Chasing the Cup: Senior chaser Bradley Vonada finds niche on the pitch for Kansas Quidditch team
By: Brian Hillix | @DoubleHillix
Armed with a broom in one hand and a quaffle in the other, senior Bradley Vonada steps onto Robinson field as his team begins the day’s practice for the looming World Cup Championship.
Vonada, a chemical engineering major from Shawnee, is a chaser and the vice president for the Kansas Quidditch club team. This is Vonada’s third year playing the sport inspired by the popular “Harry Potter” book series.
Looking to join a club at the student fair his freshman year, Vonada spotted the Quidditch club. He enjoys playing sports, and he likes Harry Potter, so the decision to join wasn’t a difficult one.
“I thought, ‘Let’s try something new,’” Vonada said. “‘Let’s try something that not every kid says they played growing up.’”
Life on the pitch
Vonada said a typical week for him includes three practices that last about two hours each. Practices include a warmup, stretches, position drills and usually conclude with a short scrimmage. The team practices at Robinson field off Sunnyside Avenue.
Kansas has competed in three tournaments and a head-to-head matchup this season. Depending on the size of the tournament, Vonada said he has played in as many as six matches in a single day, and as many as 10 in a two-day span. A typical Quidditch match lasts about 25 minutes, but Vonada said one can last as long as an hour and a half.
As an outdoor sport, the team doesn’t always play in ideal conditions. Vonada said the temperature for one tournament bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If the temperature was anywhere in the 20s or above, we were practicing because we needed to get used to what it would be like,” Vonada said.
To stay in shape on off-days, Vonada spends a lot of time at the Rec Center. He said players are responsible for conditioning on their own, as practices are mainly devoted to enhancing skills and simulating game situations.
Vonada needs that conditioning as a chaser, which is the position responsible for scoring by throwing the quaffle, or in Muggle terms a volleyball, through one of three hoops.
“I like the chaser position because it’s a lot more pass-oriented and it’s a very offensive position,” Vonada said. “I’ve always enjoyed the teamwork aspect.”
Senior year success
With a 14-2 record this season, Kansas Quidditch is currently ranked No. 13 in the country, according to the US Quidditch organization. Vonada said the team peaked at No. 2 earlier in the season behind the University of Maryland.
In October, Kansas finished first in the Kansas Cup tournament, where it went 4-0 and defeated the University of Minnesota in the championship.
The team is now preparing for the Quidditch World Championship, which Vonada said is the March Madness of Quidditch. The tournament will be in Rock Hill, S.C., on April 11-12, where 80 teams and 1,600 players will compete for the Quidditch Cup. The University of Texas took home the cup in 2014.
His best quidditch moment
Two years ago, that setting provided Vonada with what he said is his “best time at KU.”
Up against a heavily favored Baylor squad that had been ranked No. 1 in the country, Kansas pulled off the upset by snagging the snitch to end the match with a narrow 10-point victory in front of hundreds of spectators.
“All the writers had us getting slaughtered,” Vonada said. “But we kept them close throughout the game and eventually pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Quidditch at the time.”
That momentum carried to the next round against a Marquette team that took first place at the Midwest Regional Championship that season. Kansas again caught the snitch to claim the match and advance in the tournament. The team ended up making the Elite Eight, losing to eventual runner-up UCLA.
Makeup of the quidditch team
Kansas’ team consists of 41 players: 29 men and 12 women.
Vonada said a lot of players on the team played sports in high school, but the team also includes people who hadn’t competed athletically before college.
“[Those players] are outstanding for having never played sports,” Vonada said. “They’re taking some of our top spots.”
In addition to the 41 players on the team, Vonada said other students will occasionally practice with the team to simply try out the sport. He said you don’t have to travel with the team to participate.
“That’s something we encourage,” Vonada said. “We want to spread the sport, and we want everyone to have fun and try something new.”
Not everyone on the team is a Harry Potter fanatic, but a good portion of the team likes to stick to its roots, Vonada said. The team’s captain, senior Kate Cooley of Topeka, owns a Christmas tree covered in Harry Potter ornaments, complete with a sorting hat at the top.
Vice presidential duties
As vice president of the club, Vonada assists the president with tasks like deciding which tournaments to compete in, planning trips and planning how to fund them.
The club primarily relies on merchandise sales to help fund its trips to tournaments. It sells items like T-shirts, jerseys and sunglasses.
Vonada also helps to promote the sport on campus and in the community. He organizes appearances at University fairs and local elementary and high schools. He also wears his Kansas Quidditch jersey on campus, sparking conversations with strangers who are interested in the club.
Future of quidditch
Vonada said the sport has continued to grow in popularity nationwide, noting the recent creation of Major League Quidditch, a national league composed of teams from Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Rochester, Indianapolis, Detroit and Ottawa.
When Vonada sees the “Harry Potter” characters playing Quidditch in the movies, he wonders if the sport will evolve to the point where it can be played with flying brooms and a floating snitch.
“Maybe we could be the next sport on TV,” Vonada said. “In 20 years, I could definitely see Quidditch becoming a big deal.”
— Edited by Paige Lytle