Team Preview – NSW Bluebottles
New South Wales has always had one of the largest player bases in the country, right from the inception of quidditch in Australia back in 2011. After the first two rounds of the three 2016 State Of Origin series between NSW and Victoria, the final round was set to be held in Sydney featuring the debut appearance of the Queensland Thunderbirds and NSW fielded a second team affectionately termed the B-Tongues. They would play against Queensland as a roughly equal match, while the NSW A team faced off against Victoria. Thus, the NSW B Team was formed. With the depth of players in NSW at the time, they were victorious against the Thunderbirds in their debut showing, though not nearly at the level of the two A teams. Absent from the 2017 State Shield held in Brisbane, the B-Tongues or “B-est” team returned in 2018, faltering at first against a much improved Queensland during pool play. They came back strong in the finals series to win 2-0, proving an adaptability and level of skill that showed them to be a solid team in their own right. Now officially known as the NSW Bluebottles, they enter the 2019 competition looking to continue their streak against an ever stronger Queensland side, face a new rival in the debuting Victorian Honeyeaters B side, and see how much they’ve narrowed the gap between themselves and the top teams.
Interview with Team Leadership:
We talked to captain Nicholas “The Fridge” Albornoz and coach Sukrut “Sunny” Mysore about their thoughts on the team and the upcoming competition.
1. How are you approaching the tournament?
Nick: We’re going to win. We’re not coming here as a B team trying to do our best, we’re coming here to win.
Sunny: The goal is to take it to every team in a way it should be taken to any team, none of this ‘we’re lower or have worse players’. We’re going to be playing as if we’re on an equal standing with every other team out there, playing our hardest, playing to our strengths and picking out their flaws. We want to go and play a tournament where the Bluebottles come out winning.
2. How have you prepared for State Shield?
Nick: With rep teams, the biggest ask is that you’re putting players who don’t usually play together on the one team, so the challenge is communications and getting everyone comfortable playing with each other, trusting each other, and developing the team camaraderie.
Sunny: From a managerial perspective, trying to get the communication going is definitely a top priority, from myself on a more personal note because I joined the team leadership a bit later. I also spent a lot of time trying to develop synergy in practices and develop the team that way too.
3. Where are most of your players from? Any veterans players on debut you’d like to highlight?
Nick: I’m not old…This isn’t my third State Shield…OK, I’m one of the veterans of the team, having played in the inaugural State Shield as a Blue Tongue. But there are also plenty of new players to look out for.
Sunny: There are plenty of new players, plenty of old players. I personally feel that every player is a player to be looked out for in their own right because they’ve all earned the spot there. We have a couple of State Shield debutants but also a few people returning from last year, and both of us have of course played in the original comps.
4. Why should people be excited to see the Bluebottles this weekend?
Nick: Because we’re the Blue Bottles and we’re going to win.
Sunny: I feel like we have one of the highest potentials to bring it to every other team out there. Doesn’t matter if they’re from NSW, Queensland, or Victoria, we have the skills, players, and team cohesion to break every other one of those teams and really take it to them.
Nick: You’re going to be watching a team who’s going to fight for every ball, fight for every tackle, and fight for every win.
Analysis & Commentary:
The Bluebottles come into the 2019 tournament with just over half their players retained from last year’s team, meaning a solid contingent of debutants mixed in with the veterans. While it is the nature of a B team to constantly be losing top players to the A team, the depth of teams in NSW with a 15-team strong league is such that the drop off in quality between the A and B Squads is not debilitating. There remains a solid contingent of players who should continue to pose a strong challenge to the Queensland and Honeyeater sides and force the A squads to play their best quidditch.
With nine ex- or current University of Sydney players on the squad (plus another two in reserve) as well as five current or recent players from the Sydney City Serpents, these top teams of the NSW league again form the core of the team. There is also a solid contingent of Valkyries Quidditch Club players in the chasing game especially and in general a wider spread of players from different teams than what we’ve seen in the state A teams. On the one hand, this will make effective synergy harder to come by for the team but it also opens the team up to a potentially more diverse array of playing styles, which may be an advantage if the team has trained well enough for this.
The main losses for the Bluebottles from last year come in the keeper line, with Stephen Wang stepping back from state level competition this year, and both Lukasz Sikora and MVP Haydn Johansson moving up to the Blue Tongues. This leaves UNSW’s Cameron “Dreamboat” Walker as the anchor (or perhaps mast is the more appropriate analogy) of the team’s keeper line, whose debut in 2018 impressed all. Walker’s height and wingspan make him an asset on defence and shifting him to cover the taller Queensland scoring threats was a highly effective strategy for the 2018 Bluebottles. With only Jackson Flynn as a club teammate on the Bluebottles however, the level of synergy in the chaser game is yet to be seen with other players unlikely to be familiar with his style of distribution. Walker’s prowess has grown over the past year, but he is still relatively inexperienced next to his keeping partners, Nicholas Albornoz and James Hosford. Alboronz, affectionately known as ‘The Fridge’ because of that video clip from 2015 Nationals where he crashed through five unfortunate chasers in succession to score, is seeing his third state competition, having been playing for both Unspeakables and Serpents since 2014. With crushing tackles on defence, his dramatically increased dynamism on offence has made him a much greater threat with the ability to step clean around players just as easily as through them. Hosford meanwhile, on debut for the Bluebottles but a veteran of the sport from Newcastle Fireballs, has another very different style of keeping, focusing more on shooting and distribution. His synergy with old Newcastle chasing team mate, Tom Russell will be a valuable asset for the Bluebottles, though the style of passing normally employed by the pair may run into trouble against the excessively tall Queensland defence.
Complementing these three large keepers are three exceptionally speedy boys in the form of Cooper Fitzgerald, Baldeep Uppal, and Ryan Shields. They are all comfortable ball handlers and keeping options for their club teams as well, but likely to be used in State Shield for their strengths as players who can take advantage of fast break situations, narrow windows of opportunity, and serve as solid lateral options or wing receivers where required to steady the game. Fitzgerald returns to the Bluebottles after his debut last year and turned heads as a rising star chaser at Nationals in 2018. The ever-stoic Uppal is new to the squad but has some of the most exceptional intercepting abilities in the state with his ‘extendo-arms’, which also make him a major threat on offence especially if played alongside teammate Fitzgerald. Given the makeup of the team, Uppal is likely to predominantly chase but is also one of the few true utilities in quidditch, equally strong across all four positions. His beater partnership with Harry Huang devastated even the best of teams at Midwinter earlier this year.
Another player likely to chase or beat is debutant Kim Govier, yet another Unspeakable who spent much of 2017-18 chasing for the team. She also trains as a beater and has been predominantly playing in that role this season. Govier’s confidence in both ball handling as well as receiving at speed in the quaffle game makes her another highly versatile player, allowing the Bluebottles to easily change their game where required – a mark of higher level quidditch.
Staying with the chaser lines, the combination of Amber Williams and Bianca Scalone from Valkyries presents another potent chasing pairing, supplemented with Valkyrie and ex-Bluebottle Coach, Phil Van Kerk Oerle. Elizabeth Lawrence from Serpents and Portia Ashton, hailing from ANU though having played for Serpents on several occasions, as well as with Lawrence in previous editions of the Bluebottles, also present a similar possible invaluable duo. Williams and Scalone both excel as receivers, the former with her extraordinary experience in the sport able to read defences and spot opportunities with ease. While Lawrence presents another reliable quaffle carrying option for the team, what will be critical for the Bluebottles is their ability to meld the skills of these cross-team pairings to create results. Seemingly taking the places of 2018 Bluebottles Sanju Vairav (now a Blue Tongue) and chaser-seeker Sarah King (stepping back from state level quidditch), Williams and Scalone have big shoes to fill. Though, they certainly have the experience and skills to step up to the challenge.
The beaters for the Bluebottles, meanwhile, are almost exclusively from the Unspeakables of 2018-19, with only Ashwin Tembe (Valkyries Quidditch Club), Maddi Moulton (North Sydney Nightmares), and Ana Barciela (Macquarie Marauders) breaking trend. The Unspeakables beating line is undoubtedly one of the strongest in NSW, and is a huge asset to the Bluebottles, as was demonstrated last year by an almost identical beater line. Julia Baker presents the only new face to the set of primary beaters on the Bluebottles (though Govier and Uppal, also new to the team, may beat as well), with the rest of the corps all having played in the 2018 team. This experience at the State level on top of the club synergy that the Unspeakables players bring make the beating line one of the most formidable aspects of the Bluebottles, and is a testament to the frankly absurd depth of beaters across NSW. As mentioned, Huang and Uppal demonstrated an incredible speed and ferocity as beater partners at Midwinter Cup this year, Uppal’s long beats complementing Huang’s clean ups, and it would be a shame to not see them on pitch together at State.
Tembe and Barciela are notable among this mix for their experience as some of the longest standing players compared to an otherwise relatively young beater corps. Their style of beating, experience in reading the game, and control of the middle of the pitch in offence and defence will provide a valuable variation to the emphasis on speed and athleticism to get around the wings seen in the Unspeakables beaters. Moulton and Baker both also bring a much needed physicality to the beater line, both known for their tackling. Though coming back from injuries, players such as Ashan Abey and Harry Huang have exceptional prowess in the snitch-on-pitch game, where their speed, general awareness, and ability to adapt to any situation come to a forte. Players like Usha Luckock have time and time again demonstrated their ability to pull off incredibly clutch game-saving plays against even the best of the NSW and Victorian beaters. Against the A teams of Victoria and NSW, a solid snitch on pitch plan will be critical to any hope of victory. With a much smaller seeker line compared with the other state teams, the Bluebottles will need to utilise their beater dominance as much as possible to ensure wins against the Honeyeaters and Queensland, especially up against seekers like Simon Spann.
Overall, the Bluebottles this year presents some interesting new and old faces – some faces that have been on the Bluebottles for a couple of years but are relatively young to quidditch and a number of players who are relatively new to the Bluebottles but have been on the scene in Australia since or almost since its inception. With such a depth of experience in the sport and in the competition and rising stars like Fitzgerald and Flynn mixed with veterans such as Barciela and Williams, the Bluebottles will be tough opponents for their new challengers, the Victorian Honeyeaters. In this third iteration of the rivalry against Queensland, the Thunderbirds likely have gained an advantage in the chasing game by now given the parity between the two sides in 2018, though the Bluebottles have likely retained supremacy in the beater game. However, recent injuries in key Bluebottles beaters leading to a lack of training may give Queensland an opening here. Similarly, if the Bluetongues can develop enough synergy in their disparate quaffle game and pay sharp tactical attention to what their opponents are demanding of them, they should be able to remain on par with the Queenslanders and continue to threaten the A teams. Only time can tell as we head ever closer to the competition itself!
Be sure to join us in person at Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval in Sandringham this weekend or online via our livestream, as we find out who will be crowned the next State Shield winners and plot out the next arcs of the storylines of these epic rivalries.