By Stephen Butler, Ajantha Abey, Aden Weatherstone, Liam McMoppin, and Daniel Scharf
Editor’s Note: Stephen Butler is a player for WSQC, Ajantha Abey is a player for University of Sydney, and Aden Weatherstone is a player for UTS.
QUAFL is the Australian national championships open to all teams held at the end of every calendar year, signifying the end of the Australian season. The year 2016 will see 23 teams from six states travel to the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra. Here we preview the teams from Pool One in order of Pod seeding, with guest writers from around the country.
Western Sydney Quidditch Club
Western Sydney Quidditch Club (WSQC) have had a very strong 2016, going on a run of over 20 matches unbeaten before eventually falling to newfound rivals, the University of Sydney Unspeakables in a close knockout game. The team are more focused than ever after that loss and are looking to put past QUAFL demons behind them, this year holding the 2016 grand final in their sights. Much of this year’s success can be attributed to a new focus and strengthening of the team. Old players have picked up their game, while new players slotted in to add to the already strong side.
One of WSQC’s key players this year has been Captain and Dropbear Miles Sneddon, who has the drive, leadership, and positive attitude needed to lead WSQC to a QUAFL victory after many years of heartbreak. The importance of fellow Team Australia beaters Hannah Monty and Nicholas Allan needs to also be recognised as crucial factors in WSQC’s success this year.
Overall, the team’s biggest strength will be the sheer quality of every player. WSQC has incredible depth, being able to field a second string that is more threatening than some first-string teams. With a solid national team presence and nearly all players representing on the New South Wales (NSW) state side this year, WSQC should be a strong contender to top Pool 1 and continue far into finals, with final four a possibility.
University of Sydney Unspeakables (USyd)
Recently crowned NSW State Champions, the Unspeakables are well-positioned to carry their momentum from the state league into nationals, having finally defeated old rivals University of New South Wales (UNSW) this year. Despite this strong season finish, however, the team will do well to remember their upset losses earlier in the season to University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and South Melbourne Centaurs, both of which will be faced in pool play. Nevertheless, Western Sydney remains the biggest match of pool play for USyd, this being the third year running the two teams have faced off in the pool stages. USyd will be going for the three-peat pool play win, and fourth time QUAFL victory over their rivals.
The Unspeakables are the strongest they have ever been, with co-captains Luke Derrick and Natalie Astalosh, both Dropbears and State representatives, repeatedly seen to be an unbeatable beater pair. Behind them, the beater lines feature great experience and depth, including State players Laurel Keller (NSW A) and Paul Harrison (NSW B); all but Keller are in at least their fourth year of playing. The team’s quaffle line up features equal depth and diversity, with the size and strength of players like Nicholas ‘The Fridge’ Albornoz and Gary Hague balanced against the speed and agility of players like Miki Stancic. Harry Jones, recently promoted from the Unbreakables (Unspeakables’ B team), shone in his debut at the October Triwizard Tournament, who along with experienced recruits like Brandon Heldt and Nathan Askey-Doran, adds to the exceptional depth of the Unspeakables’ chaser line. Solving their seeker problem with Lachlan Ward, the team with the longest ever recorded game time will be fighting to better their third-place finish at QUAFL ‘15, and are especially keen to be the first NSW team to beat the Melbourne Manticores since the Unspeakables’ last victory over the current champions in 2014.
University of Technology Sydney Opaleyes (UTS)
This year has seen UTS recruit a lot of valuable new players who have enhanced the quality of their game. With a highly variable squad every tournament, UTS struggled to find a rhythm and were unable to consistently perform. A strong first half of the year included wins against the eventual No. 1 and No. 2 teams, University of Sydney and UNSW, and a win against a strong Newcastle Fireballs team. Despite UTS’ strong start, the team were unable to bring it home and let some teams get the better of them when it counted.
UTS has some up and coming new recruits to watch for, including Michael Kennedy, who has been instrumental in the team’s upset wins against UNSW and the Unspeakables. Kennedy’s background in many other sports has enabled him to quickly pick up quidditch and make good use of his athleticism and strength. The team felt his absence when he was unable to attend tournaments, and expect his confidence in tackling, driving, and playmaking to help fill a gap in their team, particularly on defence. Another impressive-looking newcomer is Ed Berry, looking set to stir things up at QUAFL and show that UTS have acquired some hot new talent in 2016.
UTS were seeded third in their pool and are looking well to make it out of pool play. However, the greatly improved South Melbourne Centaurs and Melbourne Unicorns could still prove threatening. After a disappointing result at QUAFL last year, losing a couple of SWIM games to narrowly miss bracket play, UTS come into 2016 ready to prove they are not a team to be taken lightly.
South Melbourne Centaurs
The South Melbourne Centaurs will be looking to improve upon their performance at last year’s 2015 QUAFL campaign. They were not able to utilise the advantage of playing at home in Melbourne and instead lost a number of games by large margins, not making it out of pool play. The Centaurs should come to Canberra this year expecting not just to make it into their first finals run, but hoping to beat a good team along the way. The team in green have already shown in 2016 that they are very capable of this, having beaten the Basilisks in July. Last QUAFL, the Centaurs lacked scoring ability and structure; in their game against Western Sydney, they struggled to move the quaffle past even their own keeper line. It remains to be seen whether the Centaurs have fixed this strategic fault.
The Centaurs still lack star power in both the quaffle and bludger games. Until recently, their only state representative chaser, Michael Braham, often had to carry the weight of the team largely on his shoulders, with some help from veteran keeper James Brooks. Some shrewd recruiting, however, has seen them land a big fish – female beater and Victorian representative Rachel Davis. Perhaps Davis will help the Centaurs take the next step this year to finish in the top eight.
As 2016 progresses, we are starting to see the sparkling white jerseys of the Melbourne Unicorns slowly change colour. The Melbourne Unicorns have been playing hard and training harder, and as their jerseys start to sport more quidditch badges of honour, so too their players are becoming tougher to play against. Like most university teams, the Melbourne Unicorns see a high turnover of players year to year; however, an emergence of exciting ball users to complement their wiser heads makes for an exciting QUAFL 2016 team.
Without a doubt, the Melbourne Unicorns have some of the best female players in Victoria. Unfortunately for the Unicorns, two of these up-and-comers, Rhea Schulte (overseas) and Emma Wright (injured), will not be playing this year, and they will be sorely missed. Similarly, improving chaser Sebastian Gay will also miss the tournament due to injury. Thankfully, many of the remaining Unicorns travelled to play in Western Sydney’s All Stars Fantasy Tournament 2016: Superhero Edition, and the experience that these players gained will further boost their chances at QUAFL 2016. It is unlikely that the Unicorns will make it out of pool play with their tough draw, but if their upset victory against the ANU Owls last year at QUAFL is anything to go by, perhaps the Melbourne Unicorns have an ace up their sleeve.
University of Queensland (UQ) Dumblebees
The UQ Dumblebees are one of the newest teams to attend QUAFL this year, having only started early 2016. While they have the advantage of a few State representative players that travelled to the third State of Origin in October, for many QUAFL will be their first experience in out of state play. State Rep and team Captain Farhana Menon said, “My team relies on the cuteness factor,” betraying some of her savage beats and four broken broomsticks through the year. Another State representative, Nick Cruickshank, provides a useful option on offence as one of the second highest goal scorers in the State, as well as being an aggressive defensive player. Niamh O’Mara is another to watch out for, as she is quick to pick up the ball around hoops and drop it in for the score. In addition to their State representatives, the team also has the advantage of experience gained through by former Australian National University Owls, Laura Smith and Matt Armstrong. The Dumblebees’ strength lies in their defence, with the fewest conceded games against the top Queensland team, USC Dementors.
However, with only ten players attending this year, they will struggle to maintain any gameplay throughout the weekend. Had they pulled one of the lower-seeded teams early in the weekend, they may have managed to surprise and grab an upset win, but the schedule has not helped them. Their first game of the weekend starts with arguably the hardest team in the pool, Western Sydney, then continues in order of seeding with the Unspeakables, UTS, Centaurs, and then Unicorns, leaving the “easier” teams until the end of the weekend. With so few players, whether they have the stamina to survive the weekend until their lower-seeded games and come away with a win remains to be seen.
Overall, the rematch between Western Sydney and the University of Sydney on Saturday afternoon will be one of the most interesting. Can WSQC avenge their earlier defeat and top the pool, or will the Unspeakables reign supreme? Out of UTS, Centaurs, and Unicorns, who will take third place and go into finals? Do the wildcard Dumblebees have what it takes to rack up any wins? It all starts Dec. 10th.