Scott Axel says that his greatest strength as an athlete is his sports IQ. Indeed, Axel can recount every score, key play, and change of momentum, to the minute, in a game that he played in almost five months ago against Villanova.
Axel’s sports IQ is essential in his chosen sport, Quidditch, and for his role as a starting “Beater” on Penn State’s International Quidditch Association (IQA) team.
In Quidditch, which is inspired by the sport of the Harry Potter novels played on flying brooms with self-propelled balls, each team consists of seven players. There are three “Chasers,” who attempt to score a deflated volleyball (“Quaffle”) through one of three hoops for 10 points apiece; two Beaters, who force opposing players back to their own hoops by pegging them with dodge balls (“Bludgers”); a “Keeper,” who guards the hoops against opposing Chasers; and a “Seeker,” who vies against opposing Seekers to capture the “Snitch” – a tennis ball attached to a neutral player that evades Seekers – for 30 points and to end the game.
And the players, who are free to tackle one another for possession of Quaffles and Bludgers, must have one hand on their “brooms” (a piece of PVC pipe) at all times, effectively turning Quidditch into a one-handed combination of rugby, handball, and dodgeball.
While Chasers and Seekers may draw the spotlight in Quidditch, Axel, as a Beater, may well be one of his team’s most important players. After all, he is responsible for monitoring the game on all three of its levels: “Chasing” (the Quaffle-through-the-hoop aspect of Quidditch), “Beating” (the fighting opposing Beaters for possession of three Bludgers aspect), and “Seeking” (the Snitch pursuit aspect).
With Chasing, Axel has to determine when Bludgers should be used offensively, to remove opposing defenders from the game, or defensively, to prevent opposing Chasers from scoring. In Beating, he decides when the Nittany Lions can afford to maintain “Bludger control” – a strategy where one team holds onto two Bludgers, leaving the other team with just one – based on the flow of the game. And, in Seeking, he has to balance his role in the Chasing game with preventing the opposing Seeker from capturing the Snitch.
All the while, as one of the team’s two player captains, Axel calls plays and formation adjustments, based on what he sees on the field and what he knows about an opposing team’s tendencies via film study.
Axel wasn’t always an expert of Quidditch’s Xs and Os, though. He only discovered IQA Quidditch as a freshman at Penn State, when he and his roommate, who had both played team sports in high school, were looking for a club sport to join.
“We saw Ultimate Frisbee and we saw Quidditch. And we just liked Quidditch better,” he said.
And for the high school outfielder, Quidditch was also Axel’s first opportunity to play a tackle sport. “I was always too short [to play football],” he said.
One of the other draws of Quidditch, according to Axel, is the game’s gender equality — it’s a co-ed sport which requires each team to field at least two players “who identify with a different gender than at least two other players.” For instance, if a team has five players on the field that are male, it also has to play two players that are female or that identify as neither gender.
Females, on average, play with more finesse than males, according to Axel, and because they’re usually smaller than males, they’re harder to tackle and to hit with Bludgers. This advantage can come in handy, particularly in the Chasing and Beating games, and especially against opposing players that overlook a female player.
“If you have really good female Chasers and Beaters, they can do so much more for you than a male Chaser or Beater could ever do,” Axel said.
Gender equality also comes into play with the full-contact nature of the sport, in that most guys won’t hesitant to tackle a girl and most girls won’t hold back when trucking a guy. Axel is no exception.
“I accidentally decked a girl under an ambulance, once,” he said. As in, he hit her so hard that she slid 10 feet, under an ambulance. She wasn’t hurt, though, and returned to the game shortly after, according to Axel.
“I also then clotheslined her later in the game,” he said. “You have to break the gender barrier. You’ve got to hit anyone.”
Now a junior, Axel is currently regarded as one of the best Beaters in the country, according to the IQA, but he’s still trying to improve his skills in both the physical and mental aspects of playing Quidditch. Even with a major in architecture, which requires Axel to pull frequent all-nighters, he tries his best to devote as much of his free time as possible to improving his knowledge of the game.
He’ll watch film for several hours at a time, but when asked how much film he studies every week, he responded, “Not enough.”
Axel, through his dedication to Quidditch, hopes to lead his players by example.
“I think that they realize that, if I can put this much time into [Quidditch], they should as well,” he said.