Road to QUAFL: NSW Champions University of Sydney Unspeakables
Photo credit: Maddi Moulton Photography
QUAFL 2018 is taking place this weekend. Before 24 of Australia’s finest Quidditch teams converge on the Sunshine Coast for 2 days, let’s take a moment to get to know some of the best teams in each attending state. Today we talked to Ajantha Abey, President of the University of Sydney Quidditch Club – The Largest Quidditch Club In The Country – and Co-Captain of the USyd Unspeakables, about his team’s success this year and their goals for QUAFL.
How did it feel to win the NQL Grand Final?
Pretty great. Pretty relieving frankly, especially after so many near misses on the way there, between things like losing our Blue Tongues [NSW State Team A] keeper Max Brenner to a wrist injury, and Gary Hague catching for overtime [in an earlier game between the Unspeakables and the Sydney City Serpents]. I was honestly fully prepared to lose finals, and focus on QUAFL, but once again, the team showed me up and played some of the best quidditch I’ve ever seen. That’s probably not what felt best about the game – not just the fact that we won, but that everything we’d been training to do over the past year came together with a series of perfectly executed plays, and the synergy the whole team had and the vibe we ran with the entire game made it incredibly fun.
To what does your club owe its success?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and at the end of the day, I think it comes down to everyone in the club being incredibly passionate and invested in quidditch, and the club itself being extremely good at engendering and inspiring this feeling in people. As a volunteer run sport, we rely on people using their own time to make quidditch happen – be that at the presidential level running the club, the coaches running trainings, the exec running events, and even just the players and members turning up and training and playing in the first place. On a cold, miserably, rainy Thursday afternoon, you’ll still find people running around Victoria Park on PVC pipes from 2-5pm, and it takes a certain level of dedication and a lot of hard work at all levels to make that happen. I think what Usyd Quidditch does best is showing people how awesome and fun quidditch is and helping them fall in love with it – and that’s where all of our success stems from. That’s certainly what happened to me anyway.
What are you most looking forward to at QUAFL this year?
Game One against the Monash Muggles is something I personally have been looking forward to for years. After missing the 72-minute epic 70-20 comeback victory for the Unspeakables at Mudbash 2016, the only other time in the past five years we’ve met was at Mudbash this year, where the score was within 10 points before snitch catch. With both Unspeakables and Muggles losing a lot of their older talent to graduate community teams at the end of 2016, but having a superb rebuilding season in 2017, the showdown between these two teams who in their own regions are proving that university teams are can still be just as competitive as their graduate counterparts is sure to be an incredibly fun and entertaining match – bolstered by the fact that both teams have relatively similar playing styles. Expect some epic beater battles, amazing passing plays, and some quality entertaining quidditch, from both sides.
Who are some of your more understated stars that you want other teams to watch out for?
Do I have to answer this question? I’d much rather they remain our secret weapon and have teams not watch out for them…
For real though, on a team of star state-level male beaters, Jv James Lim is often overlooked, and always to the opposition’s loss. Jv is one of the most calm and consistent players on the team, capable of adapting to any role and playstyle. His level-headed awareness and understanding of the game allows him to dismantle fast breaks faster than you can tear a perforated notepad page, and he is the worst nightmare of anyone trying to score on brooms up. Watch out for Jv’s adorable bludger boops with beater partner Alex Cunningham – those two do things with bludgers that the greatest minds of humankind are yet to understand.
Who is a team from your state that you want other teams to watch out for?
The Sydney City Serpents stand out as an obvious answer here – they’ve been one of our main rivals over the course of the season and the back and forth wins and loses we’ve had with them have pushed us both to up our games more and more over the year. They’re a force to be reckoned with, great fun to play against, and will be gunning for that gold just as hard as we are.
I also couldn’t answer this question without mentioning our own Unforgivables and Unbreakables. For C and B teams respectively, both punch well above their weight, and even after losing players to promotions, they’re both teams to look out for – especially as much of the Unbreakables talent will likely end up playing in red next year!
A number of your team members were in respective state teams this year. What do you think you’ve learnt from the competition this year?
I think the competition was a great way for some of our most competitive players to get more experience not just playing with a highly skilled and competitive team, but also against some really tough competition in some very tight games. With few chances to play interstate throughout the year, the chance to play against the top players of Victoria and Queensland is invaluable for both our A and B players, both in preparation for QUAFL and also getting used to the competitive and focused mindset required for tight, SWIM, high stakes gameplay.
Other than the games and medals you’ve won, what’s your team’s biggest achievement?
We’re really proud of having developed an extremely cohesive, trusting, and hard-working team over the course of the year. We’ve pushed the team hard with additional squad trainings throughout the season, with people motivated to turn up and train hard even in the most inclement of conditions. One of the things we’re particularly proud of as well this year is the work that especially Courtney [Buckley] and Sam [Chittenden] have done in encouraging female ball-handling in the chaser game, and the strength and depth of our female chaser lines is one of the main strengths of our team now. On pitch everyone trusts and backs each other, and off pitch we have a really fun club/team culture. By far our greatest achievement as a team though is the fact that Brandon [Frisson] now actually passes.
On a more negative note, what’s one of the biggest hurdles your team has had to deal with?
As I’ve alluded to above, we’ve been plagued by injuries all year. At the start of the year, we lost one of our newest recruits, Gunny [Gunewardene], to a broken ankle. Following this, we had Nick “The Fridge” Albornoz fall to a torn knee ligament, Mirjana Stancic out with an eye injury, Max Brenner out with a fractured wrist, and both of our captains affected by injuries at various points as well – Sam with hip issues after a rough tackle, and me dislocating my ankle – just to name a few of the physical injuries. With so many ups and downs through the year, it’s been a tumultuous year, and a lot to manage. Nevertheless, the team has clearly pulled through each and every hurdle so far and continued to exceed all expectations, and we’re going to hit the ground running at QUAFL.
What are some future directions of the club for after QUAFL?
While some of the Unspeakables will be moving on at the end of the year, a substantial core of excellent players across all positions, alongside some absurdly talented Unbreakables who have been playing at an Unspeakables for a long time, will ensure that the team continues to be one of the most competitive in the NQL. The presidency of the club is also in the new hands of Ava McConnell, who this year acted as the Director for our Internal league. Backed by an experienced and capable executive, the club is in extremely good hands to continue to consolidate what we’ve done over the last few years with the expansion of the competitive side of the club, as well as our internal league, and continue to expand in the future. It’s only onwards and upwards from here for Usyd Quidditch. #SixTeamsAndAMovie.
Many thanks to Regina Atkinson and Tegan Diep for their work putting this interview together