouting our chants back at us during the final games. It started around [the Sweet 16 game against UCLA] because people weren’t expecting us to still be in. It was really, really cool to have the stands cheering for us.”
NYU is known for always thanking the other team after matches. When the team is together in practice, though, the trash talk knows no bounds.
“That’s how family is,” Mast said. “You make fun of each other, you mess with each other. That’s how you get better and how you bond with each other.”
Family is more than a buzzword among the players. During timeouts, the team huddles together and chants, “Family on three!” before taking the field. When CAS sophomore Kellan Cupid, the team’s captain, was hit with a long-term injury, Claffey stepped up to lead the team for the crucial final month of the season.
“It’s a family; every game someone different steps up,” Mast said. “Your teammates are there to pick you up when you’re down. We’ve built a really great family on the team and a bunch of kids that care about each other.”
In the quarterfinals against the University of Maryland, College Park, Martinez, a star chaser, turned awkwardly and sprained her ACL, leaving her on the sidelines for the rest of the tournament.
“Immediately, I was surrounded by my team and they all helped me out,” Martinez said. “I was laid out on the medic’s table and one of my teammates was holding my hand, making sure I was OK. And I could hear us win and they all came over to celebrate with me, too. I’m so proud of them and I’m very glad we got that far.”
Instead of crumbling, the team rallied after Martinez’s injury, ultimately winning the match against Maryland in overtime and securing their spot in the semifinal.
“We had players playing out of position, playing many more minutes than in previous games, just giving it their all,” Claffey said. “Seeing that was just really inspiring. That commitment allowed us to make that final four run.”
Ten members of the team will graduate in May, many of whom have been on the team for the majority of their college careers.
“What I’ll miss most is getting to be a part of something you feel is bigger than yourself,” Mast said. “Getting to be a part of something where you feel like you’ve really built a family from the ground up and you’ve spent time fostering a culture and great team environment.”
Though Claffey is graduating, he plans to stay with the team as he pursues a master’s in Data Science. But he will miss the friendships he made during his four years, from both the varsity team and the Pigeons.
“There’s people who have been playing on the B-team, people who have been playing on the Pigeons for four years,” Claffey said. “Just because they weren’t on the varsity team doesn’t mean they are any less important to the club. They’re also some really close friends of mine and they bring the same amount of passion to the club. I’m going to miss all of that.”
The seniors will leave behind a strong winning culture and a close-knit environment of players who really care about each other.
“Everyone is there for each other, and not every team in quidditch is like that,” Mast said. “A lot of teams will have maybe three or four players dominate. But with us, it’s different. It takes a whole team effort to do what we did.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 22, 2019, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]