Friday, January 15, 2016

QUAFL Team Review: Pool A

By Liam McCoppin

QUAFL is the Australian Quidditch Association’s (AQA) national championship open to all teams and held at the end of every calendar year, signifying the end of the Australian season. 2015 saw 19 teams from six states travel to Melbourne, Australia for national glory. This three-part series reviews the teams that competed, whether they exceeded expectations, and what they need to improve for next season.

University of New South Wales Snapes on a Plane (UNSW):
The Snapes once again showed why they are one of the best teams in Australia since QUAFL began, reaching the finals for the second year in a row. Though the core team remained largely unchanged from QUAFL 2014, the loss of four key players - Leigh Morrell, Nicholas Allan, Emmanuel Berkowicz, and Christopher Rock - meant a loss of power in all three areas of the game for the Snapes. Losing an MVP winning keeper, two main seekers, and three primary male beaters meant having to relegate ace chasers Michael Thomson and Andrew Culf into beating and seeking respectively to compensate. It is a testament to the depth and durability of UNSW that they still made the grand final. However, history repeated itself when the Snapes once again fell to the Melbourne Manticores.

One could suggest the Snapes did not do as much as they could have to improve the team from last year, and the 2015 season results show UNSW is not as unbeatable as the team used to be. The Monash Muggles managed an upset against them in pool play, and the Snapes’ pool play game against the Wrackspurts went for over 30 minutes. The Snapes have undoubtable star power, with names such as Andrew Culf, Rajtilak Kapoor, and Minh Diep all once again being strong factors in the Snapes success; however, a lack of consistency in the team’s beaters often led to conceded goals that could have been avoided. The Snapes showed their attack relied too heavily on individual efforts, and when facing organised defences armed with only one bludger, their offence often faltered. Finally, when Culf is used as seeker, the Snapes seem almost entirely lost in offence. Regardless, the Snapes still had a great QUAFL showing, defeating strong teams in their journey to a well-deserved second place.
The Snapes need to gain greater consistency in their beating and find new ways to score goals that does not rely so much on their big names. The team has players coming through and showing improvement, but the question remains: as Australian quidditch is evolving and improving, is UNSW doing enough to keep up with the pack? This humble commentator suggests that as long as UNSW retains star players, the team will not fall lower than fourth this coming year. But if the team show no improvement, winning the next year’s QUAFL will be out of reach.

Maxime Come and Rajtilak Kapoor playing in the Grand Final | Photo by S.L. Dixon
Monash Muggles:
On their home ground, the Muggles presented a largely new side of themselves this QUAFL compared to years past. Four of their starting seven from last year’s squad were missing this year, meaning the Muggles were looking to their leader and most dynamic player Nathan Morton to make the plays and win games, be it with the quaffle or snitch, and he delivered. Morton played a huge part in the Muggles’ most impressive wins, most notably their upset snitch catch win against UNSW for a boost to placing second in their pool on quaffle points. However, it would be folly to suggest that Morton alone led the Muggles to their success, as their reliable beaters once again showed patches of greatness, and emerging stars stamped themselves as elite. The Muggles have a history of producing home-grown quality players, a system of coaching and recruiting that has to be admired. The Muggles may be dissatisfied with missing out on the Top 4 this year, especially after reaching the semifinals last year, but this team is undergoing a generational change and should be proud of their efforts.
As previously stated, the team is young and inexperienced, and this QUAFL will pay huge dividends next year as each player will be battle-hardened and raring to go. If the Muggles can keep the majority of their players and procure one more star beater it is hard to see them missing the final four next year.

Nathan Morton playing for the Muggles | Photo by Nicholas Hirst Photography
Wrackspurts Quidditch Club:
At QUAFL 2014, the Wrackspurts finished last in their pool with no wins, though their determination and physicality was noted. This year, the Wrackspurts brought a more experienced squad, but still more than half of the squad were playing their first QUAFL. The team was gallant in its losses to UNSW and the University of Sydney Unspeakables. However, the Wrackspurts still seem to be lacking professionalism in finishing in front of goals and in their beating department. During pool play, the Wrackspurts steadily improved, as their newer players grew in confidence and veteran players found their rhythm. This was in no small part due to seeker Neil Kemister, as the redhead continued his brilliant form from the Victoria Cup, where he won the seeker award for most snitches caught. Kemister not only managed to catch renowned elite snitch Dameon Osborn twice in pool play, but he also defensive seeked against both UNSW and the Unspeakables for over 30 minutes. The Wrackspurts finished an unlucky third in pool play, with the same amount of wins as first. They had a fantastic game against the unheralded but soon to be feared University of Sunshine Coast Dementors, with Kemister once again grabbing a SWIM catch to boost the Wrackspurts into the Top 8. The Wrackspurts ultimately failed to defeat the Unspeakables, with a beating lineup led by QUAFL MVP Luke Derrick who opened up the Wrackspurts defence too often. The team took the loss hard and will be looking to next year’s QUAFL to push themselves.
The Wrackspurts went away from last year’s QUAFL and recruited hard with success; however, the team still has holes in their roster. Whether the team fills those holes with players from other teams or whether it attempts to train its inexperienced players remains to be seen. But without further stability and dependency in its beating specifically male – its threat to the best teams in Australia will remain just that. If the Wrackspurts can lift their squad to a new level, they could be looking at reaching at least the final four of next year’s QUAFL.

Jarrod Growse playing for Wrackspurts against UNSW | Photo by Nat Symons
Macquarie Marauders:
Macquarie Marauders brought their all to QUAFL 2015, as they never fail to do. The Marauders are one of the few clubs that can honestly say they left nothing behind on the fields of Monash University, as they produced arguably the upset of the tournament by defeating Western Sydney Quidditch Club  70*-50 in the first round of the bracket to advance to the quarterfinals. Throughout the tournament but seen particularly in that game the Marauders played a strategically strong, level-headed game that rarely let stronger teams blow them out of the water, yet overpowered weaker teams with steady, unrelenting offence. The team’s beating throughout the tournament was of a high level, with its female beaters shining bright to allow the big-bodied male chasers have clear runs at the opposition’s goals. Geoffrey Talbott’s seeking suited the Marauders game plan perfectly, as they often found themselves within snitch range when the snitch came on pitch, with Talbott missing no snitch catches during pool play the only seeker to do so. The Marauders should leave Melbourne with their heads held high as they showed the Australian quidditch community they still have the power to cause big upsets.

Although the Marauders played exceptionally this QUAFL, it is hard to see them continuing to achieve the same results next year. The Marauders are an experienced team, with some great female players. However, the team lacks speed, flair, and most importantly x-factor, especially with male chasers. As quidditch grows in Australia, there has been an emergence of both a much stronger tactical understanding of the game and a much larger number of athletes joining the sport. The Marauders possesses the strategic understanding that teams need, but unless they can find that core group of star players, the Marauders will eventually be overrun and they will not be able to continue the heart-in-mouth wins they seem to pull out every year.

Kieran Richards and Scott Palmer for Macquarie | Photo by S.L. Dixon
University of Technology Opaleyes (UTS):
As the 2015 Australian quidditch season comes to a close, UTS should be invigorated yet slightly disappointed by its results throughout the year. The Opaleyes came into QUAFL in a rough trot of form, with recent results at the New South Wales Triwizard tournaments not going as well as they would have hoped. Nonetheless, UTS brought a full squad to the national tournament, a commendation to its resolution considering the travel required. With a full squad, the Opaleyes rallied against their recent form and turned it around, producing fine wins against the Adelaide Augureys and Queensland University of Technology Lycans. The disappointment lay in missing out on moving from pool play to the elimination bracket, a goal that UTS should most certainly have set coming into this year. The Opalayes played with their usual flair, occasionally producing fast paced counter attacks on offence, resulting in quick successive goals. However, a lack of experience and perhaps a lack of grit meant that UTS was overrun and dominated by the stronger teams in its pool.

New South Wales is known for producing strong, committed university-based quidditch teams, and the UTS Opaleyes often show glimpses of turning into a powerful club in Australia. With the youthful vigour that all university teams possess, UTS proved some doubters wrong with its solid performance at QUAFL 2015. However, as a team it should be slightly worried that it could not improve upon last years result. In both 2014 and 2015, UTS was one win away from making it to the elimination round, and failed to do so both times. One would expect from a young side like UTS that such results would position the team for improved performances in 2016 as its squad develops physically and mentally. However, UTS has already shown to be unable to do this in 2015. The challenge has been well and truly set for the Opaleyes. If the team trains hard and brings a grittier team to QUAFL 2016, UTS will be moving into the first round of the bracket; if the team cannot find that will, it may stagnate as it did this year.

Marley Haydon-Anderson playing for UTS against QUT | Photo by S.L. Dixon
Queensland University of Technology Lycans (QUT):
The continuing growth of quidditch in Queensland is fantastic to see, with QUT as one of two sides from the sunshine state making its QUAFL debut in 2015. Now that Queensland has its own regular tournaments up and running, it will be exciting to see how much QUT can improve if a similar team returns next year. With the Lycans inexperience, it would have been a fantastic feeling for them to achieve their maiden QUAFL win over the Adelaide Augureys. QUT brought a mix of players, from hard bodies that took and gave hits just as any top team would, to smart, youthful players full of energy and promise that, with the right coaching, could easily turn into future stars of Australian quidditch. The Lycans male chasers especially showed a determination that had far more experienced players learning quickly that the Lycans were out not just to win, but to put their bodies on the line for each other. It is this camaraderie that had spectators of QUT’s games shouting in awe as players repeatedly made desperate, goal-saving tackles. If the Lycans play with this mindset in every game, they are destined for improved results.

The next year of training for QUT players is imperative to the team’s development. QUT’s beating, like most new sides, requires a lot of work. Although the Lycans have a great young crop of female beaters who gained great respect over the tournament, they need a few of their strong male bodies to give beating a go and give the girls a hand. QUT rarely managed to gain bludger control, and usually did so through luck rather than forcing the oppositions hand. The Lycans must be able to hold bludger control for 50 percent of their games if they want to give the chasers a chance to use their physicality to effect. Although QUT’s game did have its flaws, and these flaws are not small ones, the team can most definitely be fixed quickly and easily, especially with the team’s current mindset. 2016 will undoubtedly be a year of growth for the Lycans, and whether they can turn this growth into results by QUAFL 2016 is hard to tell. But if the Lycans can, they should be aiming to achieve no less than two wins at next year’s QUAFL.

QUT Lycans playing against UTS | Photo by S.L. Dixon
Adelaide  Augureys:
A shroud of mystery surrounded the Adelaide Augureys coming into QUAFL 2015, a team that had not yet played an AQA official match, they came with not just a full squad of 21, but a squad full of energy, hope, and excitement. The Augureys most certainly looked the part, sporting well-designed jerseys. The team brought a young squad this year, with two 16-year-old players and one 14-year-old player, who set the record for youngest player to play at QUAFL. The Augureys did not lack personality, as tournament attendees can attest, but they did lack the physicality needed to succeed at a large tournament. Perhaps the Augureys were not ready for the commendable standard of quidditch in Australia, as they have little experience outside of their state. The only impressions come from limited footage online from Victoria and NSW. It was clear, though, to all who played against or watched the Augureys, that the squad that arrived in Melbourne played like a team, comfortable with each other and always working together in a manner that could inspire jealousy in many top teams.

Although the Augureys did not win a game during the official tournament, they will leave Victoria with a treasure chest of experience and insight of the game that will hold them in good stead for the next national tournament, which has already been seen in the team’s improvement over the course of QUAFL. More training will definitely improve the skills of the team and perhaps even more importantly a little more research and communication with more experienced players of successful tactics, especially in regards to beating, will go a long way. More new players should be coming through the ranks of the Augureys with the possible additions of two new teams founded by Augurey players. With more depth and experience to draw from, this team should be eyeing its maiden AQA win as its next milestone to conquer.
Cera Boldock-Eliott playing for Augureys in their first official match | Photo by Nicholas Hirst Photography

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