By Brandon Borges
Tears. Joy. Pride. A journey, lasting several years reached its highest point yet. Grand Valley Quidditch felled Ball State for the first time in program history to earn a bid to US Quidditch Cup 12, marking the emotional highlight of the 2018 Great Lakes Regional Championships.
“It was everything we have been trying to do for four years,” recounted Jeannette High. “I was laugh crying because we finally beat Ball State but we weren’t sure if we got the bid or not […] Berdy and Katlyn were talking to Eric and they turned around and screamed. All of our emotions came out.” After a devastating initial loss to Michigan State, the Grindylows went on to finish 6-4 at the tournament with wins including the Ball State victory and a double-overtime thriller with Bowling Green State. Grand Valley fought hard to finish fourth in a competitive Great Lakes region, and in doing so earned the chance to compete at Round Rock.
When asked about Grand Valley’s recipe for success, High first complimented her teammates who fought with her in Bloomington. “I think it’s a combination of gaining powerful players and having a lot of players who have gone above and beyond for quidditch.” And certainly, “powerful players” is no hyperbole when it comes to Grand Valley’s starting keeper, John Smutny. He is the cornerstone of the Grindylows’ success as both a multifaceted defender who can deliver some of the hardest hits in the region at point while also using his incredible wingspan and stride length to defend hoops and as a nigh-unstoppable offensive threat, coupling surprising agility with devastating strength. The team’s second-string keeper, Matt Spagnuolo, is no pushover either. Spending years on teams such as Central Michigan and Hoosier Daddies, Spagnuolo found his groove on this Grand Valley team at the right time, and his strong drives and hits rival that of Smutny’s.
Grand Valley has done a great job developing talent to pair with those two. Alex Berdy, after a terrific MLQ season beating alongside Michigan’s Obear, can play any position as well as anyone within the region. He, along with the lightning-fast Marques Artz and the fearless seeker Brandin Yee, form a core of flex players that can throw many a wrench in the plans of their opponents. The dedicated Grindylow chasers, featuring such threats as the well-rounded John Michalowski and Tess Scheidel, and pesky defenders High and Katlyn Feley, capitalize on every opportunity their beaters afford to them. “Our pure drive for wanting this so badly has lead to our improvement,” says High. It’s tough to argue with these results.
The drive of Grand Valley extends beyond the pitch. The team is one of the most involved and dedicated to the growth of quidditch in the Great Lakes region. “I think we’re social butterflies in a way that really lead to us going out of our way to interact with friends,” said High. “Plus this region makes it easy for us.” High herself is a prime example of this involvement. MLQ’s Manager of the Year for the Detroit Innovators, co-tournament director of the Great Lakes Summer Fantasy with Matt Dwyer, and the sole field test proctor in the region, she has worked tirelessly for this region and deserves recognition for it. Her teammates have followed her example. This year’s Detroit Innovators featured Smutny, Yee, and Berdy as key players, with Michalowski playing in their unofficial series against the Minnesota Voyageurs. Smutny is also a well-renowned snitch runner who works to get the crowd involved. Willow Elser and High have taken gorgeous photos of tournaments throughout the region. Fantasy tournaments, respecting every team they go up against, and generally helping tournaments run smoothly, the Grindylows help to put the “Great” in Great Lakes.
When asked about the future of the team, High spoke of taking things one step at a time. “We have a tournament in January we’re hosting and of course Nationals…” Fitting words to end off on for High. This team has worked tirelessly to push the team to this level of success for four years. For the Grand Valley Grindylows, the future is now.