By Austin Wallace
For the first time ever, Major League Quidditch (MLQ) has a new champion. The Austin Outlaws vanquished Indianapolis Intensity in the finals after giving two-time defending champions the Boston Night Riders their first ever loss in a semifinal sweep. The Outlaws’ championship marks the first national title for some of the game’s elite, including Mollie Lensing and Becca DuPont, who have turned in stellar careers for Texas A&M University Quidditch and Lone Star Quidditch Club.
Although the Austin Outlaws entered the championship as the favorites after knocking off the Night Riders, it was Indianapolis who started with a bang, using bludger control and a handoff from Andrew Axtell to create space for a Nick Kaufman finish. Axtell and Kaufman have been the focal points on offense all season for Indianapolis, with secondary contributions from Blake Fitzgerald and Nathan Digmann.
The two teams featured a dichotomy of play as the Outlaws were very comfortable holding the quaffle for long periods of time just past the midline using horizontal passing, while Indianapolis was quicker to drive or pass toward the hoops.
The first game of the finals remained close throughout as Monroe and Aryan Ghoddossy traded goals with Kaufman and Axtell until seeker play. It was not luck, either; Indianapolis looked like it belonged in the finals and in the same class as the Austin Outlaws, which is more than anyone would have expected at the start of the season. With their snitch-on-pitch mastery – which has been a hallmark of the team for years and was reinforced in their semifinal win over the Los Angeles Guardians that featured two SWIM victories – Indianapolis looked like it had a good chance to close out the game against the heavily favored Outlaws.
Unfortunately, equipment got in the way of the Intensity’s chances to catch. With the Outlaws up a goal, and Jason Bowling set up for extended alone time with snitch Justin Barnard, the snitch tail promptly fell off, prompting a switching of tails and a stoppage of play. After the snitch relocated, Bowling was able to get another few seconds of one-on-one with Barnard before the tail again fell off. This time, play was not stopped, and Bowling was beat out by the time it was reattached.
Less than a minute later, it fell off again, prompting a stoppage in play and a full change of shorts. Outlaw seeker Craig Garrison finally got some uninterrupted chances after that, catching quickly over the top. However, he was ruled to have impeded the snitch while going over the top for the grab.
After the reset, Indianapolis again got some alone time and again the snitch tail fell off, and the opportunity dissipated by the time the tail was reattached. During the next stoppage, the shorts were replaced for the second time, and were not an issue again, but the damage was done. The Outlaws went up 30 points just seconds later.
The Intensity’s last opportunities came in the next two minutes, as the team kept the differential at 30 while focusing both beaters on seeker play. Those few minutes were marked by a frenetic display of seeker beating skill on both sides, including Ryan Nawrocki for the Outlaws, and Matt Brown and Tyler Walker for the Intensity. The highlight of the exchanges saw Austin beater Jackson Johnson deflect a bludger heading straight for his seeker in mid-air, earning his team more alone time with the snitch.
Gabe Garcez will get the most press as a game-breaking snitch, but Barnard was spectacular in game one, facing a higher degree of difficulty than Garcez in game two. Barnard stood his ground against extended one-on-one and two-on-one time against the best seekers from both teams. Joshua Andrews ended the game 150*-90 by catching the snitch at 27:43, shortly after Indianapolis came back into range.
Game two had a different tone to start as the Outlaws used intricate passing and defensive pressure to jump out to a 60-0 lead.
Indianapolis had a chance to battle back, nine minutes in, facing a 50-point deficit with two Outlaws chasers in the box; instead, the Intensity’s shot went high and the team allowed Austin to kill the penalties, before yielding another goal that gave the Outlaws an 80-20 advantage. As the seekers came on, the score widened out to a 70–point differential. Garrison started for Austin, but subbed off quickly after being beat out. After that point, neither side sent out a male seeker for the full 19 minutes, while playing five male players at other positions. Lensing had the best chances, driving through or spinning around the Indianapolis seeker defender again and again and getting multiple good looks at Garcez. The Outlaws were able to support Lensing in getting some one-on-one chances, but she was not able to capitalize before subbing off. Bailee Fields came on to seek for the Outlaws and lacked the same intensity as Lensing. Remarkably, Fields played the entire rest of the game, with those 17 minutes featuring handshakes, ring-around-the-rosey, a dragged seeker defender, high fives, Fields walking towards Garcez despite having no opposition, patty-cakes, Garcez crawling on all fours, Garcez holding both seeker’s brooms, a pirouette, and Garcez snitching with no hands in the final minute of the game.
The Intensity’s seeker played the entire 20 minutes defending Garcez, putting in a strong effort especially against Garrison and Lensing. However, when Mary Owen and Cecelia Westbrook were seeking for Indianapolis and Fields for Austin, both sides were content to focus on the quaffle game, as Fields was rarely, if ever, beat out. The Outlaws did give Fields some one-on-one time with Garcez, but their strategy seemed to be to focus on the quaffle game and not let Intensity get back into snitch range before the clock ran out.
Intensity was able to keep pace with the Outlaws, but never got closer than 50 points. The quaffle game remained intense and had pace for the entire game, but outside of a quick two-goal run, the outcome never really seemed in doubt.
The MLQ Championship ended 150-90 at 40:00 without a snitch grab, in what might have been Garcez’s easiest snitching game and with that the Benepe Cup made its home in Austin just as the US Quidditch Cup did in April when it was won by Texas Cavalry.