New Champions to Rise to the Top in AVL Finals
The two year COVID hiatus has certainly shaken up the Australian Volleyball League (AVL) finals, with the potential for new teams to win their first ever titles on Sunday, while the defending champions are both fighting for bronze.
The first Men’s semifinal was a familiar sight, as the QLD Pirates and Canberra Heat battled over five epic sets at Carrara Indoor Sports Stadium on Saturday. The two teams have met in six of the last seven gold medal AVL matches, but it was unusual for them to meet in the semis, guaranteeing only one team a spot in the final.
The Heat have prevented QLD from an historic fifth consecutive title, defeating the number one seeds 3:2 (25-14, 30-28, 24-26, 22-25, 15-12) to advance to Sunday’s gold medal match, where they will meet Adelaide Storm, who will have a chance of winning gold for the first time since 2004.
Canberra came out firing to win the first set by 11 points, before QLD bounced back in the second, challenging the Heat on multiple match points before Canberra could claim the set 30-28. Momentum switched in QLD’s favour for the third and fourth set as the defending champions would never back down without a fight, but it was Canberra who brought the Heat to win the decider.
ACT Head Coach Ben Hardy said he felt “relieved” to get the victory in what they knew would be an incredibly tough match.
“The first set, everything was going fine, but I told the guys not to get comfortable because that’s not how the rest of the game is going to be and it turned out to be a real arm wrestle,” Hardy said.
“Credit to Queensland, particularly as they were down in the third as well and managed to wrestle that back, take the fourth and they just hung in there the whole match. So relieved is what I would say I am right now.
“I think Simon Hone made a big difference in his attack in the middle, and I also want to put a special shout out to Seth Chen, because he carried a lot of the load, which he hasn’t had to do in such a high pressure situation, but he got the job done tonight.”
Heat’s captain Andre Borgeaud said he was looking forward to another gold medal opportunity on Sunday, but also paid tribute to their QLD opponents.
“I’m really proud of our guys, and I have a bunch of respect for Queensland because we’ve played them in finals for 10 years now,” Borgeaud said.
“I do feel for them because they fought so hard and they deserve to be in a final as well, but unfortunately we had to play each other today, so I was very happy for us to get the win.”
In the second Men’s semifinal, Adelaide Storm got the upper hand over WA Steel in four sets (25-18, 25-18, 23-25, 25-19).
London 2012 Olympian and Adelaide Captain Nathan Roberts said he was really proud of his team’s efforts on the court.
“I’m really happy, really proud of the guys, they fought really hard and it wasn’t easy,” he said.
“We started really well in the first two sets and then WA, to their credit, they came back in third and it was touch and go in the fourth, but I think we stepped up in the last half and played some really good volleyball to get the win.
“But the job’s not done and I’m going to be playing against a lot of friends in Canberra’s team tomorrow, and the coach is an ex-teammate so it’s going to be a spicy contest, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
In the women’s tournament, the gold medal match will be a repeat of round 3 of the season, between WA Steel and QLD Pirates, after the Pirates defeated the top seeds and seven-time defending Women’s AVL Champions, Melbourne Vipers in the semifinals.
Heading into Saturday’s semifinal, on paper, the Pirates were the underdogs, however having defeated the Vipers two weeks’ earlier in the final round of the AVL season, QLD coach Terry Rudder said the team executed their game plan perfectly.
“It was an outstanding game,” Rudder said. “The Vipers are a champion team… and everytime you line up against them, you’ve got to bring your absolute best and I thought that today was about as well as we’ve played all year.
“I think our blocking was really solid and of course Emma Burton killed a lot of balls for us, but she’s killing those balls because Kylee White is putting them in the right spot and our scrambling defense around the back court kept the ball alive to put us in those opportunities.”
In a two-hour marathon with incredible rallies from both teams, it was the Pirates in top form who won the match 3:1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-17, 25-17).
QLD captain Kylee White said she was very proud of how the team stayed calm under pressure.
“We’re stoked, it was a really good game against the Melbourne Vipers. We knew they would come out firing, having won the last seven seasons, but I think we gave it everything we had and I’m really proud of us, we stepped it up today,” she said.
“There were no cheat points, it was really full-on the whole time. I think Scarlett Rudder and Emma Burton played a phenomenal game, but everyone had a really great game.”
The second semifinal between WA Steel and Adelaide Storm could have been anyone’s game, with both teams almost impossible to separate after the seven round AVL season.
The opening set was a very tight tussle, with the Steel just nudging in front to take the win 25-21. However the Storm dominated the second set, opening up a 10-point lead at one stage.
Whatever Coach Pauline Manson said in the break seemed to work for WA, as the Steel dialed up the intensity and won the third and fourth more convincingly to book their ticket to the gold medal match 3:1 (25-21, 17-25, 25-19, 25-19).
“We’re absolutely stoked, we knew it was going to be such a hard game going into it versing very experienced players in South Australia, so we knew we had to bring our best,” Steel Captain Shelby Maher said.
“Our libero Denae [Walter] was a stand out today, she got some awesome ups, it was unreal. And also our setter Jack [Jackie Tamburri] – they never get the glory, but she absolutely set up some winners and made us hitters look good.”
The last time the Steel and Pirates met in round 3 of the season, WA were clearly the more dominant team, winning both games in three sets. However the Queenslanders have arguably developed more as a team throughout the season, from the team that won only three of their first eight games, to the team that defeated the #1 seed three times in a row.
“We know they have a lot of heart,” Maher said of her QLD opponents. “We saw them win their last game against Melbourne, but we’re going in with our game plan, will come in strong and make sure we tell our storyline.”
AVL Finals Schedule, Sunday 4 December.
The AVL Finals are open to the public at Carrara Indoor Sports Stadium, or broadcast live and exclusive via Cluch TV.
8am AEST: Women’s Bronze Medal Match – Melbourne Vipers v Adelaide Storm
10am AEST: Men’s Bronze Medal Match – QLD Pirates v WA Steel
12.30pm AEST: Women’s Gold Medal Match – WA Steel v QLD Pirates
2.30pm AEST: Men’s Gold Medal Match – Canberra Heat v Adelaide Storm