Wealth of Experience Tipped to be Queensland’s Super League Secret Weapon
Australia’s premier volleyball competition is being reimagined in 2023, and rejuvenated Queensland Pirates star Emma Burton says she can’t wait to be part of it.
Burton was at a crossroad in her volleyball career last year. Returning to Australia after a two-year professional stint in Denmark, she considered stepping away from the national league and the sport.
But a “fairytale” national title with the Queensland Pirates in 2022 has been followed by selection in the 2023 Australian Volleyroos squad, and a re-energised Burton says she now wants to play-on as long as she can.
“It’s been a really big year,” the 25-year-old says. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with volleyball when I moved home last year, I didn’t know if I was going to play [national league], but we had so much fun and, finishing the way we did, I thought maybe I’ll take it further and see what I can do.”
Having been on the fringe of the Volleyroos for years, Burton has established herself in the Australian squad this year. Australia had a strong result at the Asian Women’s Volleyball Challenge Cup, in Indonesia, in June, finishing sixth.
Burton tips that Australia’s national players will bring that experience and enthusiasm to the new Scape Australian Volleyball Super League, starting this weekend on 12 August.
“It was one of the best volleyball trips I’ve ever had, and I’ve been playing for 13 years now, so that’s a pretty big call. The national team was so fun, the culture is exactly what you want in a team,” Burton says.
“The standard of volleyball in the women’s program is definitely on the up, the young girls are just insane. I think [coach] Russ [Borgeaud] really pushes for being better humans first over everything, which makes such a big difference to the culture. Once you’ve got a good culture, everything else just flows.
“It’s been really fun and it’s an experience we can bring back to the Scape Australian Volleyball Super League.”
Burton says she became a much better player for her professional experience in Europe, training at least two hours a day. But when she returned home to the Gold Coast at the start of 2022, she was troubled by an elbow injury and considered just focusing on her studies, in criminology and criminal justice.
Friends convinced her to suit-up with the Pirates, and Burton’s so glad they did.
“It was a fairytale really,” Burton says of last year, when the Pirates came from well back to claim the crown. “Considering the run we had last year, we showed that anything is possible. I think we’ll definitely be a threat.
“It’s super exciting to be part of the Scape Australian Volleyball Super League, it’s always nice to have a change and a challenge. I think it’ll be interesting for all players to adapt, because it’s so new and different.”
Volleyball veteran and libero Jack Halley expects that Queensland’s men’s team can challenge for a title too. The Pirates dominated through the regular season last year, only to falter in the semi-final with a 5-set loss to Canberra, who went on to win the league.
Halley has played in the national league for over a decade and says teams are as close as ever.
“Last year was a great season, it was the most competitive it’s been in a long time, really high-class players across those top-four teams,” Halley says.
“It’s going to be even again, I don’t see a lot of differences. It might come down to who can get their head around the new format the fastest and find the best strategies to manage the new rules.”
Halley has worked in sport science across the globe, including at the AIS, in France and now with Brisbane-based Teamworks. It specialises in a digital Athlete Management System, which monitors the health of elite athletes.
Does that help explain Halley’s longevity at the national level?
“I cop a bit of heat from teammates that I play Libero, that there’s no jumping and landing,” Halley says, laughing. “I don’t like to admit it, but it is a bit easier on the body.
“[Working in sport science] has definitely given me more awareness about how I manage my body and my workload.”
Halley, who stands five-foot-nine, took up volleyball in high school and says there’s a place for everyone.
“The prototype athlete is tall, strong and lean, with the ability to make repeat max jump efforts. They’re flexible and they have to have a body that can endure the demands of jumping, landing, and shoulders that can withstand 50-60 attempts at spiking at a ball during a match.
“But there’s still a broad spectrum of athletes in the sport. I’m 5’9’ and I have teammates who are 6’10’ – there’s a spot for anyone.”
Six foundation associations will compete in the inaugural Australian Volleyball Super League: Canberra Heat; Melbourne Vipers; NSW Phoenix; Perth Steel; Queensland Pirates; and Adelaide Storm.
The innovative, fast-paced and family-friendly competition begins 12 August, and it will see all men’s and women’s teams play on the same day, at the same venue in the same ticketed session.
The Queensland Pirates will have a home crowd advantage in their first game this weekend, when they play Canberra Heat at Iona College in Brisbane. Fans can tune in live on SBS on Demand from 6.30pm AEST