From a distance, the cluster of UF students practicing at the center of Flavet Field Sunday night might have looked like an ordinary sports team.

But upon closer examination, the details were different. Players rode on PVC pipes, running, leaping and dodging balls under the moonlight.

They weren't playing soccer or football.

They were playing Quidditch.

The meeting was one of the UF students' last practices before traveling to New York to compete in the International Quidditch Association's fifth-annual World Cup for the first time.

"This is a sport," said team president Bridget Siegel. "It's ‘Harry Potter,' but it's a sport."

Non-magical Quidditch, inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter franchise, is a mixture of rugby, lacrosse and dodgeball without any padding, said Siegel, a 19-year-old religious studies sophomore.

Seven athletes from each team play one of four positions at a time. There are four balls and six hoops, and all players except the snitch runner must keep a broomstick between their legs.

Florida Quidditch players use PVC pipes for broomsticks during practice.

For the competition on Saturday and Sunday, about 2,000 athletes from 100 teams will gather on Randall's Island in New York City to vie for a trophy, 14 handcrafted broomsticks and the title of best Quidditch team in the world.

Because there are no requirements to enter, the UF club team, ranked third in Florida, has been planning to go since last November.

Thirty-one people - 21 athletes plus coaches and supporters - spent about $10,000 out-of-pocket to fund the trip.

During the World Cup's randomly generated pool stage, the team will play the University of Ottawa, the State University of New York at Geneseo and the Delaware Valley Dragons.

Arizona State University will be the team's fiercest competitor.

If UF makes the top three, the players will progress to the bracket stage.

Chaser coach and criminology sophomore Nick Wright, 19, said he thinks the team could go far in the competition.

"I expect our style of play to be completely new to those big northern teams," Wright said. "We have a lot of stamina and a lot of speed, and we're just going to run the big teams into the ground."

About 30 players tried out for the 21 spots on the World Cup team in August.

Since then, they have been increasingly trading fun practices for agility drills, suicide sprints and intense scrimmages, Wright said.

This training has helped the team move together more fluidly, said Hannah Pohlmann, 19, the club's vice president of tournaments.

The team has improved significantly so she expects it to progress to the bracket stage.

"We have been practicing extensively, and we've been playing more consistently than any other team in Florida," said Pohlmann, a mathematics sophomore.

Regardless of outcome, the entire team is excited for the World Cup atmosphere.

Siegel said Quidditch allows players to bond whether they are from Gainesville or New Zealand.

Good sportsmanship is a key part of Quidditch, as is making new friends.

"There's some sort of weird joy that comes from Quidditch, just because it is based on something that is fictional, which is fun." Pohlmann said. "It's fun to be silly."

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