UCLA’s galaxy of star athletes who compete and succeed at their sport’s highest international competitions will surely expand this summer with the London Olympics less than 100 days away.
Karch Kiraly had volleyball. He won gold medals in 1984 and 1988.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee had the heptathlon and the long jump. She won gold medals in both events in 1988 and repeated in the heptathlon four years later.
This summer, third-year environmental science student Vanessa Goh and third-year psychobiology student Missy Sponagle will have … Quidditch?
While Quidditch is not an official Olympic sport, Sponagle and Goh will play for the United States national team in Oxford, England at the Quidditch UK Summer Games on July 9. The tournament will coincide with the Olympic torch passing through Oxford as a promotion of international camaraderie.
Australia will be joining the United States and the United Kingdom, and invitations have been extended to other nations, including France and Canada.
The maze of people on the intramural fields running around holding broomsticks between their legs and barreling into each other has become a mainstay on campus. At first glance, the game, which combines rugby, lacrosse and dodgeball, appears absurd.
Make no mistake, however, as this sport is not for the faint of heart. Goh, a chaser, is still relatively new to the physicality and brutish nature that accompany Quidditch matches. She only joined the team this past winter quarter, and it makes her selection to the national team all the more impressive.
“Since freshman year my friend kept bothering me about it,” Goh said. “But it sort of sounded really lame running with a broom in between my legs, like extreme nerds pretending to be decent athletes.”
However, after two years of not finding people to play sports with, she needed to find something to do.
“The first day, I fell in love with (Quidditch), and I went to every single practice,” she said. “I didn’t think this was a possibility, and I didn’t even know Quidditch existed until I came here.”
On the other hand, this is not Sponagle’s first flight on her broomstick; she joined the team her freshman year. Despite her wealth of experience and talent on the pitch as a chaser, her selection to the national team for one of the first tournaments of its kind came as an obvious shock and a can’t-miss opportunity.
“I was actually in the kitchen doing dishes and Tom (Marks), the captain, said they put up the team USA picks, and my heart just dropped,” she said. “I was so nervous, he just told me and I was really excited. … My mom was ecstatic. She thought it was so cool since Harry Potter is her favorite thing.”
It’s an exciting time for the UCLA Quidditch program. New members are joining by the practice, and recent successes at major tournaments, including a runner-up finish at the Quidditch Western Cup in March and a championship at the Cinco de Mayo Cup, have boosted the team’s profile in the Quidditch community. The International Quidditch Association ranks UCLA as the No. 5 team in the country, four spots ahead of rival USC. The selections of Sponagle and Goh to the national team only cement the status of UCLA Quidditch as a top-tier program that will continue to grow in the coming years.
“Missy and Vanessa (are) a large portion of our most competitive squad (and) are among the most skilled players in the country,” said Alex Browne, a keeper and third-year mechanical engineering student.
“(They) have the opportunity to show everybody what I believe makes the UCLA Quidditch program stronger than many other teams: We don’t have just “˜good girl players,’ we have just good players.”