It turns out that Tufts Muggles can make magic.
At the fourth annual Quidditch World Cup this weekend, the upstart Tufflepuffs — Tufts' Quidditch team — shocked the Quidditch community with a pair of historic upsets on the single-elimination second day, ultimately finishing as the runner-up in their first-ever appearance in the tournament.
Though the Tufflepuffs fell in the finals to Middlebury, a team that has never lost since bringing "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling's sport to the non-wizarding world in 2005, Tufts' squad officially cemented its place among the Quidditch elite.
"It was just sheer happiness, and a little bit of shock," sophomore Howie Levine said. "We never expected this to happen. We just came in hoping for the best and hoping to make it to the second day out of group play."
The Tufflepuffs did far more than just make it to Sunday; in fact, Tufts found itself under the lights at New York City's DeWitt Clinton Park, squaring off against three-time defending champion Middlebury in the championship game. With the eliminated teams cheering for an upset of Quidditch's premier juggernaut, Tufts seeker Duncan Leaf, a freshman, snagged the Golden Snitch — actually a sock-encased tennis ball tucked into the pants of a neutral runner, who can do anything from climb buildings to beat up seekers — officially ending the match.
Though the extra 30 points that came with the Snitch's capture only cut the deficit in Middlebury's 100-50 win, simply being in the finals was far more than the Tufflepuffs expected.
"We went in knowing, from previous games, that we had what it took to beat certain teams, but we didn't think that we would get this far," sophomore captain Carly Boxer said. "Going in against Middlebury, we talked about how we had made it this far, and whether we won or lost it didn't matter as long as we gave it our all."
While Middlebury's victory was hardly a surprise given its historical prowess on the national stage, not even the most experienced seer could have predicted the Tufflepuffs' Cinderella run to the championship.
No one, that is, except for sophomore Austin Bening.
"I told everyone before we came here — Tufts has a national championship team, prepare for an international one," Bening said, referring to the men's lacrosse team, which captured the school's first-ever NCAA title in the spring.
After going 2-1 on the first day and obliterating Ryerson University and America's Finest Quidditch Club by a combined 320-50, the Tufflepuffs headed into Sunday's 24-team elimination round as the 13th seed. An 80-10 win over Vermont and a win over Chestnut Hill College put Tufts up against Emerson with a semifinal berth on the line.
And that's when the magic began for the team the World Cup announcers dubbed the "Giant-Killers."
Emerson, which finished second in last year's World Cup, held a 50-30 lead until Tufts sophomore Drew Fuchs caught the Snitch at the 16:23 mark. The bonus turned a 10-point deficit into another upset for Tufts when Fuchs snuck up behind the Snitch, who was hiding in the crowd and had his attention turned to the Emerson Seeker.
"I was jittery for the next 20 minutes," said Fuchs, recollecting his game-winning grab against Emerson. "Everyone in the Boston area wants to beat Emerson because they're so good and so physical. But we knew we could take it to them."
A similar result unfolded in the semifinals, when the Tufflepuffs took down top-seeded Pittsburgh, 50-40. Employing speed against the physically superior Pittsburgh squad, Tufts moved onto the finals after Leaf snagged the Snitch just 10 minutes into the 30-minute match.
With the championship long over, the Tufts team found itself without a ride home. After all, the Tufflepuffs had bought tickets for a 6 p.m. bus back to Medford, thinking that they would be long since ousted from the World Cup by then.
But waiting around for a few extra hours to catch a later ride — or even delaying a trip home due to limited seats on the next Megabus — seems completely justifiable in retrospect.
"[Making it to the finals] was really the only thing that would make it worth it to spend the night in the city," Bening said. "This is a bunch of people who are dedicated and committed their time to something that hasn't been given much attention or recognition by the school. It was pretty incredible."