How the University of Utah’s fantasy sports team became a reality
In the year 2005, the imagination of J.K. Rowling erupted from the pages of Harry Potter to the real world when quidditch, the sport that dazzled the minds of many Harry Potter fans, began at Middlebury College in Vermont by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe. Since coming to fruition, quidditch has taken the world by storm. In 2007, the first Quidditch World Cup (now US Quidditch Championship) was held, with Middlebury taking the place of top team. Since then there has always been a national competition within the United States, where collegiate and community teams compete to be the best.
While the sport blossomed on college campuses such as University of Texas, University of California Los Angeles, and Bowling Green State University, community teams have become a huge part of the quidditch experience. One of the most well-known community teams is actually based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 2010, Nick Burk founded the Utah Hex, Utah’s first quidditch team. As a strong proponent of growth, Burk contacted Sequoia Thomas, organizer for the SLC chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, and they agreed the University of Utah needed a quidditch team of its own. Before the team was even fully formed, they held fundraisers for equipment and invited the press to cover a match between the soon-to-be University of Utah college team and the Utah Hex. Most importantly, they recruited new players as founding members of the University of Utah team. Thus, the Crimson Fliers were born.
The first series of games played by the Crimson Fliers occurred during the winter of 2010-2011 between the Utah Hex and Judge Memorial High School Bulldogs. At the end of the series, a brand-new team from Northern Arizona University was invited to compete, resulting in the Crimson Fliers’ first intercollegiate match in a four-game series with the NAU Narwhals. With a 7-person core lineup, the Fliers went 7-0 for the season and were crowned the first ever Snow Cup champions.
In April 2011, the Fliers travelled to Los Angeles for their first regional tournament, drawing a tough pool with then-undefeated and defending champions, the Arizona State University Sun Devils. Remarkably, with just 8 players, the Fliers finished pool play at 3-2, losing to Moorpark College and ASU, the eventual champions.
Later that year, the Fliers travelled to New York City for World Cup 5 with several Northern Arizona University players added to their roster. The team went 3-1 in pool and ended in a three-way tie for first with Kansas University and Hofstra University. After confusion ensued from bracket seedings, the Fliers were matched against arguably the most talented team at the tournament, Texas A&M. The Fliers lost the match 130*-0 and were eliminated in the round of 32. (For the uninitiated: 10 points per quaffle score, 30 points for snitch catch. * indicates snitch catch. ^ indicates snitch catch in overtime.)
In February 2012, after the Fliers won Snow Cup II, the team’s first era came to a close with the departure of George Williams, who left on a 2-year LDS mission, and Dakota Briggs, who left 8 months later. With the retirement of coach Kevin Engberson and Lillian McLeod moving back home to South Carolina, half of the Fliers’ original regional roster was gone.
With only 4 players left, the future didn’t look bright for the team in the upcoming regional tournament. Enter: a historic conglomerate of mercenary players. Powerhouse veteran quidditch players traveled across the country to fill roster and play for the Crimson Fliers at Western Cup 3. Now with a 13-person roster, the Fliers made a run to the semifinals, knocked out Arizona State University (the defending champions), and placed 3rd of 19 teams. Ultimately, the Crimson Fliers were a catalyst for the national discussion about the need for roster rules.
Although regionals were a success, the 4 remaining Crimson Fliers wouldn’t be enough to keep the team afloat. After a heavy recruiting season at The U, the Fliers managed to field a 16-person roster for their first tournament, the Denver Quidpocalypse Cup 2012. The fresh-faced team came away with a tournament win and established themselves as the best team in the Rocky Mountain area. However, the success of the team was short-lived due to the first of many leadership struggles to come. Finding themselves at odds with the rest of the team, the two most experienced players left the team. In short, this was the least successful season to date. World Cup VI was the first and only US Quidditch Championship that the Fliers missed since the team’s inception.
In 2013, once again looking for new leadership, team manager Sequoia Thomas had to draw from a pool of relatively inexperienced players to lead the team. However, true to form, the Fliers managed to have a great recruiting season due largely to the hard work of the new leadership. At Western Cup 5, the team pulled out the win they needed to qualify for World Cup 7 in a snitch range game against Cal Quidditch. After the departure of the captain from the team a few months later, Edgar Pavlovsky took full captainship of the team for the journey to World Cup 7 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. With the return of veteran keeper George Williams, the team was finally ready to burst back onto the national scene.
Drafted into a pool with South regional champions University of Miami and eventual World Cup finalists Texas State, the Fliers had their work cut out for them. However, after upsetting the University of Miami 60*-50 with the first of many historic Dan Howland snitch catches to come, the Fliers tied for first in their pool. On day 2, the Fliers were again pitted against Miami in the round of 32 and were eliminated on a snitch catch.
A new season under newly motivated leadership led to the rebranding of the team. The Crimson Fliers changed to Crimson Elite. The program was reorganized for more motivated players and included additional workouts and other meetups. With the new season came a new expectation: every player should be part of Crimson Elite, and the Crimson Fliers would be a B-team reserved for players who couldn’t fully commit.
As the season unfolded, Crimson Elite was rising to a higher level than the Fliers ever had, competing with top-tier talent at Crimson Cup, NoCo Cup, and Lone Star Invitational. Still, the season didn’t pass without incident for team leadership. Many players weren’t living up to the high expectations of competition that Pavlovsky set. As a result, a few weeks before the regional championship, Pavlovsky left the team. As Crimson Elite struggled to find its identity and deal with the leadership crisis, the team made its way to regionals.
At regionals, Crimson Elite had tough matchups against UCLA and ASU. At the time, UCLA was believed to be the better team, but playing them for the first game of the day worked in Crimson’s favor and the team came out with a win. Crimson won the next two games and went in confidently to the last game of pool play against ASU. It was, as usual, a game where the teams struggled to score, and it came down to a snitch catch. Crimson ultimately made a quick catch and went into the second day of regionals with a 4-0 record.
Crimson Elite made it all the way to the semi-finals. There Crimson faced the Los Angeles Gambits, a team of powerhouse veteran players—and the team ex-Crimson player Pavlovsky now played for. The Gambits were truly too good for Crimson to keep the game in range. In spite of the loss, Crimson still received a bid to USQ Championship 8. It was the unbelievable success of that tournament that set the tone for the team’s identity and kicked off a full year of success for the historically up-and-down program.
The rest of the season passed without much incident. Crimson showed up to World Cup 8, made the 24-team bracket, and fell in the first round to the Santa Barbara Blacktips. With the departure of Ben Reuling at the end of the season, the program was once again looking for new leadership. Two veteran players took over as captains, but after two tournaments, no one had taken the position of coach. A miscommunication with United States Quidditch lead to the forfeiture of Crimson’s first 8 games of the season, which was later known as Crimson Delete.
Despite these forfeits, the real story of Crimson’s early season was a new rivalry with a growing Northwest powerhouse, the Boise State Abraxans. In the first season of close competition, Crimson came away with 3 wins out of 5 matchups, including the last 2 games, while Boise won 2 of the 3 tournament championships. Additionally, the 2015-2016 season was the first year Crimson established an official B-team, which took on the identity of Crimson’s past: The Crimson Fliers.
As a result of the forfeited games, Crimson Elite’s ranking plummeted for the rest of the season, resulting in an effectual pool of death at both regionals and nationals. With the return of veterans George Williams and Dakota Briggs, Elite was able to stay in range with the LA Gambits in pool play for the first 19 minutes. However, they were unable to pull the snitch to win and keep the game in range, ending second in their pool after a convincing win over the second-ranked Santa Barbara Blacktips.
In the first round of bracket, Elite played a controlled match against the Silicon Valley Skrewts, and yet another snitch catch advanced them to a quarterfinal qualification game against the Lost Boys. Although the Lost Boys and the LA Gambits were expected to meet again in the finals, Crimson prevented the championship rematch by pulling the biggest upset in their program’s history—taking out the talented Lost Boys squad 60*-50.
For the second-straight year, Crimson Elite advanced to the West regional semi-final and faced off against the ASU Sun Devils. In a long snitch range match, Crimson fell short once again of making the regional final.
Two months later at US Quidditch Cup 9, Crimson’s new pool of death would feature yet another eventual finalist in Rochester United—in addition to Lake Effect Maelstrom, University of Kansas, and University of Virginia. As the bottom-ranked team in the pool, Crimson ended up in a three-way tie for second with Kansas and Virginia, coming away with the third and final bracket spot from the pool. After a thrilling overtime win against George Mason University in the play-in round, Crimson fell to Lone Star Quidditch Club in the round of 32.
With new leadership for the fifth year in a row, the Williams brothers reunited to coach Crimson Elite for the 2016-2017 season. Much-needed talent joined the roster after the retirement of key players. After a competitive season, Crimson made it to the semi-finals at the 2017 West Regional Championship but fell to the Los Angeles Gambits 100*-20. However, Crimson secured a bid to US Quidditch Cup 10 in Kissimmee, Florida.
At US Quidditch Cup 10, Crimson ended pool play on the first day with 2 wins and 2 losses. One of the losses came from a very heated match against the Boise State Abraxans in overtime that came down to a snitch grab, making the final score 220*^-190. The second loss came from Mizzou Quidditch who demolished Crimson Elite 140*-10 due to a poor coaching decision during the game. After losing badly to Mizzou, Crimson had to play a play-in game to make it to the round of 32 against Central Michigan University. Unfortunately, Crimson’s run came to an end, losing 110*-50.
With the departure of some key players and coaches, Crimson’s upcoming season is revamping once again. The Crimson Fliers are moving from a community team to a college team and are officially associating with the University of Utah. Crimson Elite has a huge challenge ahead since the team will no longer be able to rely heavily on recruiting from the U of U. However, Gina Allyn, a 5-year veteran Crimson player, and Ray Taylor, a 5-year quidditch player with a year of Crimson experience, will be taking over as co-coaches for Crimson Elite and are looking forward to the new growth opportunity. They hope to achieve feats that have so far eluded the Crimson program—including making it to the final round at West Regionals and making it to the Sweet 16 at US Quidditch Cup. Of course, only time will tell how the upcoming 2017-2018 season will unfold. However, one thing is for sure. The Crimson program always has been, and always will be, a family—and if there’s one thing that many players have learned, it’s that this family can survive anything.
Written by: George Williams, Ray Taylor & Dan Hanson