Last year, after losing in the South Central final to Kansas City, the Texas Rollergirls staggered into the WFTDA Championships. They had to crawl their way through a defensive battle against the BAD Girls in the opening round only to be crushed by Gotham in the quarterfinals. With an unofficial eighth place finish, Texas had, remarkably, finished out of the final four for the first time in the young history of WFTDA. For the progenitors of flat track roller derby it was a shocking reminder that the sport was no longer theirs and theirs alone. The game had gone global; the upper level had been raised. And they weren’t keeping up.
At the 2011 South Central Regionals the Texas Rollergirls announced that they are back.
The Texacutioners took back the South Central championship on the weekend in a rematch of last year’s regional championship against the Kansas City Roller Warriors, and I don’t think I’d be stirring anything up if I said it was a surprise. Texas has had anything but a consistent WFTDA season. They kicked off 2011 with a seven-game winning streak including huge victories over inexperienced competition (Big Easy by 377, Green Country by 219) and experienced competition alike (Houston by 126). Then a few tough road trips to both the east (Philly and Charm) and west coasts (Rat City and Oly) sent the team into a tail spin that saw them close out the 2011 regular season with only two wins in their final ten games; a streak that included a huge loss to the BAD Girls (185-59), the team they had eliminated from the Championships only nine months before. So to come into the tournament and not only win, but to dominate right through the seminfinals (a 218-75 victory over third place Nashville) was an impressive turnaround: a case of a team bringing it together at just right the time.
It’s been fascinating to watch the Texas Rollergirls’ role in the sport change. Only five years ago, at the 2006 Dust Devil National Championship, they were still very much the teachers, still populated by the original flat trackers who’d written down and then disseminated the rules. By 2010 they’d experienced their first losing season ever (7-8 overall) after virtually dominating the sport for three years (though they were only able to capture that lone ’06 WFTDA championship, they were always in the discussion and had lost to Oly in the 2009 championship game). Obviously, in the midst of a 12-8 2011 that has seen them face off against some of the top teams in the game and win a regional championship, the Texacutioners are showing that they are still very much a relevant team in this sport.
While there is obvious disparity in all the regions (and still more obvious “talent groupings”), the divisions are more top-heavy and less consistent in the South Central. Texas and Kansas City absolutely dominated the tournament winning their semi-final and quarterfinals matches by combined scores of 352 and 362 points respectively. Nashville, though crushed by Texas in the semifinal, outclassed Atlanta in the third place bout (213-38) to definitively claim their spot at the Championship tournament (for the second straight year). After that, from Atlanta (fourth) at least through to Tampa Bay (ninth) there is very little separating the teams.
But despite the two impressive histories of the top seeds (Kansas City won the 2007 WFTDA Championship), nothing that I saw this weekend leads me to believe that they have a chance against the powerhouses from the coasts. While this tournament produced some fantastic and competitive bouts (more so at the lower rankings than in the other regions), the play lacked a certain sophistication that was evident in the East and West Regionals. I still have yet to see a team put together a game to match either of Gotham’s from this year’s Eastern Regionals (I’m still shocked when I think about their absolute dismantling of a very good Steel City team in the semifinal).
One story from this championship that shouldn’t go overlooked for Canadian roller derby fans was the outstanding play from Team Canada member Windigo, who was a standout pack player for Houston this weekend (and even showed her versatility by donning the star on occasion). She’s going to be a key component to Canada’s team at the upcoming World Cup and so far has confidently displayed an ability to step up on the big stage.
WFTDA CHAMPS PARTICIPANTS (2011 records/DNN ranking in parentheses):
1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars (10-0 / #2)
2. Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles (11-8 / #11)
3. Charm City Roller Girls All Stars (9-7 / # 12)
1. Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas (12-0 / #1)
2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 5280 Fight Club (7-2 / #3)
3. Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice (9-5 / #5)
1. Texas Rollergirls Texacutioners (12-8 / #10)
2. Kansas City Roller Warriors All Stars (10-2 / #7)
3. Nashville Rollergirls Music City All Stars (7-5 / #19)