Victoria’s Uni Blues will start short-priced favourites this weekend to win their fourth consecutive women’s Australian Volleyball League title – as long as they can get past the upstart new team from Sydney that has thrown the competition on its head.
And in the men’s competition, the Queensland Pirates and the Canberra Heat will be aiming to play-off for the title for the fourth consecutive year, but will face a strong challenge from the Adelaide Storm and the VVA Vultures.
The Sydney Amazons have been a revelation in their debut season in the women’s league, ever since they easily disposed of fellow Sydney team, UTSSU Shield, on the opening weekend of competition.
To describe the Amazons as Australia’s United Nations is an understatement. On their roster they have players from Russia, Italy, Kazakhstan, USA, Canada, and Japan, as well as a handful of Australian representative players.
Among them are 2000 Australian Olympian, Christie Mokotupu, and former UTSSU captain, Sara Sangiorgio, adding to an exciting roster that has backed up its reputation with performances on the court.
They came unstuck on the first two occasions they took on ladder leaders, the Queensland Pirates, and then lost again when they met for a third time.
But then the Amazons clicked during their final clash with the Pirates, inflicting the Queenslanders only loss of the season.
The Amazons finished the Eastern Conference in second place, behind the Pirates, booking their place in this weekend’s semi-finals.
It’s a daunting task for the new team on Saturday, taking on the formidable Uni Blues who are chasing a fourth consecutive national women’s title.
The Blues have rarely put a foot wrong this season under helloworld Volleyroos coach, Shannon Winzer, dropping just five sets during another undefeated season.
The team boasts several current Volleyroos, including captain Shae Sloane, Hannah Martin, Jaimee-Lee Morrow and Rhiannon Watt.
The Pirates will take on the WA Pearls in the other semi-final. The Perth-based team sat out the 2015 season, but have had no problems slipping back into the groove and spirit that saw them win a hat-trick of titles between 2009-2011.
Canberra Heat’s hopes of defending its 2015 men’s title will face an early test, when they take on the impressive Adelaide Storm in a Saturday semi-final.
The Storm dominated the Southern Conference in 2016, losing just two matches off the back of outstanding performances from passer/hitter, Rhys Wood, and Opposite Daniel Wauchope.
The Pirates, who had their hopes for a third consecutive national title snuffed out by the Heat last year, will take on the VVA Vultures in Saturday’s other semi-final.
The Pirates have been far and away the most consistent team in the competition in 2016, losing just the one match.
The ultra-consistent Shane Alexander, William Savea and Andrew Maclean have been further strengthened by the inclusion of internationals Benjamin Bell and Will Mercer, giving the Pirates a line-up the envy of the remainder of the competition.
The AVL finals will be contested on Saturday and Sunday at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
Uni Blues v Sydney Amazons
Qld Pirates v WA Pearls
Qld Pirates v VVA Vultures
Adelaide Storm v Canberra Heat