2011 WFTDA Championship

Conquered but not Divided: Gotham Becomes First Two-time WFTDA Champ

You’ve just walked into the 1st Bank Center on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. It’s the third game of the 2011 WFTDA Championship and the first thing you hear is the roar of a crowd; then the already ragged voice of an over-excited track-side announcer calling a “grand slam.” You rush along the crowded concourse passing derby vendors and over-priced beer hawkers until finally finding an opening. You rush up a set of stairs and for a brief moment, as you gaze out over the thousands for that first glimpse of big-stadium derby, the track looking impossibly larger and smaller than anything you’ve seen before because of the scope of the game and the grandness of the stage, your breath is taken away. So taken by the sight are you that it takes a moment to gather yourself, to look about for a place to sit. You feel like you’ve somehow stumbled onto an oracle summoning the future of flat track roller derby; until, of course, you manage to sit and gather yourself, take a deep breath and realise: the future is now.

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For the second year in a row the extraordinarily talented Oly Rollers lost in the WFTDA Championship bout to a team that played a more sophisticated game; a grittier, slower, more nuanced version of the sport, one that has evolved on the flat track and that each year looks a little more different from the banked track game that preceded it. And that could be at the heart of Oly’s inability to hold their position at the top of the heap: in many ways they still play a banked track version of the sport on a flat surface, what has on the digital pages of this site been referred to as “hit and run” roller derby.

Oly and Gotham in the 2011 final.

Oly is, without a doubt, a team of immensely proficient skaters, and one-on-one, a player such as the magnificent Sassy is still able to mesmerize with her timing and instinct, and so good are they—so mind-bogglingly talented are they—that they are still able to dominate pretty much any team on the planet that is playing the game. While last year, it took late-game heroics for Rocky Mountain to foil Oly’s attempt to defend the title, this year in the final they often looked perplexed against Gotham. Stunned at times in the second half of their surprisingly undisciplined 140-97 loss, for here was a team that embraced the tactics emerging organically from playing the game on a flat surface, but here also was a team that could skate. They could hit, they had the footwork, the endurance and raw skill. In the final of the 2011 WFTDA Championship Gotham Girls Roller Derby may have emerged as the first perfect flat track team. Not just a perfect roller derby team, but a perfect flat track one. In a sport as young and as “unfinished” as this one is, we may finally have ourselves a model off which to base the future.

While there was still some resistance to change at this year’s championship, there wasn’t as much of the cynicism that sometimes marred the experience of last year’s tournament (the insulting and narrow-minded “Slow Derby Sucks” movement, for example, that among other things, called for boycotts of particular teams in propaganda-ish flyers). And while boos did reign down when things didn’t get moving at the start line (hopefully for the teams that allowed it to happen and not those who were taking advantage of the teams who didn’t know what to do, or didn’t realize it was to their detriment), there was less meanness behind it, and the signs in the crowd that insulted teams last year were replaced in 2011 by more good-natured, even playful ones like “Occupy The Pivot Line,” or “The Pivot Line Needs Love Too.”

Minnesota All Stars were a much different team from the one that lost in the first round in 2010.

While a lot of the fans have certainly embraced the multi-speed nature of the flat track game (remember, as recently as 2009 fans were still booing trapping tactics on power jams), it seems that all of the top teams have come around as well. The Minnesota Girls All Stars are probably the best example of a league and a team that has finally come to embrace the flat track game. Although one of the oldest leagues in flat track history, only one year ago, at last year’s championship, it looked as though the sport had passed them by. They seemed reluctant to play the slow-game tactics that had come to define flat track, and relied on traditional hit and run strategies. They were destroyed in the opening round by the multi-speed, multi-strategy Charm City Roller Girls 249-118.

What a difference a year makes.

After a thrilling run at the North Central Regionals that came up just short, Minnesota was drawn in the first round against Charm City once again. While it was a similar Charm team to last year’s, Minnesota could not have been more different, or more prepared. They played a slower, more patient game, and the bout was full of nerdy derby as nearly every jam began with what is coming to be called a “rugby” or “scrum” start. Minnesota, looking like a revitalized team, got their revenge, 160-121.

Kansas City, champions in 2007, was the breakout team of the 2011 tournament.

As exciting as it was to see an original WFTDA team buy into the more contemporary version of the sport, as fitting as it seemed that Texas returned (after only one year’s absence) to the final four, and as thrilling as it was to see WFTDA crown its first two-time champion, this was a tournament of breakouts. While Sassy may still be the smartest and best one-on-one blocker in the game, her teammate, Hockey Honey (a Jet City transfer), looks to be a super-blocker in training and needs to add just a bit of control to her game to become considered one of the best there is. And finally, surprising tournament MVP and super-breakout player Kelly Young (along with her big-time blocker teammate Eclipse) led the breakout team of the tournament, Kansas City Roller Warriors, all the way to a surprising birth in the final four (they seemed to run out of steam against Texas in the third place bout leading early on before fading in the end and falling 136-112). Though it should be noted that Kelley Young has had a storied career in the sport, this was the year her name finally lit up the marquee and the larger flat track community took notice. Finally, Gotham, who seemed a top player or two on the depth chart away from competing last year, was pushed over the edge by transfer skaters Sexy Slaydie (a monster in the pack from Nashville) and Wild Cherri (Tampa Bay) who finally gave the team a consistent and formidable three-jammer rotation that was untouchable in the tournament and was a huge factor in their championship victory.

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As you follow the stream of spent fans exiting 1st Bank Centre, your head humming, the roar of the crowd still echoing, you come to the realization that with each passing WFTDA Championship, that with each passing season, the game continues to find itself; this year it seemed more stable in its identity, more confident in what it has become. Born from a game of speed and agility on a banked surface, it has evolved into its own species: a game of pace and stability on a flat track that looks less and less like the sport that parented it less than a decade ago. And as you pull out of Denver, the sounds of the games still ringing in your ears, the city rising up among the mountains that fall away as your plane ascends, you think to yourself, contentedly, that the sport of flat track roller derby has finally become what it will be.

**For complete game-by-game recaps, visit DNN

Ponderin the Playoffs 3: WFTDA’s South Central Region

Kansas City hosted this year's South Central Regionals.

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 Texas Rollergirls are back on top in the South Central.

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.

In 2006 the Texacutioners won the first ever national flat track championship.

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).

Team Canada's Windigo was a standout for Houston (#1491, left).

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):

East:

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)

West:

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)

South Central:

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)