Two-time champs prove a handful in title defence

ACU’s Indigenous Nationals team remain one of the best university sides in the country after claiming overall second place at the recent UniSport Australia’s Indigenous National Championships in Victoria.

The championships, hosted by Monash University, saw 34 universities from across the country compete in four sports across four consecutive days.
The only UniSport Australia competition where students compete in mixed teams, the Indigenous Nationals proves a balancing act at the selectors table with each university’s team made up of a maximum 16 students to contest in basketball, netball, touch football and volleyball.

After taking overall honours in 2021 and 2022, ACU had the opportunity to become the first university in the championships’ 28-year history to claim a threepeat.
And despite being pipped by the University of Queensland on the final day, ACU continued to assert their sporting dominance with a fourth top-two finish in their past four campaigns.

With students from Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and North Sydney, the ACU team came together in Melbourne just two days prior to participate in team familiarisation and training activities.

It’s in stark contrast to many of their rivals who have the ability to train all throughout Semester 1, while ACU would rely heavily on having 11 students return from successful 2021 and 2022 campaigns.

ACU began their title defence strongly on day one, led by NBL1 basketballer Lily Sarra (Gureng Gareng) and University Basketball League team members Tae-Rani Gorogo (Jabirr Jabirr) and Blake Norris (Wurundjeri/Gunditjmara).

After going through the pool stage unbeaten, ACU claimed a hard fought 20-19 quarter final victory over Monash University, before unfortunately bowing out to a strong Sydney University team in the semi-final.

Continuing their impressive pool round form, ACU would again win three from three of their netball match-ups to progress through to quarter finals on day two.
A 21-14 win against Western Sydney University saw ACU advance through to the semi-finals, but were then outplayed by the University of Queensland 23-14 in the do-or-die match.

A third and fourth place finish across the opening two days left pressure on the team heading into day three, with a win in touch football needed if they were to defend their title.
Confidence was high and temperatures were low as the only outdoor sport of the championships met the team with a chilly seven-degree morning.
Possessing some very skilled players, ACU would knock off Charles Darwin, Deakin/Victoria University and Melbourne University in a combined 24-4 to streak through the morning’s pool games.

Hoping to make amends for their early finals exits the previous two days, ACU started strong against University of Western Australian to win 6-3 in the quarter final before winning a nail bitting 6-5 semi-final contest against Queensland University of Technology.
The stage was set for a rematch of the 2022 grand final with ACU taking on the University of Newcastle (UON) in this year’s decider. After trading early tries, a set play between team captain, Zane Ratcliff (Wakka Wakka) and newcomer Logan Walsh (Kamilaroi) opened a gap for Bachelor of Psychological Science student Elliot Simpson (Kamilaroi) to put ACU up 4-3 at halftime.

Only one try would be scored in the second half, when 90 seconds in, a turn of pace from speedster Jake Fabila (Djabera Djabera) saw him score at the feet of two UON middles. The try proved decisive and saw ACU redeem their loss to UON 12 months prior to claim the touch football national title 5-3. The win on the penultimate day seeing ACU hold a slender overall lead heading into day four.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for Team ACU. A loss in the first match of volleyball meant progression relied on them winning their remaining pool games and results to go their way, but UON went on to win the pool and relegate ACU to 11th on the day.

Not out of the contest, ACU would still claim overall line honours should UQ not win the grand final against Griffith University. After losing the first set, Griffith came back to win the second 15-11 and send the grand final to a third and final set. ACU were still a chance at victory, albeit having to watch agonisingly from the bleachers. The decider would ultimately go UQ’s way and see them claim the national volleyball title and more significantly, just 12 months after finishing as bridesmaids, they would deservedly take the overall championship.

Team ACU wouldn’t leave empty handed, returning home with the national touch football title and match officials awarding the Netball Spirit Award to ACU netball captain Abbey Morcom (Kaytetye and Arrernte).

A key part of the 2022 winning side, Abbey said the championships are competitive while also being about the people and culture. “The best thing is seeing how hard everyone works for their own team on the court or field but when the game is over, the universities merge and friendships are made,” Abbey said. “The people are what make the games an amazing experience. Playing with and against some of the best Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes in Australia who are all in the same city is amazing – its history being made.”

ACU has a proud history of success at Indigenous Nationals, claiming second place and falling short of victory by a solitary point to UTS in 2019. The following year would be affected by Covid-19 before ACU took the title in 2021 and 2022. Their second-place finish in 2023 makes four top-two finishes in as many years of the games.
The ACU Indigenous Nationals team has been a priority piece of work for multiple areas of the university with Equity Pathways managing the program before the current collaboration between First Peoples and Sport.

First Peoples Director, Jane Ceolin, sees the games as much more than wins and losses. “For First Nations peoples, it is about the spiritual connections and empowerment through strengthening our belonging with Mob, celebrating culture, recognising our collective shared histories, and creating those lifelong friendships both within our ACU team and with other athletes across this nation.”

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