Team Previews – The Victorian Leadbeaters
The endangered Leadbeater’s Possum is Victoria’s faunal emblem. The species is found only in Victoria and lives primarily in the ash forests and subalpine woodlands of Victoria’s central highlands, with a small lowland population to the east of Melbourne.
The Victorian Leadbeaters Quidditch Team has been a part of Australia’s state competition since its inception in early 2016 when Quidditch Australia’s State of Origin series first started, eventually developing into what is now State Shield. 2016 saw the Leadbeaters put up a strong performance across three series of three games against the NSW Blue Tongues, going 2-1 and 1-2 in the first two series and winning the decider 2-1 in Sydney. The single competition in Brisbane of 2017 saw the Leadbeaters again victorious in the finals series against NSW, only dropping one game in the preliminary stages to Queensland. Many of the 2017 squad went on to play for the national Dropbears squad in the 2018 Quidditch World Cup. While prevailing against NSW B and Queensland at the 2018 State Shield in Newcastle, the tournament saw a 0-3 loss in the finals series to the NSW Blue Tongues who were consistently able to catch the snitch in all of their nail biting in-range games. This made for only the Leadbeaters’ second series loss since 2016, which the team will be keen to avenge this year on home soil.
Interview with Team Leadership:
We spoke to Coaches Liam McCoppin and Nicola Gertler, Captain Nathan Morton, and Vice Captain Edward Vienet about their thoughts for the team and upcoming tournament. Here’s what they had to say:
How are you approaching State Shield this year and what are your goals for the tournament?
In 2019 Victoria is going in hard from brooms up, landing fierce tackles, jumping on loose balls, pinging beats, and most importantly getting our hands on the golden snitch. Our goal is to catch more snitches this year and bring the Shield back to Victoria.
How have you prepared for State Shield and how confident are you at this point?
In 2019 Victoria has structured trainings to be longer and with greater numbers to better prepare its sides for playing a two day tournament rather than singular games as per Vic Cup. We’ve worked hard to learn different defences and broaden our offensive plays to help us adapt to whatever NSW and Queensland throw our way. The team has trained almost every weekend for the past few months, and we’re feeling comfortable with our team mates.
Why should people be excited to watch the Leadbeaters play at State Shield?
There are a few changes in 2019. Victoria has new uniforms as well as introducing a second team. With some key players stepping back from state playing such as James Osmond and Calum Mayling, spectators are going to see changes in the way that Victoria plays. Additionally people should be excited for the utter chaos in the commentary box and confusion from the opposition, given the high possibility of 3 Maddys being on pitch at the same time.
Analysis and Commentary:
The 2019 Leadbeaters squad has been noted for the significant departure from the well established core of Victorian players who have featured in many Leadbeaters and Dropbears (national team) squads since 2016. Many household names and world renowned players including keeper-chasers Callum Mayling and James Osmond, chasers like Taya Rawson, Emily Merry, Cassia Menkhorst and Michael “Dundee” Braham, and beaters Dean Rodhouse and Deni Tasman have taken a step back from state level playing.
Nevertheless, this gradual changing of the guard has brought in a new generation of stellar Victorian players who have demonstrated extraordinary prowess at the club level, mixed in with some of the more experienced players. This year’s Leadbeaters features six State Shield debutants, with a further three playing their second state series.
What is immediately apparent about this iteration of the Leadbeaters is the Muggles core. While historically club teams like the Manticores and now the Ravens have dominated the Melbourne league, the Monash Muggles have been a consistent power over the years. This year they have come well into their own with emphatic victories in the Vic Cup league finals and interstate tournament Melbourne Mudbash, losing only one game all season.
A total of nine Leadbeaters currently play for the Muggles powerhouse, with a further four players having originated from the Monash club, not to mention the three current and one former Monash player on the reserves for the team. Two of these former players include Nicola Gertler and Nathan Morton, who have both represented Victoria at every series in the history of the competition and represent the veteran side of the Leadbeaters. They return this year among other stalwarts of the team such as the dominant Muggles quaffle-carrying duo Dan Leane and Edward Vienet, and Dropbears Clementine Round and James Williams who both hail from the Ravens. The return of championship winning coach, Liam McCoppin who is also affiliated with the Ravens, will also help solidify the core of Victoria’s strength.
New to the Leadbeaters but certainly not new to quidditch is Andrew Hull, a keeper for Willows Quidditch Club and originally of Quidditch UK where he was one of Team UK’s lead keepers. Hull, alongside State veteran Dan Leane, will form the new keeping core of the Leadbeaters. Madeleine Bell, who made her debut at State Shield last year, is now also joined by a further three Madelines on the team, including Vic Cup’s Division 1 highest female goal scorer, Madeline Fitzgerald of the Monash Muggles. Fitzgerald is being hailed as the new Caitlin Thomas, also receiving acclaim as the best new talent at Victorian Fantasy Tournament earlier this year and will certainly be a player to look out for.
Also of the Muggles is the notable dynamic beater duo, Sam Kilpatrick, who joined the Leadbeaters in 2018, and Zach Giofkou, on debut though he played on series in 2016. This pair caused major strife for eventual finalist University of Sydney Unspeakables at last year’s National Championships, many players who are on this year’s NSW Blue Tongues state team. Indeed, Kilpatrick and Giofkou also ran circles around the mixed NSW teams at Mudbash and will likely be critical to the Leadbeaters’ success at the 2019 State Shield.
While the Leadbeaters’ trial and selection process began substantially later than their rivals in NSW this year, the cohesion that the Muggles core will bring to the team, combined with the intense training regime the team has undergone, will make them a force to be reckoned with. One of the challenges of state teams has always been the melding and synergy of different elite players from across a number of different teams and the Victorian side has gone to great lengths to combat this. Furthermore, while 2018 saw the major change in the female chaser line for the Leadbeaters with a significant influx of new names replacing Dropbear veterans, these players including Jessica Cooper and Madeline Bell, as well as Emily Kirsh in the beater line, now approach the tournament much more experienced at State-level play.
Nevertheless, the loss of Mayling, internationally regarded as being one of the best quidditch players in the world, a major driving threat for Victoria, and the best tackler in Australia, along with Osmond, another major driving and seeking threat, leaves a major gap in the Leadbeater line up that players like Leane, Vienet, and Allan must fill in with their physicality. With two Dropbear drivers, Brandon Frison and Dameon Osborn, missing from NSW Blue Tongues as well, there is much scope across the two rivals for new players to step into those roles or for a new style of play less focused on physicality and driving.
Victoria’s snitch-on-pitch game will also of course be critical and substantial change after losing so many in-range games last year will need to be seen. A lot will be riding on debut state seeker Massimo Galli, as well as returning seeker Dylan Waller, who notably caught the National Championship winning snitch for the Melbourne Manticores last year.
With the training the team has put in and their solid core of established and new players, the Leadbeaters should be able to gain control of the quaffle and bludger game enough to keep their most competitive matches in range, but they will need a superior snitch-on-pitch plan, especially in the beater game, if they want to win the title back from NSW.
NSW Blue Tongues certainly remain the Leadbeaters’ greatest challenge and threat in the tournament, as the two states are the oldest and most established, with the most history and experience and depth of players to draw on, and the rivalry between these two teams has been the hallmark and driving force of state representative quidditch since the beginning. Nevertheless, the younger Queensland, who were able to best the Leadbeaters once before, will be equally keen to do so again this year, and have been growing in strength year by year. The NSW B team, newly rebranded to the Bluebottles, are also now facing their third State Shield, with a number of returning players from a rapidly growing NSW playerbase. While the Leadbeaters have dominated NSW B in the past, they should not underestimate the more experienced team this year. With the debut of a Victorian B team now as well, what is more certain is that the future of the Leadbeaters is much more secure.
Find out more about the other teams as we introduce them over the course of the next few days in the lead up to the 2019 State Shield, and get excited to see the Leadbeaters in action on home ground at the Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Oval as they fight to reclaim the Shield and win their third State title.