BAD Girls

Pondering the Playoffs 2: WFTDA’s Western Regionals

I think we’ve already seen the WFTDA champions in their regional playoff. With all due respect to the South Central and North Central, the performance of Gotham last week coupled with the extraordinarily competitive level of the West Region playoff leads this Nerd to believe that as it was in 2010 the two coasts will dominate come the Championships (last year West was 1-2, East 3-4).

Portland hosted this year's WFTDA Western Regionals.

What is interesting to see emerge through these playoffs are the competitive “groupings” that exist within the regions. In the East (as we will certainly see in North Central and possibly in the South Central as well), there are fairly large disparity gaps in the upper levels. While Gotham has risen to a class of its own, Philly and Charm City are clearly in a distinct group followed by the fairly large competitive group of Steel City, London, Montreal, Carolina and Boston (there is a significant drop off here).  The West is perhaps the “best” because the disparity between the very best teams has lessened over the past year instead of increased. While Oly and Rocky Mountain clearly remain the cream of the West, both faced considerable challenges from teams in the competitive grouping behind them (Rose City and Rat City respectively). Bay Area and Denver round out the incredible top six. From what I could tell the third to sixth spots could have gone any which way, and had the tournament been played again next weekend I wouldn’t be surprised if these placings did switch (though Rose City looked like one madly determined team this weekend). There is a considerable drop off here from seventh to tenth once again.

Defending WFTDA champs Rocky Mountain has proven that it is more than capable of adapting to any style of play.

In terms of strategy, the starts were once again where all eyes were trained.  There is a lot of controversy surrounding the development of these strategies, though I think mostly in regards to the no-start strategy, which, in its inactivity and avoidance of game play, is actually an anti-strategy (and which was sadly in play during the Rocky Mountain-Rat City bout). While this baffles me right now (why don’t they want to play?? Rat City captain Carmen Getsome tries to explain), what I am increasingly becoming a fan of are the gritty starts formed by starting packs walling up at the jam line. There has been a lot of (unfair in my opinion) criticism of this strategy as well; after two weeks of seeing this be developed at the highest level, I think that there is a great opportunity for brilliance here (and we are already seeing counter-strategies emerging). On the final day of Westerns as the level of play rose, these starts were used less or in more opportune moments (again, some of the awkwardness we’ve previously seen from these slow starts is from the fact that one team is so much stronger than the other, or one team is simply unprepared). People’s overreaction to this reminds me of the overreaction people had to the emergence of trapping and isolation strategies in 2009: while it looked absurd and dramatic at first (because teams were just learning it), now trapping has become a fundamental aspect of the flat track and the dramatic backwards packs that were prevalent at all levels in ’09 are a thing of the past at the highest competitive level.  While I think rules for starting jams could be refined (in that they would have to start at some point!), I have a feeling that the slow or walled-start jams will quickly evolve into regularly accepted game play. I don’t like stop-derby, but I sure love slow derby.

One thing that I didn’t like seeing emerge was a level of “diving” that has been slowly creeping into the sport. Rose City especially, seemed quite adept at stretching a back-blocking minor into a major with a well-performed fall, or failing to avoid an outstretched leg that is “sort of” in the way. It’s a touchy situation and subject and one that I think warrants more rules consideration than many of the other refinements people usually so vehemently call for.

2009 champs Oly Rollers look poised for a third consecutive run ot the championships.

While it was really hard not to be disappointed that Denver didn’t at the very least make it to the semi-final showdown with Rocky Mountain, it will be harder in November when the hosts aren’t at the tournament they are hosting. Nonetheless, the West once again sends an extraordinary threesome to the Championship. And they—Oly especially—all seem to have a shot at the top four at least, but I have to wonder if either Oly or Rocky Mountain is capable of challenging Gotham right now. Despite Oly’s win on the weekend, Gotham has still increased their lead over them on flat track stats. Rocky Mountain may be too emotional a team and “loose” right now to be able to compete against the likes of Gotham, while Oly, on the other hand, seems to be the opposite: too rigid, simplistic in their game play. Oly seems set in their fast-skating, keep-it-simple ways (and why not? It’s worked so far), but I have a feeling that if things don’t go their way early on and Gotham is able to establish a physical, gritty, multi-paced and faceted game, Oly will have a hard time keeping up. Then again, maybe Gotham and Oly won’t even meet in the final; the brackets have not been set yet, but it would be a shame if the top West and East seeds were bracketed to meet earlier.

Next up, South Centrals! Where the historic Texas Rollergirls (Champs ’06) look to reclaim top spot from their traditional regional rivals Kansas City Roller Warriors (Champs ’07)

WFTDA CHAMPS PARTICIPANTS (as of 09, 26, 2011):

East:

1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars

2. Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles

3. Charm City Roller Girls All Stars

West:

1. Oly Rollers Cosa Nostra Donnas

2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 5280 Fight Club

3. Rose City Rollers Wheels of Justice

Nerd Meat: Prelude

Nerd Meat: The Nerd Does Derby

PRELUDE

I was a big roller derby fan. By the end of 2010, I’d been to too many bouts to count, seen numerous leagues in action, had to set aside a new space in my closet just for roller derby t-shirts, and my partner had become a skater on the Death Track Dolls. At some point I’d begun to write fairly regularly about it and took road trips just to see bouts; I had even done some colour commentary in Montreal and was lined up to announce ToRD’s locally televised championship game. I was as big a fan of roller derby that you could find.

Then I went to the 2010 Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Championships and everything changed.

Uproar on the Lakeshore has proven to be a seminal moment for flat track roller derby

On November 5th, 2010, I walked into the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois, for day one of the Uproar on the Lakeshore. Early on in the tournament and it was already in full swing. There were thousands of fans crammed into the lower bowl of the Pavilion, vendours hawking their wares on the concourse, beer and popcorn sellers squeezing their way through the face-painted, sign-sporting fans in the seats. It was like walking into any North American sporting event, only in the centre of it all was a blue, sport-court track, and skating around it were two roller derby teams. The B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (San Fransisco) and the legendary Texecutioners (Austin) were already well into the first bout of the tournament, and were engaged in a defensive duel that was taking the fans by surprise: the precocious skaters from the left coast were not only keeping up with the women who’d invented the sport, they were frustrating them to no end. In the end the defending runners-up from Texas held on for a low-scoring victory that would end up being the first sign of a massive paradigm shift in the sport. But at the time, I wasn’t capable of thinking on that scale: I spent most of that first day staring in amazement, my neck swiveling in wide circles attempting to take it all in. Figure out what it all meant.

It probably didn’t coalesce as nicely as I like to remember it, but I eventually came to some realizations that weekend. Thoughts that I’d been having about the sport—the state of the game, its role in my life and the world, the future of it, thoughts that every rollergirl and superfan have probably had—were finally forming into something coherent. I realized that in roller derby, and in women’s flat track roller derby in particular, I was seeing the early stages of the 21st century playing out (at least from a Western perspective). It was a fully wired, internet driven, grass roots (yet increasingly global), non-partisan, ant-judgmental, post revolution…revolution.

The Rocky Mountain Rollergirls are the 2010 WFTDA Champions

Now, I don’t want to sound too hyperbolic, but in the simplest way, I realized that roller derby had grown so beyond its roots—a bunch of strong-willed women in a roller rink in Austin, Texas, concluding that roller derby didn’t need to be banked—that it was here to stay. This had been something that I’d never taken for granted before. Everyone—even my grandmother—was aware of roller derby’s semi-dubious history, its ebbs and flows and shifts and alterations; its languishing in the dregs of sports entertainment; basically, its unshakable status as a spectacle. No matter what the incarnation, it had never lasted, always fading when the novelty of the latest spectacle faded. But in Chicago that weekend, beginning when the Gotham Girls (New York) crushed the Texacutioners in the quarterfinals and ending when the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls were in the midst of a late-game comeback that would see them defeat the defending champion Oly Rollers in the most dramatic fashion imaginable—a bout that at least in these early days of flat track lore will undoubtedly carry the mantle of “The Greatest Game”—it became quite apparent to me that roller derby had grown beyond the Texas Rollergirls, it had grown beyond all of the skaters in the Chicago that weekend, the thousands of fans in the building, the many tuning in to DNN for live coverage, and when we were all gone the sport would not be and it would be played by someone else and watched by countless others, and changed, tinkered with, made better—but for the first time in its somewhat troubled history, roller derby was not going to fade away.

When I got back to Toronto, I decided that I needed to put on some skates.

So I signed up for ToRD’s next fresh meat session, headed to Cardinal Skate Co. to get suited up by Rollerbug (AKA: Kandy Barr of the Gore-Gore Rollergirls), went to the Hangar for the meat and greet session, paid my dues and got insurance, determined to gain a new perspective on this sport that I’d come to love, to get to know it from the inside out.