Rich plunder, buried treasure, chests of gold, secreted in lonely, out of the way places, along unexplored coast lines, bearing mysterious marks, indicating where the treasure is hid. All the images that come to mind when we think of Pirates right?
Well this weekend X marks the spot on the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre where the QLD Pirates Men’s and Women’s teams will be looking for the ultimate prize in the Australian Volleyball League, to be crowned 2017 champions.
Both the QLD men and women have lost just one match each all season and are arguably the teams to beat this weekend, but they won’t have it all their own way.
Pirates coach Craig Marshall says his troops won’t be going in complacent this weekend.
“We aren’t thinking about being favourites, we want to go in as the aggressor, we want to execute our game plan, and we need to concentrate, deal with the moment and deal with the pressure.” Said Marshall.
Canberra Heat, finished second in the Eastern conference behind the Pirates, and Heat coach Les Young agrees QLD deserve the favourites tag but are not unbeatable.
“QLD are definitely the team to beat on form but I would think any of the four teams have got a crack this year, our focus of course is our first game on Saturday against the WA Hornets, and we will see what happens on Sunday after that.” Said Young.
It’s a fascinating finals system in the Australian Volleyball League with the Eastern and Southern Conferences coming together for the first time this season for the finals.
QLD topped the Eastern conference and now must cross over to face the second placed Adelaide Storm, from the Southern Conference.
On the stats you’d expect QLD to have this in the bag given they’ve played 16 matches, losing just once, while The Storm won only 7 of their 12 matches. But this is finals time and anything can happen.
The Canberra Heat by finishing just behind the Pirates in the East must play top of the Southern Conference, the WA Hornets. The Hornets won 10 of their 12 matches, while Canberra had 12 wins from 16 matches.
Canberra Heat coach Les Young says facing a team they’ve only seen on video won’t be a problem.
“We know a number of their players, we go off the video as best we can, and we think we’ve got a reasonable game plan together. The Hornets have obviously been a good team all season and work well together, so were expecting a challenge and hopefully we will be up for it.”
The WA Hornets are playing AVL finals for the first time in three seasons. New coach Matt Hender at just 26 years old, is the youngest coach in the league and has brought fresh ideas to the franchise.
“I think the way we have trained and presented ourselves has been completely different to previous years.” Hender said.
“There is more motivation and more commitment from the players to professionalise things within the team.”
Hender said the players were excited to continue to create history at the finals series, as the Hornets have never won an AVL gold medal before.
“So if we beat Canberra, we will then go to the gold-medal match on Sunday and will play against the winner of South Australia and Queensland (and) the two losers will go into the bronze-medal match,” he said.
In the Women’s Finals the QLD Pirates are also looking good and hoping they can prevent the Uni Blues from a record 5th straight title.
QLD assisstant coach Kylie Marshall says they are looking to go one better on their Silver medal from last year and that her side has worked hard to this point.
“Our captain Jess Ryder is a key player for us, we also have a deep bench and number of our players we know can step on the court and do the job for us. 16 year old Elenoa Sing is also getting a chance after taking the opportunities she’s been given this year, we are very excited to see her development continue and she won’t let anyone down.”
The Pirates take on the WA Pearls first up while the other semi-final sees the Uni Blues and the Sydney Amazons face off for a place in Sunday’s Gold medal match.
The UNI Blues are looking for a record 5th consecutive title. It's been an incredible run for the Victorian team who hold the record for for most national titles for a club (they have won 5 in total) and most nationals titles in a row (both genders) having won the last 4 titles 2013-2016.
This year the Uni Blues record 38 game winning streak, which began in the semi finals of 2014, finally came to an end, going down in back to back matches to the WA Pearls 3-1 and 3-0.
The Australian Volleyball League finals will also act as the opener for the largest school-based sporting event in the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian Schools Cup with over 6000 participants from all across Australia, plus international teams.
All the action kicks off on Saturday 2 December from 10am with the Men’s semifinals. It’s the top two from the Eastern and Southern conferences, which cross over and go head to head in a 1 v 2 semifinal showdown for a place in the Gold Medal match on Sunday 3 December.
The finals will be live streamed on the Volleyball Australia Facebook page and the Ausvolley Youtube page.
Photo credit: Rogue Gun