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