By Liam McCoppin, Regina Atkinson, Ajantha Abey, Victor Tan, James Hyder, and Katelyn Stubberfiel
Editor’s Note: Liam McCoppin is coach and player of the Wrackspurts, Ajantha Abey is a player for the University of Sydney Unspeakables, Victor Tan is a player for the South Australia Bunyips, James Hyder is captain and player for the Perth Phoenixes, and Katelyn Stubberfield is a player for the Perth Phoenixes
The Australian National Championships, also known as QUAFL, were held Dec. 10-11, 2016. Various Australian staffers from the Quidditch Post got together after the tournament to discuss topics ranging from team performances to opinions on the overall tournament, including highlights and some stand out players.
Which teams were the most surprising?
Regina Atkinson (RA): Not one team in particular, but to see the Perth Phoenixes, University of Sunshine Coast Dementors (USC), Melbourne Manticores, and Blackburn Basilisks all jointly top of Pool Three at the end of day one was pretty surprising.
Liam McCoppin (LM): The performances of Perth and USC were definitely far stronger than most expected. As for me personally, I’ll quickly and happily say the Macquarie Marauders, and to a lesser extent the University of Technology Sydney Opaleyes (UTS), surprised me with their physicality and competitiveness.
Katelyn Stubberfield (KS): I was impressed with the physicality I saw in the Macarthur Weasleys vs. South Australia Bunyips game that I refereed. I had not seen either team play before, and I was not expecting it from the lower-seeded teams.
James Hyder (JH): To follow on about Macquarie, I thought they had a good tournament and a great first-up in-range game against the Wrackspurts. Macquarie would be disappointed with the loss in the play-in finals to the Basilisks, a team they would have fancied themselves against.
JH: As for most surprising, do the Monash Muggles fall in this category? They were a Pod Three team that topped their pool, but were still quite fancied by many punters. They went undefeated until losing a snitch-range game against Western Sydney Quidditch Club (WSQC) in the semifinals, where they were out of range at one point.
Ajantha (AJ) Abey (AA): I was thinking to myself late on Saturday that so far during the day, there had really been no upsets at all. Maybe some games that were closer than might be expected, but in the end all games had gone as most would have predicted. But then Perth beat Manticores, which was certainly a surprise after their loss to USC and period of parity with the University of Sydney B squad (Unbreakables); it was 50-50 at one point in the game. I want to say Macquarie were also a surprise because they played superbly as well, but to be honest, given how well they perform every year at QUAFL and how strong they’ve been looking in the lead up, was it really a surprise? Credit to UTS as well for holding their nerve against WSQC much better than the University of Sydney Unspeakables did.
Victor Tan (VT): The Perth Phoenixes. To see them hand the Manticores their first loss at QUAFL since 2014 was amazing, and for a lot of the game it did not look like it. Also kudos to my team, the Bunyips. I went into QUAFL with the expectation that we would be trounced every game we played. I certainly did not expect to play competitively against the Australian National University Owls (ANU), let alone to win our next match, but we did.
Which teams did not perform as well as expected?
RA: The South Melbourne Centaurs went into QUAFL expecting a strong performance, especially considering they beat the Basilisks not too long ago, but they lost to the Sydney Unspeakables 220*-10, which can’t have been a good time for them.
JH: ANU, the Pod One team of Pool Two finishing third in their group, resulting in a matchup against the Unspeakables in the first round of finals which they ultimately lost. They generally lacked scoring threats, with Team Australia player James Mortensen as a beater preventing them from matching it against Monash and the Unspeakables.
LM: New South Wales’ (NSW) top teams on a whole failed this tournament. Apart from Western Sydney, four of the five NSW teams that were rated above the Monash Muggles in the pre-QUAFL seeding finished below them – either a grave underestimation of the Muggles or an overestimation of the strength of Quidditch in NSW, or perhaps both?
RA: Newcastle were in trouble from their first game after a serious injury to Jackson Shields at brooms up and just kind of struggled on through for the rest of the weekend.
LM: Losing a team’s number one ball carrier and keeper is always going to be very tough; props to Newcastle for making it through to the final eight regardless.
AA: I don’t think Centaurs were as cohesive as they needed to be in order to live up to people’s expectations. ANU will for sure be disappointed performing at a level that really is below what they are capable of. To be honest, I don’t think that NSW as a whole underperformed to what was expected; I just think Muggles were grossly underestimated in what a class team they are, and that they – the Wrackspurts, the Manticores, and to some extent the Basilisks – are all just a cut above most of the top NSW teams.
LM: Yes, good call, AJ, but it seems to swing back and forth every year. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues in 2017.
VT: ANU as well. They finished second in the NSW league, had two Dropbears on the team, and yet finished third in their group.
Which state came out the strongest through QUAFL?
RA: Victoria. Three of the four semifinal teams were Victorian.
LM: Every state but Victoria and NSW! Perth defeated the Manticores, while Queensland and South Australia (SA) both supplied multiple competitive teams. It seems it will not be long until the top states are knocked off their perch!
VT: Against expectations? Queensland. USC played a superb match against the Perth Phoenixes, and all of their other teams performed very reasonably as well.
AA: Victoria for sure. A much greater proportion of their teams were playing at the top level of the competition on the weekend than NSW, most of whose teams ended up more in the sort of middle tier. That said, I agree with Liam’s sentiment. Perth were really strong again this year, and with a good showing on their roster, I’m hopeful to maybe see two Western Australian teams next year. It’s also great to see SA expanding, and Queensland not only expanding rapidly but also becoming competitive with some of the oldest and best teams in the country.
Finals… Highlights of the grand final for you?
RA: Nicholas Hirst fixing the broken hoop. Or when two Wrackspurts were in the sin bin and the remaining players got a goal. That was pretty solid.
JH: The beater tussle between the Team Australia beaters from WSQC of Hannah Monty, Les Fox, and Nicholas Allan and the perhaps lesser heralded beaters from WQC of Deni Tasman, Liam McCoppin, and Clementine Round. It continually ebbed and flowed in who had bludger dominance.
JH: Also the shot that bounced off Isobel Rennie’s shoulder and went in…
KS: The fact that entire game was in snitch range and we had no clue who was actually going to win it. It was a thrilling final!
AA: Frankly, it was refreshing not to have a wipeout final, or one that starts out close but blows out in one team’s favour from around the 15-minute mark or with snitch on pitch, to an inevitable ending. Rather, this year we had one that stayed in range the entire game, while also being high scoring and entertaining, rather than the ‘chess match’ style quidditch emerging in the UK. Great all around quidditch from both sides and a great showcase of Australian quidditch.
VT: Jake Nash’s superb one-man drives against stacked WSQC defenses time and again were magical. It is something that I would like to learn from. Other than that, it is hard to pick, as this grand final is not just the best that I have seen at QUAFL, but the best match that I have seen in a long time. It was exciting to watch the entire time.
Finals… Who should have made it further?
JH: The Unspeakables would be ruing their missed opportunity to knock out two-time reigning champions, the Melbourne Manticores (110*-50).
LM: Definitely agree. The Manticores looked beatable for the first time in two years, and the Unspeakables had them where they wanted them. Instead, they dropped out of the final four after a strong performance in 2015, and will probably spend the majority of 2017 rebuilding with the losses of key players to the Sydney City Serpents (including Natalie Astalosh, Luke Derrick, and Gary Hague). It may be some time before we see the Unspeakables rejoin the competition at the top.
KS: If I was going to pick a team that could have beaten the Manticores before the tournament, I would have probably chosen the Unspeakables as one of my choices. I did not think the Manticores could hold up against their aggressive beating, as they are so famous for their solid hoops defensive beating that does not usually stray much past halfway.
AA: I can confirm that the Unspeakables are definitely disappointed not to have at least made it through to the semifinals. Having played so solidly all weekend, and been well out of range of every other team, it was a shame to miss out on two key wins due to simple decision errors in the seeker game. And in a hypothetical where we went on to lose the semifinals to the Wrackspurts, I think Unspeakables vs. Muggles would have been an amazing game to watch and play, given their even performances against ANU, and the quality of play both sides showed throughout the tournament.
What caused the Manticores’ downfall for the first time in two years?
RA: Team cohesion plummeted this year, plus they brought a lot of new players to QUAFL and did not have the time to bring them totally up to scratch.
LM: There were many factors at play that led to the Manticores missing out on achieving the “threepeat,” but one of them was not team cohesion. The Manticores still boast some of the best team cohesion in the country; however, the best teams in Australia are becoming stronger and stronger, while the Manticores lacked depth across the board in 2016. As Regina mentioned, the Manticores had almost half a team of extremely new players. This lack of players, mixed with their lack of experience, combined with a bit of the rest of the competition getting stronger, left them slightly behind the pace this year.
JH: Taking 15 minutes to respond to a slow ball tactic…
JH: It’s worth noting that to beat the Manticores both teams put a lot of tactics into stopping Callum Mayling. Most notably a tagging type role from Neil Kemister of the Wrackspurts and Adam Phillips from the Phoenixes, specifically aimed at stopping the drive and secondary alley-oop follow up plays.
AA: In regards to stopping Mayling, I think all teams are becoming increasingly aware that Mayling really does not like having a point chaser pressuring him and would rather his offensive beater get rid of them rather than the defensive beater. The Unspeakables also tried applying this kind of pressure on defence, perhaps less effectively than Perth or Wrackspurts. Though I think the Unspeakables’ biggest problem was not on defence, which was reasonably solid; rather, it was taking too long to change up their offence against the Manticores’ well drilled hoop zone and start scoring.
AA: I did not get to see much of their actual defeat by Perth, but from what I saw, the trademark cohesion between Mayling and the various receivers around hoops that has made for such a dangerous offence in previous years just was not as clinical as it once was. There is no doubt they are still a great team, but now everyone else has caught up and are able to take advantage of their slipups and coordination problems on offence, which seemed to be happening a lot more than usual. Losing Dropbear Deni Tasman also probably hit their beater line and general depth of the team.
LM: I’m with AJ here. As quidditch gets better, so too must the top teams become even better themselves, and the Manticores possibly did not do enough throughout 2016 to defend their title.
Who has the potential to come out strong next year?
LM: Superrrrrr Teammmmm!!! The Sydney City Serpents, if all goes to plan, should immediately jump into contention for a strong finals run next year.
JH: Taking the Serpents as an unknown quantity for now, they take away so much of the top-tier talent from the best teams throughout NSW that it puts into question how the teams can do without them. Because of this, the Wrackspurts, of all the top eight teams, have the fewest question marks over their star players for next season and have every reason to aim for the double.
LM: The addition of Team Australia chaser Jarrod Growse to the Wrackspurts is a scary thought for the future; as well as another year’s worth of maturity to an already very talented Monash Muggles group, who were 20 points up in the semifinal when a snitch catch went against them. However, I think with the way NSW largely bombed this year, they will be back with a vengeance in 2017.
JH: USC will learn have learnt a lot this tournament after failing to make the finals cut despite a 3-2 record. The experience will serve them well, and I do not think we will be seeing them lose to the likes of the Basilisks and Manticores by max QPD next year.
AA: I think that with the Serpents sucking up so much of the major talent from the NSW teams, there will be a general evening of the competition in NSW, Serpents aside. But it will also temporarily cripple the abilities of historically strong teams like Unspeakables and University of New South Wales (UNSW) to continue to compete against the top Melbourne teams, as all eggs go into the Serpents’ basket, so to speak. I doubt we will see a NSW majority in semifinals or even quarterfinals next year, especially as regions like Queensland continue to skyrocket. Although there appears to be a big gap between USC and the other Queensland teams, I’m really excited to see what USC can pull off in the future given they only just missed out on making finals.
VT: Flinders University. In addition to likely gaining Min Smith and Mike Slattery at the expense of the Glenelg Gargoyles, diminutive bruiser Joel Stanley surprised everybody to be amongst the Bunyips’ best players at QUAFL. Furthermore, the return of super-quick Kirsty Lucas from a busted ACL should see them add pace to their lineup when they go to QUAFL next year as their own team.
Did anyone leap into Team Australia contention?
LM: Largely…no. Current Team Australia players showed exactly why they are regarded as the best in the country by dominating QUAFL 2016. One position that will be far more heavily disputed in 2018 than previously will be the keeper position, as the emergence of strong, powerful bodies such as Jake Nash, Dan Leane, Brandon Frison, and to a lesser extent the injured Jackson Shields, will be competing with Callum Mayling and Miles Sneddon for that current position.
JH: Those players you mentioned, Liam, definitely cemented themselves a spot in their respective State of Origin squads.
JH: Females…anyone? This is worth mentioning because the gender split may change for next World Cup.
LM: Beating-wise, there were non-male beaters who will jump into consideration, including Kia Seeto, who has been very impressive playing for Queensland and ACU this year, and Kristeen Wong, who Hannah Monty mentioned as someone she rates. Chasing, Samantha Chittenden showed why she is becoming a shining light of NSW, continuing her rise with the Unspeakables, as well as Weasleys’ chaser Arlyta Andrew, who has a rocket arm.
JH: Nathan Morton as a beater.
AA: I kind of agree with Liam here. No one stood out that much who we didn’t already know was really good. Brandon Frison for Macquarie was certainly exceptional, and both Samantha Chittenden and Kristeen Wong shone for Usyd and Wrackspurts, respectively, but I feel like they’re all already respected as good players. I want to give a shout out to Taya Rawson as a seeker, who I had never seen before but looked like an incredible force to be reckoned with. Christian Barquin’s seven-second catch of Dameon Osborn against the Unspeakables was also pretty notable, but I have always considered him to be one of the best seekers in the country, even if not everyone rates him.
What was your favourite game of the weekend?
LM: Both semifinals and the grand final were all SWIM games and really exhibited the best players and teams in Australia. Aside from these three games, however, USC vs. Perth was a fantastic game in pool play, and any game including the free-flowing Weasleys showed that fun has not been lost in quidditch!
JH: Everyone loves an overtime, and there were two crackers: Manticores vs. Wrackspurts and Perth vs. Basilisks, both with catches in overtime to win it.
AA: I largely agree with the above. Finals and semifinals were all awesome games, and Perth vs. USC was epic in every sense. I also want to give a shout out to Macquarie’s performance against the Wrackspurts, and the Unbreakables’ performance against Perth. A second team holding parity against a previous QUAFL champion for 10ish minutes, and fighting to get back in range when snitch was on, was amazing to watch, all personal bias aside.
General thoughts on the organisation and running of the tournament?
AA: I thought it was worth commenting on how well-organised and well-run everything felt. Games ran on time for the most part, and pitch quality was of course amazing; these were probably some of the best fields we have ever played on in Australia. It is a shame a lot of the merchandise did not come through, and same for the food trucks, which all seemed to fall apart last minute, but other than that everything seemed to run smoothly and efficiently.
KS: For sure, it was a great weekend. Fields were great, obviously to be expected from the Australian Institute of Sport, but it has definitely set a high standard for the future now that after a weekend of 23 teams playing you could not even tell we had been there. I did not have any problems with the running of the tournament.