AVL – New talents emerge in QLD to continue Pirates’ winning legacy
Think about this: the last time the Queensland Men’s Pirates missed the AVL Finals was in 2010.
Since then, the Pirates have been a regular occurrence in the final act of Australia’s indoor volleyball top domestic competition, winning six titles in seven years (2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).
It took a forced break to interrupt their dominance, but the Pirates are back to chase a historical five-peat in 2022.
Two years on from their last title, the Pirates are a different team, with plenty of young talent having the opportunity to step up and develop their game alongside the team veterans.
Following a successful campaign at the Australian Junior Volleyball Championships in July, outside hitters Bradley Sting and Connor O’Neill in particular are expected to make strong contributions to the squad this season. Should the team lack in experience, Head Coach Bryce Kelly, in his first year on the Pirates’ bench, will hope that returning Volleyroo Steven MacDonald and 11-season Pirate veteran Ewan Thiele will provide the necessary leadership to steady the ship in tough times.
The Pirates’ debut in the 2022 AVL League against archrivals Canberra Heat highlighted how the QLD franchise might need a bit of time to find its chemistry back. A high error rate on debut meant that the first match-up of the season went the Heat’s way, but QLD bounced back in true champion fashion the next day and rallied behind captain Kieran Ivers to put the first win of the season on the board, ready to target yet another title for the Sunshine State dynasty.
The Women’s Pirates team promises to be just as exciting. The two-year break led a few of their more experienced players to retire, including 2019 captain Jess Ryder. Fortunately, the franchise has seen a growth in playing numbers through the pandemic, and their strong junior state program fed several young players into the training squads, including Matisse Conlon and Stephanie Marshall, both U16.
Opposite Emma Burton is back on the team after a two-year stint in the Danish league and so are captain and setter Kylee White, libero Kylie Garlick and passer-hitter Kayla Mears. They will strengthen a team that can also count on Brazilian outside hitter Kelen Polli and Volleyroo Phoebe Bell, making a return to the indoor scene from beach volleyball.
Emerging talent Kayla Mears comes from a beach background too, and she immediately showed her potential during the opening weekend, with coach Terry Rudder also praising debutantes Brooke Young and Caity Meale for their immediate impact on the game.
With two wins in the first round, the Women’s Pirates are ready to build another challenge to the defending champions Melbourne Vipers, whom they pushed all the way to the tie-break in the 2019 gold medal match.
Despite going through significant renovations in their ranks, the QLD franchise appears to be a credible candidate for the AVL Finals in both the men and women tournament. It’s still too early to tell, but the Pirates fans can surely expect to see some exciting volleyball in their new home at the state-of-the-art Provence Centre at Iona College this season.