The 2018-2019 USQ season is over, complete with the post-Nationals announcement of Team USA’s latest additions and annual grumbling in forums about starting up a competing league for community teams. It’s too early to say what change will come from a new competing league a la the International Confederation of Broomstick Athletes, but it’s not too late to keep talking about some of the standouts from Nationals.
We wrangled up a crew of writers to take a look at some of the more unheralded and underrated players* from around the country in an attempt to get more names in the national quidditch lexicon and celebrate their hard work and talent. These are the players who may not be the primary focus of an opponent heading into the match but are undeniably the pieces that make their team’s game plan work. These are the players who will get referred to by their number, position, and gender by an out of region commentator, but whose tight execution on the field and explosive play will make that commentator say, “who the hell is that!?”
Matthew Brown – Boom Train (Beater)
You should have known you weren’t going to escape an article on underrated players without this name showing up. Matthew Brown burst into the game back in the fall of 2014 as a chaser for Ball State. The very next year, he coached Ball State all the way to a seemingly unbelievable and impossible victory over Texas powerhouse UT and on through Ball State’s famed Cinderella final four run.
Brown’s extensive background in basketball and soccer brought him into the sport with an innate sense of spacing and athleticism that simply could not be matched in the Great Lakes, and this skill has only grown since. He has a strategic mindset for the game that rivals that of athletes who have been playing two to three times as long as him. His one-on-one beating skills have often frustrated or completely shut-out those he opposes (just ask Max Portillo) as well as led the way in developing his teammates past and present.
Despite all of this, Brown’s name is still relatively green outside of the Great Lakes. Coming from the college team that fostered male beating talent like Trevor Campbell and Tyler Walker, his contributions to Ball State and Indianapolis Intensity’s astounding success over the past few MLQ seasons has been eclipsed by larger names in the community. Boom Train’s first showing on the national stage was this past weekend US Quidditch Cup 12, and despite their tragic fate at the hands of Texas Cavalry, you can expect to see Brown’s name again.
Dani Clarke – Los Angeles Gambits (Beater)
Dani Clarke is a West native who gained her first years of experience on a UCLA team that was no stranger to success, but her recent transition to the community level has created ripples. After moving over to the Gambits, Clarke played alongside and learned from an experienced Gambit beating core helmed by Steve DiCarlo, Kevin Horn, and Alyssa Burton. Training with the Gambits has done more for Clarke than bring her a Regional title – it’s given her greater confidence on the pitch and the abilities to back it up.
Clarke has grit and determination to boot. Though she played for the Gambits in the regular season, she resides in Washington and trained with Badal Chandra and the Rain City Raptors on weekends. During the week, Clarke spent her time in the weight room or training her agility on the field. Her determination to stay in shape showed on the pitch as her long stints in games rivaled that of teammate Alyssa Burton.
Outside of Clarke’s admirable grit and adaptive field awareness in one of the rarer natural talents to come by in quidditch – consistency. You don’t often hear of players with this skill, because the more dynamic athletes on the pitch usually take up most of the spotlight. However, there’s something very special to be said for a consistent player. Consistency in quidditch, especially at beater, means knowing exactly what you’re going to get from a player as soon as she steps onto the field. With consistency, coaches can know exactly where and when to place a player in the opportune situations for a team’s success. Judging by the team’s regionals and nationals runs, Clarke has done exactly that.
Tyler Hodges – Anteater Quidditch (Chaser, Keeper)
Anteater Quidditch amazed at US Quidditch Cup 12 with their mad dash into the Sweet Sixteen. While there’s a roster packed with up and coming athletes to give credit to, one that deserves an ample amount is Tyler Hodges. After three years as an Anteater, Hodges has built a reputation for himself with his teammates as a leader on and off the pitch. As the most experienced Anteater quaffle player, the team’s offense and defense flows through his direction whether he’s on the pitch as a ball handler or watching the game from the sidelines.
It’s easy for a college team’s most experienced player to be the go-to scoring and defensive option for a team, and while Hodges has the individual skills to get the job done (he’s almost an unmovable object on a set defense), he takes the time and initiative to build his team up mentally as well as physically.
From the skills practices he sets up with individual players, to the communication he gives to his teammates on the field and the pep talks he gives before games, the Anteaters’ intensity burns largely due to Hodges’ influence. Thanks to the time and energy he’s put in behind the scenes – assuming the younger players of Anteater Quidditch have taken these lessons to heart – the team will continue to flourish long past Hodges’ graduation.
Katherine Hayworth – Sam Houston State University (Beater)
Katherine Hayworth is rarely one of the Sam Houston State University players mentioned by the media when the team is covered. However, the team’s success in recent years, of course, stems from a strong group of players, one of those being Hayworth.
She is easily one of the most athletic players in the southwest and that athleticism gives her a game-changing impact. For the last two seasons, she has played out of position in a starting beater role. Her vertical leap, speed, hands, and size would make her a deadly chaser, something she displayed first hand over the summer with the League City Legends. When asked about it. she gave a simple and direct explanation.
“It’s truly out of necessity and what is most helpful for the team, my true love will always be chasing but we needed female beaters and I started stepping in and we realized that I wasn’t completely shit at it so I moved there to help the team,” Hayworth said.
Hayworth’s versatility has given Sam Houston the edge they need to be one of the best teams in the country the last few seasons on and off the pitch.
“I’ve always tried to do whatever is best for the team whether that is changing positions or stepping into an officer position that nobody else wants to fill, at the end of my freshman year I ran for and was elected president because no one else wanted to and then the end of my sophomore and whole junior year I played beater because it’s what helped the team succeed and Baldemar and I worked best together. So it’s doing whatever is needed to help the team succeed.” Hayworth said.
She didn’t get a chance to play at US Quidditch Cup 12 due to the team’s disciplinary situation, but she’ll be back this summer and next season better than ever.
Melissa Kite – Texas State University Bobcats (Chaser)
One of the best qualities in quidditch is the family-like atmosphere most teams have. Texas State epitomizes that as an organization with dozens of members who didn’t quite make the cut for Bobcat Quidditch or the Varsity Texas State team but fill the role of photographer, film crew, and a flurry of other non-playing roles. A few years, ago Melissa Kite was one of those non-playing members. This season, she played in her second Final Four at US Quidditch Cup 12
“I was already in the club but we played capture the flag at one of our meetings and people saw me running around and told me to come to practice so I did,” Kite said about her transition from member to player for Texas State.
Her young quidditch career has been influenced by some other talented players at Texas State for the better you can see it in her style of plan Kite attacks without hesitation and has gained an understanding of the game faster than your average player.
“I actually started quidditch as a beater on sharks and Jessica Markle was really helpful in my first couple months. Chaser wise (which is actually kind of shocking) Stephan [Vigil] was one of my main advocates to play chaser because I mostly did it for shits until I actually played in a real game when Hannah Shaw got hurt and scored like 4 goals… but when I changed to chaser Hannah [Shaw], Tim [Nguyen], Stephan, and TJ [Martinez] all helped me learn positioning and how to actually do everything right,” Kite said when asked about the players who trained and helped her develop a style of play.
Kite’s environment has been hospitable to her becoming a better player but facts are her agility she shows in her cuts, speed, and the quality that sets her apart is the toughness of a champion. That toughness is prevalent most on defense where Kite has shown no hesitation or aversion to contact regardless of her opponents’ size.
Kite is coming up on her senior season for Texas State and was a member of the MLQ Champion Austin Outlaws last summer.
Autumn McArthur – Houston Cosmos (Chaser, Beater, Seeker)
Full disclosure – Autumn McArthur is one of the best things the sport of quidditch has ever given me as a teammate and as a friend. That won’t stop me from pointing out how she has been an integral part of our team’s success mainly because she doesn’t back down., Ever. Her remarkable resilience is a core part of the Cosmos success during the team’s first ever appearance at US Nationals.
She is a Boston University alum and tried out for the varsity team her sophomore year, but ended up playing intramural after not getting the call to join the team.
“I heard about quidditch from Harry Potter fan websites, but I actually saw people play during a student group festival at Boston University in the fall of 2013. I played intramural quidditch with the BU people my sophomore year, and I really liked the people I met through the sport. College became super busy, so I didn’t have time to commit to the club level. After graduating from BU, I moved back to Houston, immediately Google searched for a quidditch team near me, saw there was a practice the next day, and made my way over to Hermann Park. That’s how I met Kevin Raber and Ashton Jeanlewis.” Said McArthur when asked about how she got into quidditch.
She didn’t allow that initial team snub deter her from the sport last summer when she made the League City Legends roster after years of training.
“What kept me in the sport was my friendships with my teammates, to be honest. I didn’t take an off season for 3 years, and that took its toll physically and mentally. But I had amazing people by my side, who built me up when I harbored doubts about wanting to continue in this sport. And I was able to see major improvements in myself after a summer practicing with the League City Legends, so I knew I could return to the Houston Cosmos as a power player.” Said McArthur about what kept her playing quidditch.
McArthur has shown versatility and a willingness to learn in her three years with the Cosmos, starting off as a chaser, she emerged as the Cosmos’ primary seeker in the 2018 season, pulling seven times in the Cosmos eight wins during the year. She took on the challenge of beating in her third year with the Cosmos, learning the position from Beth and Ryan Peavler, two of the best and Texas State alums.
“Honestly, it just looked like so much fun when I saw the guys at BU messing around during that student group festival. My intramural ‘coach’ let me try it out, and I ended up being strangely good at it. Jon Hauser from BU probably doesn’t remember this at all, but he showed me some great moves to break a seeker’s hold on me on time during club tryouts, and his advice stuck with me. I’m only 5’4″, so I have to rely on dives to catch usually. There’s something fun in a twisted way about throwing yourself on the ground repeatedly! Seeking combines mental toughness with physical grit, which is why I love the position. I wish teams would utilize women seekers more not just as defenders.”
McArthur displays elite resilience every time she steps on the field, from playing entire games at chaser and seeker to stopping her asthma attacks almost on command so she can sub back into the game. Her abilities have been the difference between winning and losing for the Cosmos many times and she’s come up clutch in match after match.
Autumn has also taken an off the pitch role as Commissioner of Texas Secede League the Texas based summer quidditch league open to all players to improve their skills and of course build up the quidditch community as a whole.
Matt Melton (who said that players are the only underrated people?)
Simon Arends – Team Captain (University of Texas)
Captain’s meetings are typically three minute long affairs. Introduce yourselves, go over some basic questions, ask for rule interpretations, let’s get this started before Ali Markus kills us. Then there’s The Simon Arends Captains’ Meeting. It begins with a simple question over a standard judgement call – how close does a defender have to be for the offensive player to turn their back and not have an illegal back tackle called? But it wasn’t just a question, it was also a performance, as Simon quickly became the defender and the opposing team’s captain an unwitting prop in the show. Simon physically ran through the same question at distances of 12, 8, and 4 feet to gauge the exact range of the call.
Next, it was on to off ball contact. Where does the line become drawn between incidental contact and illegal charging? Then it was delay of game. How many feet, chaser and beater with a bludger? Suddenly, something that normally takes four minutes tops is taking close to ten and you start to wonder what’s really going. But then you think, every single one of those could be the difference between a blue or yellow card and a no call. In a high level game, there’s a good chance that every card becomes a goal. Going to that level of detail to get those answers questioned with words instead of cards really makes perfect sense. There was only one coach I saw that ran their coaches meeting like that…and at the end of the weekend, there was also only one team that won the Collegiate Finals.
Alex Amodol – Referee (Whatever the Hell He Wants to Ref, He Could Ref Anything)
In a sport that’s notorious for questionable reffing, there isn’t nearly enough talk about some of the great refs we do have. So let’s talk about Alex Amodol, cause holy hell, he’s one amazing ref.
Despite being the 2016-2017 Ref of the Year, you may not have heard of him because he’s not overly active on the quidditch forums. That’s fine. Go be in his ref crew for a game. Watch how even before the game begins, you know this guy is running the show. He runs the captains’ meetings professionally, answering all questions confidently with a full explanation. He then moves to the ref meeting, where he talks with all his refs individually to build camaraderie while explaining their assignments.
Then it’s on to the big show, where the real magic begins. Amodol is always moving to get the best view of the play while simultaneously talking to his refs to make sure they’re getting the best views as well. Most notably though, is the way he handles talking to the players during the game. Players are allowed to discuss calls and ask for clarification without being immediately shut down, but it’s done with a confidence that lets you know he’s not changing his mind. When there’s a call from his AR’s, there’s always a quick, efficient discussion to get the correct call. It’s quick, but every ref with a comment is addressed to make sure the best information goes into the call. I’ve never seen or been part of a game that I felt was reffed so incredibly well than with him at the helm. It was an incredible learning experience, and I would recommend that every ref find their way into one of his games. You’ll be learning from the best.
John Smutny – Grand Valley State (Keeper)
The first time I met Smutny, he fell to the sixth round of the summer midwest fantasy tournament. I don’t think he’s made it past sixth overall ever since. The kid is a beast, with a wingspan somewhere between 6 feet and an adult pterodactyl. This allows him to easily guard all three hoops as a keeper, leaving the opposition no choice but to drive in for a score. But then you have to get past him, and that is no small feat either.
He’s surprisingly quick for how tall and lanky he is, and he’s extremely proficient at tackling. Perhaps a bit overzealous at it sometimes – he has been known to be double yellow carded out of games for illegal tackles – but extremely effective nonetheless. Offensively, he’s no slouch either. His speed and size make him hard to slow down, and his long arms always save him a solid last-ditch pass or shot. Smutny was the core of a Grand Valley State team that did surprisingly well, to the rest of the US at least, at Nationals this year. Grand Valley played Texas closer than any team they played in bracket play except Texas State, but their bracket run ended in a heartbreaking loss to Boston University in double overtime. Your next chance to catch Smutny will likely be on a budding Detroit Innovators squad that could also turn heads in the new MLQ North Division.
Cammy Lang – Boom Train (Seeker, Chaser)
In its first year, Boom Train finished with a record of 27-4 en route to a Final Four finish at Nationals only falling to the eventual champions Texas Cavalry. While this team had, for the most part, decimated opponents on the quaffle game, what cannot be understated is the strong seeker game that had allowed for Boom Train to finish off their opponents, boasting an 8-2 record for games within range. Of course, Jeff Siwek and Nathan Ellert had a lot to do with this, but what has gone unappreciated is how Boom Train has not two, but three elite seekers.
Cammy Lang’s athleticism and length have allowed her to catch a plethora of snitches on the season, on top of an ability to box out opponents when defensively seeking. Boom Train’s ability to send out an elite seeker for any given situation gave it flexibility that makes scouting the team incredibly difficult, and next season’s Boom Train will continue to terrorize the Midwest and any community team that crosses its path.
Sam Rapnicki – Miami University (Keeper, Chaser, Seeker)
Miami dominated the Great Lakes region this season, only losing to Bowling Green at the regional championship and coming into Nationals 18-1. When asked about Miami’s great season earlier in the year, Derek Brantingham gave a good deal of credit to the graduating senior class for their leadership, building Miami up from humble beginnings to a Sweet 16 finish. On its face, Hayden McClarry had a tremendous season as the best player on Miami’s roster. But there is no McClarry, nor is there this iteration of Miami, without Sam Rapnicki.
Rapnicki’s physical play and ideal frame too often overwhelmed opposing defenses and snitches, and his willingness to feed the open chaser meant that too many resources allocated to stopping him would only leave opportunities for his teammates who would capitalize on Rapnicki’s playmaking skills. However, the best aspect of Miami is the team’s ability to keep cool heads under pressure, and to treat the few losses they did have as learning opportunities rather than failures of themselves or any outside forces. Rapnicki’s veteran presence has a great deal to do with that patience.
Mary Owen – Ball State University (Chaser, Beater)
Ball State experienced a great deal of turnover this year. Many of the players that contributed to their regional championship last year had left the team, and two of their best players in Max Jolly and Nick Kaufman were unavailable for large portions of the semester, and one of the best rookies in the game Liam Zach was sidelined in the lead-up to Nationals. This type of turmoil so often has been the death knell of the best quidditch programs in the nation, but Ball State still remained not only a quality team but a team that has been able to beat very good teams such as the University of Michigan.
Mary Owen’s role on this team has been integral to the stability of Ball State. Owen’s mind on defense makes her a chess master in a game where everybody has settled on playing checkers, constantly slowing down very good ball-carriers after the point chaser is beat, enough so for the rest of the team to make the proper adjustments. Every tiny step that Owen was able to do to benefit Ball State, she did. This season alone, she produced offensive magic with Jolly en route to qualifying at regionals, taken up the role of beater after the Zach injury, and has maintained a positive attitude throughout the roughest moments for the team. When speaking of the celebrated great players of Ball State’s history, including names like Jason Bowling, Tyler Walker, Erin Moreno, Owen’s final season on the Ball State squad alone should earn her a spot on that list.
Austin Howe – Ohio University (Beater)
Ohio University was pegged as one of the teams to watch out for at Nationals, with veterans such as David Hoops and Joshua Mansfield raving about the team’s unique physicality and regular season performance. Physicality at chaser and keeper, of course, is not incredibly unique to Ohio University, although players such as Tyler Wilkinson and Michael Holmes are not to be trifled with. No, what is more so a hallmark of this Ohio University team is the physical beater play they employed for the year and leading the charge on that front is Austin Howe.
Howe’s unique playstyle of not only a beater willing to tackle but a beater who actively seeks out opportunities to use his physical attributes, so often rattling opposing beaters more used to opponents who rely on their speed and arm strength to make plays. Howe’s brand of beater play burrows into the psyche of opposing players, and that type of mental edge over a player when beater is the position that engages the most in mind games is what forced chasers to have to match up with Ohio’s chasers, and that type of strategy is one that gave Ohio its seasonal success, success that would not have happened without Howe.
Ashley Stahnke – Chaser, Miami University
I have just been informed that Sam Rapnicki qualifies as an “underrated” player, so I’m even more confident now that Ashley Stahnke is the best Miami name you’ve never heard.
The Great Lakes has been saying for years that “this year could be Miami’s year, man!” They’ve always had a strong, dedicated group of members with a wide athletic range and an undervalued willingness and aptitude for facilitating tournaments. Miami has been a quiet but strong institution in the Great Lakes since Nice Matt Dwyer was at the helm, and it has been running smoothly since, getting better and better every year.
Stahnke contributes a large percentage of their chasing minutes in almost every game. If Rapnicki and Hayden McClary are fond of the aggressive drive, Stahnke is the perfect wing to act as a foil. On plays where stuffing it in just doesn’t work, she’s right there to clean up the mess and save a potential turnover to points on the board. But she’s not just there with the dustpan – her positioning is impeccable, and so she strengthens Miami’s options between a dunk ‘n’ drive offense and a more methodical passing game to take control of the game pace. The spotlight on Rapnicki and McClary is bright, but Stahnke’s candle burns with more heat than light, so she is able to keep her considerable talent just outside the corner of your eye until she burns your house down.
Max Meier – Twin Cities Quidditch Club (Chaser, Seeker)
Hi, hello, this is a love letter to Max Meier. Nope, wait, actually it’s a letter to the whole world about why you should all be writing love letters to Max Meier. There’s a million reasons he was one of my very first fantasy picks ever, so let me count the ways.
He’s fast as hell.
Max can outrun you and Max will outrun you. You might think maybe you could get a hand on him to slow him down, but he carries absolutely zero extra weight and is so tall and lanky that he can cover a ton of ground before you even start moving. Manage to get a hand on him and he’ll already have so much momentum that you’re either going to completely wiff or just come along for the ride with him. He’s not your typical built-Ford-tough aggressive driver, but because he’s so fast he’s unstoppable anyway.
He’s fucking fearless.
Many moons ago Dan Daugherty was snitching against Max and basically just…threw him on the ground. There was this hard thud, and both spectators and Daugherty audibly gasped. 1…2…Max popped right up and threw himself right back at Daugherty and almost immediately grabbed the snitch tail. He’s as fearless as they come and insanely resilient, a rare combination that is incredibly difficult to build.
He has seeker hands.
The wingspan this kid has is insane. You’ll be hard pressed to find a snitch Max can’t reach around. Coupled with his relentless seeking style, he can find holes in the snitch game and will use every tool in his arsenal to just sneak right in to end it.
He’s an excellent distributor.
He can rely on speed to score, but TCQC doesn’t need to depend on him for points. They’ve got Alexander Obanor, Matthew Bessard, and a bunch of other Big Bois who can walk over defenses and put quaffles through hoops. Because of this, he can be the one to just bring the ball up and orchestrate the play by dropping it into whatever hands will be the most successful with it.
He’s just a joy to watch.
Sorry not sorry, but I’m in this sport for the whimsy. It’s supposed to be fun. And watching Max play is fun because you can tell that he is having fun. He likes the game and he likes his team and it shows. He is a perfect example of how whimsy and competition can meet and thrive. Watch him play. You’ll feel what I mean.
Lexi Raffa – Philadelphia Freedom (Chaser)
One of the most consistently tragic parts of almost any quidditch match is seeing a nonmale chaser positioned right by hoops, wide open, waiting for a pass as they watch the driver tuck their head down and run straight into the waiting arms of a defender.
However, for the defending team, this is a dream come true. Leave that player waiting for the pass like they’re five minutes late for the last train of the night. Don’t keep your head up and find the near-guaranteed dunk. Lexi Raffa fell victim to this exact frustration during the Freedom’s match against the Lost Boys, and she took it upon herself to shout at her teammate “PASS TO ME, I’M WIDE OPEN” as the pair ran back to defend their hoops.
It took all of 30 seconds for her teammate to look up, find Raffa, and put a quick 10 points on the board. Good positioning can look effortless when a talented player is executing the play, but there’s more to it than just knowing where to stand – the hard part is knowing when to make the cut to hit your mark. Raffa not only knows when and where to be, but she has the ability to take on the role of a secondary driver, a rare and underappreciated talent from primarily off-ball players. The Philadelphia Freedom came into Nationals as anywhere from a relative to complete unknown, at least to those of us across the country, but they absolutely deserve a hell of a lot more attention in the future. If this team sticks together and keeps pushing forward, expect good things from them next season. It’s not impossible to picture them sporting some new silver hardware at next year’s Mid-Atlantic regionals, especially not if the team keeps looking to Raffa for buckets.
Dana Dixon – UCLA (Chaser)
Dana Dixon’s place as a part of UCLA’s incredible chasing line has been somewhat fuzzy given the caliber of experienced players she competes with, but her time in the spotlight as a focal point of her team’s offense should be coming soon. Her explosive quickness and lack of care towards her own self-preservation are more than enough to make up for any size difference between her and her opponent, both on offense on defense. She will take on any mark, even if they’re the size of three Dixons stacked on top of each other in a trench coat. At least on offense, she can make that work to her advantage, easily juking out her defender and cutting to the hoops.
She truly shines against players closer to her size though. Dixon stormed her way through the competition at Glorious Bitches Galore earlier this year, helping her team earn the trophy and picking up tournament MVP honors along the way. She almost encourages contact from the person in her way, waiting for the right moment to break out a stutter step or spin to leave them in the dust.
As her team gains confidence in her ability as a playmaker, don’t be shocked to see her bring the ball down on offense in the coming seasons – at the very least, she should be considered as a secondary ball carrying option. With some more experience under her belt, Dixon has the chance to capitalize on her speed and become a truly devastating finisher in the West collegiate division, if not the entire region.
Doruk Yurdayar – Lost Boys (Chaser)
Allow me a moment of team pride (not like I already do that enough on our podcasts). Doruk Yurdayar, a 20-year-old second-year player from Turkey, started his career as a beater on the European-based METU Unicorns last season. Within minutes of stepping on to the pitch at his first practice in the United States, he had to wrap his head around the idea of possibly transitioning over to chaser. It took until West Regionals for the headband swap to stick, but once it did, the effect was obvious.
Yurdayar plays defense with the reckless abandon of a wayward youth with nothing to fear and takes that tenacity across the pitch as one of the team’s top fast-break creators and options. Even if his teammate forces a turnover while he’s defending deep behind his hoops, that won’t stop him from sprinting the full length of the pitch to support the driver and pick up an extra goal here or there.
This effort helped him pick up multiple hat tricks since he swapped to chasing full-time, one of which included the first ever card for showboating in USQ history after he pulled up for a 180 dunk on a free fast break (without even knocking the hoop over) that’s ever been awarded – not because other people haven’t showboated before, but because it’s not even in the rulebook.
Questionable cards notwithstanding, Yurdayar was a bright spot in a rebuilding Lost Boys season and adds more than just depth to a team that desperately needed more aggressive chasers. While his game could still use a lot of polishing before he reaches his full potential, Yurdayar’s baseline after chasing for mere months should put the rest of the West on notice. Keep an eye out for more from him this summer as he fights for a spot on Team Turkey in the European Games.