Friday, June 17, 2016

World Cup 2016: Spotlight on Australia

By Liam McCoppin 

Australian quidditch has come a long way since its first baby steps in the early 2010s. It has evolved from its beginnings of capes and bristling brooms in early 2011, to the development of teams, leagues, and the inaugural national tournament, the QUAFL  Cup (held that same year). Since then, Quidditch Australia has grown to a community of more than 650 registered players in nearly every state. Australia has competed at every World Cup (previously Global Games), achieving a bronze medal in Oxford, UK in 2012, then finishing second after being beaten by the United States in the final in 2014. Aside from these appearances, Australia has not competed internationally due to its isolation.

This isolation has stunted some of Australia’s growth tactically; however, a few instances of overseas travel by individuals meant that some aspects of American gameplay were brought back to Australia. The University of Sydney Unspeakables, led by star beater Luke Derrick, travelled to World Cup VII in the United States in 2014 and played a large part in seeing 1.5 bludger offense and zone defence introduced to Australia, both of which have become integral parts of Australian Quidditch. Australian quidditch was also influenced by the American game in its physical play, but that also comes from the strong history of contact sports in Australia, from rugby to Australian Rules football.

Luke Derrick, Dropbears beater, captaining University Of Sydney Unspeakables at World Cup VII | Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
At the last national cup in Australia in 2015, 19 teams competed from across six states and territories in Australia; however the bulk of these (just under 80 percent) came from Victoria and New South Wales. Although this may seem like a large percentage, it is down from 2014 where over 90 percent of the teams were from these two powerhouse regions of Australian quidditch. The emergence of leagues in Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia shows promise for future growth in Australia, both in terms of number of teams and players in these states. Ideally, once these states start to become more competitive, they will hone the skills of Team Australia hopefuls from these states.

The Squad

The process of selecting the final 21 players to represent Australia began back in Sept. 2015, where applications for the positions of selector, coach, captain, and player were opened. All registered Quidditch Australia teams voted on the leadership positions, a very perhaps even overly democratic system. On Nov. 17, a panel of four selectors, coach Gen Gibson, and captain James Mortensen were announced to select and lead the Dropbears (an affectionate name for the national team). Over the next few months, applicants were on display for their club teams in their local competitions, culminating in their performances at QUAFL in December. Applications were then narrowed to a smaller group of players asked to attend one of two selection camps: one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. Players were tested on their skills, leadership, fitness, agility, and team chemistry.

James Mortensen, captain of the Dropbears| Photo Credit: Nat Symons
From this point, the panel of selectors chose the 21 players who would represent Australia in Germany for the World Cup. Almost half of the Australian squad has represented Australia before, but many will be playing different positions, including star player Hannah Monty, switching from chaser at the last Global Games to beater for this World Cup. Interestingly, both Gibson and Mortensen lack international experience of any kind; however, the two are well-known figures and leaders within the Australian quidditch community. Gibson was the president of the Victorian Quidditch Association for a number of years, while Mortensen has experience as both Head of Gameplay and President of Quidditch Australia.

The Roster (By Position)

Gen Gibson (Blackburn Basilisks)

Callum Mayling (Melbourne Manticores)
James Mortensen (C) (Australian National University Owls)

Andrew Culf (University of New South Wales Snapes on a Plane)
Jarrod Growse (Wrackspurts Quidditch Club)
James Hyder (Perth Phoenixes)
Cassia Menkhorst (Melbourne Manticores)
Nathan Morton (Monash Muggles)
Dameon Osborn (Newcastle Fireballs)
James Osmond (Blackburn Basilisks)
Taya Rawson (Blackburn Basilisks)
Miles Sneddon (Western Sydney Quidditch Club)
Caitlin Thomas (Monash Muggles)
James Williams (Melbourne Manticores)

Nicholas Allan (Western Sydney QC)
Natalie Astalosh (USYD Unspeakables)
Luke Derrick (USYD Unspeakables)
Natasha Keehan (Melbourne Manticores)
Hannah Monty (Western Sydney  QC)
Deni Tasman (Wrackspurts QC)
Shu Ying Lee (ANU Owls)

Neil Kemister (Wrackspurts QC)

Gen Gibson, coach of the Dropbears | Photo Credit: Nicholas Hirst Photography

Interview with Dropbears coach Gen Gibson

Quidditch Post: What are your goals for this tournament?
Gen Gibson: First and foremost, to make sure that each player walks away from World Cup knowing they did something game-changing and spectacular. I know every player on the team has the capability to do that, and I want to see it. I think that one of my personal goals is to make sure the team doesn’t get too rowdy before the tournament; we still need to train hard while we’re over there. The first international Global Games we came in third, last time in 2014 we came in second; it’s only fair that this time we should come in first!

QP: What will your team need to do to accomplish these goals?
GG: It goes without saying, but hard work and dedication to our training programs. On top of that, I’ve put in place an alcohol ban leading up to the Cup, starting a minimum of 48 hours before! This might help our team settle down a little bit before the tournament.

QP: How is your team preparing for World Cup?
GG: Following the final selections in early February, we have had three training camps as a full team. These were run over a weekend and have involved physical preparation, strategic forums, skills and drills, as well as practice games against other teams. We have one more training camp to go at the end of June involving as many games as possible, playing together to get that team chemistry really going. Players are also preparing in the time away from these camps. We’ve had advice on diet and nutrition, and most players are training twice or more per week to be in peak physical form for the Cup.

QP: What impact do you anticipate World Cup having on quidditch in your country?
GG: I think some of the impacts have already been seen! It’s amazing that we currently hold the most successful quidditch crowdfunding campaign of all time, and that just goes to show the support we already have in our country, raising over $17,000. In terms of new player interest, I think the player contact will happen after the results of the World Cup. Once people see the results, it will inspire new players to get on board so they can one day get to the World Cup. The other important impact is the quality of play across the country. We have already seen from the training camps that Team Australia players have taken new and exciting information and strategies back to their teams. Due to the amount of different teams we have on the national team, this has led to an increase in the quality of play across Australia.

QP: Are there any teams that you particularly would like to play at World Cup?
GG: Everyone knows the USA is the team to beat, and the Dropbears are itching to play the USA and avenge their loss from last time. Other than that, I’m just excited to get the team on the pitch and show the world just what Australian quidditch has to offer. I think Canada, UK, and France are all going to be top competitors, so we’re looking forward to playing against them as well.

QP: Who are some of your team’s key players? Who would you say is one player who doesn’t get the attention they deserve?
GG: I think the obvious choice would be to comment on our resident truck, Callum Mayling, but he’s not the only star we have on the team. All 21 shine in different styles and plays, and all are key to the success of the team. I know Neil Kemister would want me to say that he’s going to be the X Factor for the Dropbears, but we are so isolated from the rest of the world that no one really knows many of our players at an international level, and as such, everyone is underrated.

Keeper Callum Mayling | Photo Credit: SLDixon Photography
QP: Australian Quidditch is very far away from the nearest competitor. How is its gameplay different to other countries?
GG: In general, Australian Quidditch has a higher level of general athleticism than many other countries, particularly in our national team. All the athletes come from sporting backgrounds in various other sports, which means the pace of our game is generally faster as our players are fitter and can push harder for longer. Tactically though, at club level, I think we are behind countries such as the USA, France, and the UK.

QP: Will Australian Quidditch inevitably fall behind internationally?
GG: With the addition of new states attending our national championships, we are starting to see gameplay change and evolve. I think Australian Quidditch stagnated between 2014 and 2015, but we have seen a surge over the last six to 12 months. The leagues within Australia are more competitive now, so teams have to improve to win.

QP: Neil Kemister hasn’t trained with the team since February. How will this affect him and the team heading into the tournament? Will he be ‘the X Factor’ for Australia?
GG: Neil is an interesting case and definitely an exception to many rules. He has a unique energy and naturally lifts the morale of those around him. His infectious positivity on the sidelines and his pep talks are unrivalled by any player or coach in the country; it’s a quality that’s hard to put into words. For that reason, I don’t think him missing our team trainings will be a detriment to the team at all. Neil has been in close contact with the team so that he knows what we have been working on while training hard himself in Germany. We’re also spending a week in Germany before the World Cup to train together, so I feel Neil will use that time to solidify his role and synergy within the team.

Neil Kemister seeking for Ruhr Phoenix at European Quidditch Cup 2016 | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Photography
QP: There is only one non-Victorian or New South Wales player on the team; will this change in the future? Is there a lack of talent across the other states in Australia?
GG: No, not at all. We had a variety of players attend the selection camps from all over the country; however, almost all the applications were Victorian and New South Wales players. We didn’t pick players based on their states; we picked the best 21. In terms of the future, I do think it will change, particularly with new state bodies emerging. When you look at the spread of players from the last national team, you can see an overwhelming amount of New South Wales players. This time we are seeing a lot more Victorians. I think it is very possible that next time we will see some Queensland players, as they’re beginning to play much more competitive quidditch. 

QP: What have been the difficulties of being a coach?
GG: Team Australia has never had an official non-playing coach before, and as such, there’s no precedent to work from. Everything has had to be created from scratch, and it was hard knowing where to start. Australia has also never had training or selection camps, so there’s been a lot of trial and error. As with anything related to quidditch, there isn’t a lot of information readily available. As such, I’ve had to draw a lot from my previous work in sports. On a more personal level, it has been hard to have the self-confidence to back myself. So I watched, I read, I talked to everyone I could in preparation. It’s been blood, sweat, and tears, but I wouldn’t change a thing! Every second of hard work has been worth it, and the team has come along leaps and bounds to play some truly breathtaking quidditch.


The amount of training that Team Australia has undergone will leave them in good stead for the World Cup physically, mentally, and as a team. For this reason, it is very likely Team Australia will play a strong passing game; if successful, this will push even the best teams’ defences. A keen observer, however, will note that Australia seems to have overloaded on male chasers while lacking beater depth, bringing only three male beaters and four female beaters. If one of Australia’s male beaters suffers an injury early in the tournament, the Dropbears’ durability and flexibility will be tested. Team Australia does bring an element of surprise with them because no other country has seen more than half of the team play before. The half that have represented Australia internationally are also playing vastly different roles. This unknown factor is very dangerous for Australia’s opponents, so the opposing teams will be watching their matches leading up to and during the tournament very closely.

Hannah Monty (right), previously known for chasing at Global Games 2014, now is a beater for the Dropbears | Photo Credit: Nat Symons
In the previous World Cup final, Australia did not score a single goal against Team USA, but if they have the opportunity to play them again, this will not be the case. The Dropbears would be extremely disappointed to finish with anything below second, and there is almost no possibility of Australia dropping out of the top four. Team Australia’s beating game, its pace and tactics, are still too far behind the USA’s, and for this reason, I’m predicting Australia to lose to the USA in the final. The final will be out of snitch range, but the final winning margin will definitely not be as large as in 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment