Tuesday, February 2, 2016

QUAFL Team Review: Pool B

By Liam McCoppin with James Hyder

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 and discusses how they fared against expectations and what they need to improve for next season.

University of Sydney Unspeakables:
The Unspeakables had a large initial recruitment base in 2015, seeing them split into a first and second team, but internal losses saw the second team last only one Tri-Wizard tournament. The big turnover in players led to a mixed season, where the team struggled to come to grips with its new playing identity. This led to the Unspeakables hanging in mid-tier limbo of New South Wales quidditch. Few expected them to top Pool B, let alone go undefeated within pool play and secure the No. 2 seed for the finals. QUAFL MVP Luke Derrick, who put on a clinic for those wanting to be an effective offensive beater, led the team with consistent support from Natalie Astalosh. Seekers Isabella Moore (three catches) and Will Hendriks (three catches) helped their team gradually scrape past the Blackburn Basilisks 100*-80, University of Sunshine Coast Dementors (USC) 100*-40, and Western Sydney Quidditch Club (WSQC) 130*-110 before bowing out in a big loss to University New South Wales Snapes on a Plane (UNSW) 150*-40 in the semifinals.

Although the Unspeakables outperformed expectations, they relied quite heavily upon three main players: Luke Derrick, Rob Wells (18 goals), and Nicholas Albornoz (13 goals). If the Unspeakables want to improve for next year, they need to start spreading the goal-scoring load amongst their other chasers by having those players step up. Chasers Kristie Kuhn (two goals), Courtney Buckley (one goal), and Miki Stancic (one goal) contributed to the offensive output, but all scored their goals against the South Melbourne Centaurs, a lesser-skilled team who did not make it to finals and was thoroughly beaten by the Unspeakables 170* - 20. In the Unspeakables’ other six games, no female chaser scored a goal, indicating a worrying trend. Coming off a breakout performance at Sydney All-Stars Fantasy Quidditch Tournament, Samantha Chittenden would have been disappointed with her contribution at QUAFL. A player who boasts good quaffle skills and was rewarded with a World Cup selection camp spot, she was unlucky to miss the New South Wales Blue Tongue Wizards squad for the first round of the State of Origin games. At only 19 years of age and continually learning the game, she can be a player who takes the workload off Wells and Albornoz in the future.

Keeper Rob Wells playing for the Unspeakables at QUAFL 2015 | Photo Credit: S.L. Dixon

Western Sydney Quidditch Club Spartans:
WSQC underwent a number of changes in 2015, from bringing in new players to a full rebranding from a university team to a community team, complete with a name change. The most notable change that shone through WSQC’s performance at QUAFL 2015 was the introduction of an extremely high press. Implementing a player-to-player chaser defence with both bludgers almost on the opposition’s goal line meant that Western Sydney dominated the South Melbourne Centaurs in the first game of the tournament, and from there, it seemed Western Sydney decided to keep this tactical play. This was a huge change from the plays previously seen in 2015, yet it seemed to be paying dividends even early in the tournament as strong wins against the USC Dementors and Wollongong Warriors followed. However, trying out new plays at the biggest tournament in Australia should always be cautioned against, as WSQC found out. The team was knocked out in dramatic fashion by the Macquarie Marauders in the first round of finals, a result which may see the end of WSQC’s use of the high press. Perhaps if WSQC had filled the space between its goals and the opposition’s keeper line with one bludger instead of having both completely up the ground, the team could have stopped slightly weaker opponents sling-shotting quick attacks past the first line of defence, leaving only a one-on-one with the keeper; after all, it is far easier to score against than a keeper and a bludger.

It was very surprising to see such an experienced, proud, and tactically strong club like WSQC start using new strategies in a tournament like QUAFL, and this was most likely its downfall. With this leadership at the helm, it is startling to see them debut new plays so late in the year, but surely we will not see the same happen in 2016. WSQC will not come to next year’s QUAFL with a similar lack of preparation, and the team should expect to see itself re-enter the top eight with a strong mindset and common understanding that allows it to play at its very best.

Corey Ingold-Dawes playing for WSQC | Photo Credit: S.L.Dixon

Blackburn Basilisks:
Finishing second in the last competitive tournament of Victoria before QUAFL (the Victoria Cup), the Basilisks had a strong form line with the confidence to match on the Saturday morning of QUAFL. Unfortunately, the Basilisks could not carry this form into their big games. The Blackburn Basilisks introduced new quidditch players throughout 2015, some of whom look to be future gems. Most notably, the Fujihara brothers show outside flash, dare, and finishing ability that complements the main ball users in James Osmond and James Thorpe extremely well. The Basilisks’ squad depth must be questioned, however, as players missed certain games during the course of the tournament, causing the Basilisks to lose two key games of their pool against University of Sydney Unspeakables and WSQC.

The two teams that beat the Basilisks in pool play were both from New South Wales (NSW), which is perhaps a representation of the difference in quidditch between the two states. The Blackburn Basilisks simply could not compete with the beating games of the NSW teams. However, they will have most definitely learnt from these defeats, so expect to see the Basilisks make inroads into improving their team tactics over 2016. With wizened and experienced quidditch brains like Taya Rawson leading the team, the Basilisks can bounce back from missing out on the top 4 at QUAFL 2015 and look to drive further into finals in 2016, but only if they can get more out of their female players and beaters.

The Fujihara brothers at QUAFL 2015 | Photo Credit: S.L. Dixon

University of Sunshine Coast Dementors (USC):
The USC Dementors had an extremely impressive QUAFL debut, going toe-to-toe with far more experienced teams. Finishing fourth in pool play would have been USC’s aim this QUAFL, and the team achieved that goal with flying colours. It took playing and unfortunately losing to the more experienced teams in its pool for this team to really gel, and the result showed in a demolition of the South Melbourne Centaurs by a score of 200*-20. The Dementors’ final game for the tournament came against Wrackspurts Quidditch Club, playing for a spot in the final eight. It was a spectacle of a game, with USC taking the lead against its much more experienced counterparts, but falling just short to a snitch catch from the Wrackspurts seeker. It was a wonderful showing by the Queensland team, and the Dementors will be looking to improve and produce more upsets at next year’s QUAFL.

USC based its game around speed and physicality, producing both in spades. The team’s seeking game was exceptional, but its beating was more sporadic. As USC plays more and more games, the players’ natural talent will be fine-tuned into a well-oiled machine capable of picking apart even the best teams in the country. Unfortunately, USC will be losing some of its key players to other commitments, including captain Simon Spann. If USC can improve its beating and ensure more reliable goal scoring, it is hard to see USC doing anything but improving for next year’s QUAFL and finishing in the final eight.

USC Captain Simon Spann keeping at QUAFL 2015 | Photo Credit: Nicholas Hirst Photography

South Melbourne Centaurs Quidditch Club:
Over the course of 2015, the South Melbourne Centaurs have been the most-improved team in Victoria, becoming the first of the lower three team bracket to beat one of the top four teams. They defeated the Wrackspurts in a hard-nosed win at the Mudbash tournament in July. The Centaurs had high expectations coming into their first QUAFL, hoping not only to make play-offs by finishing in the top four of the pool, but also to hopefully knock off some strong teams along the way. Unfortunately, the Centaurs were hampered with injuries and missing players coming into the tournament, leaving them outnumbered and outgunned in the face of more experienced opponents in pool play. The Centaurs did come away with one win for the tournament, defeating the Wollongong Warriors; however, their loss to the USC Dementors, a far less experienced side, shows the South Melbourne Centaurs are still a way away from reaching the finals at the national tournament.

The Centaurs’ normally strong beating lineup failed against opponents that applied more aggressive pressure higher up pitch. The Centaur beaters, although very accurate with ball in hand, tended to lose bludger control easily, reacting too slowly to retrieve a thrown ball. The Centaurs also need to find a bona fide chasing truck, or another scoring option aside from captain Michael Braham. Unless the Centaurs recruit extremely well before next year’s QUAFL, they will likely stay in a similar position, either just scraping into playoffs or missing out once again.

Michael Braham beating at QUAFL 2015 | Photo Credit: Nicholas Hirst Photography

Wollongong Warriors:
The most that the Wollongong Warriors can take away from QUAFL 2015 is that they stayed true to their name and battled through the entire tournament as warriors. This year, the Warriors once again left the Australian national tournament without a win. There were positives as well as lessons hopefully learnt in their defeats, but while the Warriors are getting a grasp of modern quidditch in Australia, it is just not as quickly as the rest of the nation. Two shining lights for Wollongong this tournament came in the form of an underrated beater and a speedy chaser: Hannah Davidson and Joshua ‘Nesquik’ Naismith. Davidson showed a huge amount of promise; she is quick, makes good decisions with a bludger in hand, and is still commendable without one by often finding ways to gain bludger control. The other came from the addition of Naismith, who brought experience and skill to score goals and catch a snitch for the Warriors.

If Wollongong was happy with its showing at QUAFL, perhaps it need not read on; however, this article promises to provide each team with the means to improve. The Warriors should spend some time looking at their team, their strengths and weaknesses to create a game plan a clear strategy that each and every member of the team understands. In attack, the Warriors need to use their bludgers and beaters more effectively. Too often the Warriors beaters can be found protecting their precious bludgers back at their defensive goal line, instead of helping their teammate chasers in offense. If their beaters can get rid of one opposition chaser, or the opposition beaters, they can give players like Huw Tomlinson an opportunity to use his size and strength to put goals through the hoops, or Nesquik an opportunity to run around the defence and make a pass or shot. From there, the Warriors should set the goal of winning one game at QUAFL 2016. If this can be achieved, they will be able to take the next step to becoming a team that the opposition can respect.
Hannah Davidson beating for Wollongong at QUAFL 2015 | Photo Credit: Nicholas Hirst Photography

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