windy city rollers

Neil Gunner’s Into Battle to Launch at ToRD’s 2015 Season Opener

“I definitely had it in my mind to represent the full derby experience as much as possible.”—Neil Gunner on preparing to publish Into Battle, his book of roller derby photography that will be available this weekend at ToRD’s 2015 Season Opener.

"If I'm having to use my teammates to try to claw my way through, it's probably because I'm under heavy attack. That's how it feels when you're playing against Windy City." - Minnesota's Juke Boxx (now with London) on facing  Windy City in the final of the 2012 WFTDA North Central Regional Championship.

“If I’m having to use my teammates to try to claw my way through, it’s probably because I’m under heavy attack. That’s how it feels when you’re playing against Windy City.” – Minnesota’s Juke Boxx (now with London) on facing Windy City in the final of the 2012 WFTDA North Central Regional Championship.

Into Battle: The Roller Derby Experience in Photos and Interviews is a coffee-table sized sports photography book, but it’s not your typical sports book, nor is it your typical book of photographs. And those are both good things.

The book is not simply a collection of the author’s best or favourite photographs; it is instead curated thematically, divided into 27 sections that mimic the narrative of a roller derby event, from pre-game talks to stretching and gearing up, right through to the elation of post-game celebrations.

Beautifully and meticulously put together from the inside covers right through to the subtle background images of the text (ghostly shots of the floor the Bunker, home of Toronto Roller Derby), perhaps the most astonishing thing about the book is that it was self-published by the photographer himself, Neil Gunner. And everything from the vision to the actualization was all his doing.

“My main motivation was that I wanted full creative control, from art direction and layout to treatment of photos and skater stories to physical specs for the book,” Gunner explained in a recent interview. “I didn’t trust that some mass-market publisher would do justice to roller derby the way someone within our community would.”

So despite interest from an American publisher, Neil set out on his own with little more than his large collection of personal photos representing a number of events (from house league matchups to the WFTDA playoffs) and 19 distinct leagues from throughout Canada and the United States, and only a slowly evolving vision for the book.

“When I started the process, I had no idea if it was even going to work,” he admits now, “It all depended on the skaters – if they were willing to share, we were in business. Thankfully, the vast majority were very open and engaging; once I’d done a couple of interviews, I knew I was on to something.”

Interestingly, the book emerged out of a somewhat constructed collaboration that went beyond the natural game-time collaboration between photographer and subject. Instead of simply organizing the photographs into thematic sections, Gunner also made the fascinating choice of interviewing the subjects of the photos and using those words to accompany the photos as opposed to his own descriptions; this was one of the ideas that preceded the publishing of the text and ended up inadvertently shaping the content as well.

“When I started, I didn’t immediately think ‘chapters’; I wasn’t even sure what the theme would be… As I started to complete interviews and create transcripts, I could see themes and patterns emerging; it was just a matter of putting those patterns together. Over several weeks, the patterns became categories, which became sections and then chapters, right down to individual page spreads…The photo and story I chose for the introduction—where Arch Rival’s High Pains Drifter (Bench Coach) and Downtown Dallis are having their heart to heart—when I put those stories together, I thought, ‘This is it. This represents the whole derby attitude.’ It set the tone for the entire book.”

"I was just thinking  to myself, desperately like, 'Grab Acid's hand and take that whip.'" - Ohio's Smacktivist on a 2012 playoff showdown with Naptown.

“I was just thinking to myself, desperately like, ‘Grab Acid’s hand and take that whip.'” – Ohio’s Smacktivist on a 2012 playoff showdown with Naptown.

Neil Gunner (whose derby photography can be found on his Flickr site) is unique in one way from most derby photographers: He is very selective about what photos he releases to the public after a bout or tournament, sometimes to the point where a double header, for example, will produce as little as twenty pictures; so even in his regular derby photography, he is building a narrative and it’s something that he is conscious about: “One thing you’ll notice when you look at my derby photography in general: I like to curate and I like to tell a story, if I can. Sort of a dramatic documentary. The one thing I knew from the start was that this (book) couldn’t be just a bunch of photos with no context – I mean, who’d care, right?”

This structural decision makes for a surprisingly engaging read. As with any book of photos, it’s entirely possible to open randomly and be impressed by the pics and the layout, but rare in photography books is the ability to read it from start to finish as you would a novel or even a game recap.

But collecting and selecting the images and doing the interviews—while undeniably a massive undertaking—is just the first step in the production of a book; beyond that, the actual production can take as much time or more and can offer immense challenges, particularly from someone self-publishing a book for the first time. As Gunner admits, it required a lot of patience and the willingness to learn on the fly: “Every step of the process presented a unique set of challenges. The ones I didn’t see coming all had to do with production. For instance, I taught myself InDesign in order to build the book layouts. I learned all about retouching to fix a couple things within some photos.”

But the biggest challenge, he explains, was the actual preparation of the images for printing: “Photos intended for paper and a multi-million dollar printing press require a different output format than photos intended for a computer screen (CMYK versus RGB for those interested). The conversion process isn’t hard, but the trick is maintaining image quality: images reproduced on paper often lose something. I did a lot of testing, and this is one reason why finding the right printer is so important.” He ended up choosing a printer from Manitoba, and along with printing, they were able to offer advice as well.

As you learn through talking with people who have self-published, finding and receiving help along the way is key in the production. The term “self-publishing” itself is a bit of a misnomer, especially when producing a book as technically and structurally challenging as this one. All the steps a “traditional” publisher would take still need to be taken, and Gunner made sure to seek out help where needed, which included hiring a print production management team, Heidy Lawrance Associates, who ended up putting him in touch with the Manitoba-based printer and gave advice about aspects such as layout.

And that help extends into post production where he hired a copy/substantive editor, Stephanie Halldorson from h:editing, as well as a proofreader, Tan Light. “Believe me,” Gunner is quick to point out, “the book was very much improved by their attention.”

But when it all comes down to it, the stars of the book are the photos themselves and the subjects they contain. And the years of shooting roller derby have given Neil a refined eye for the sport and the action it contains.

There is a wide range of levels of derby captured in the book. The opening two-page spread of the “Teamwork” section (pp.76-77), for example, provides one image of a farm-team level game in Toronto opposite an image of a WFTDA elimination playoff game between Ohio and Naptown; despite the disparity in the levels of the game, the subject matter (two blockers attempting to whip their jammers past quickly advancing defenses) and the captured intensity are equal and presented as such.

"It was a messy, messy couple of seconds." - Windy City's Killanois on this encounter with a Montreal pack.

“It was a messy, messy couple of seconds.” – Windy City’s Killanois on this encounter with a Montreal pack.

The set-up also allows for narratives to be told over two pages. One example appears in the “Contact” section where a sequence (pp. 46-47) showing the knocking down of a jammer (Windy City’s Killinois) by a couple of Montreal blockers is described over both pages, with the narrative of the blocker (Montreal’s Mel-E. Juana is the interviewed blocker) and the jammer accompanying the images. Similarly, a three-photo spread (pp. 160-161) in the “Tenacity” section shows an ongoing battle between a blocker (Forest City’s Mirambo) and jammer (Toronto Roller Derby’s Bala Reina). It’s a compelling style, and one of the reasons that makes this book of photography so “readable.”

In the end, what Gunner has managed to produce is as compelling a book about roller derby as the contemporary revival has seen. Add to that the fact that as a DIY project, it was a labour of love in line with the cultural aesthetic of contemporary roller derby, and you have a book that successfully captures a community.

While talking with Neil about the book, you get a sense that despite the effort, he enjoyed making it as much as we’ve enjoyed reading it. “You really have to enjoy the process. It’s a huge amount of sustained effort; several phases were a full-time job. So you’ve got to have fun along the way or you’ll never get through it. Which is why I’m eternally grateful to every skater who agreed to do an interview over a beer.”

When asked if self-publishing was the right decision, he doesn’t hesitate, “it was absolutely the right decision.”

ToRD 2015 Season Opener BannerInto Battle will be available at Toronto Roller Derby’s 2015 season opener, a double header featuring a rematch of the 2014 Battle for the Boot (Death Track Dolls vs. Gore-Gore Rollergirls) and Chicks Ahoy! vs. Smoke City Betties. Neil Gunner and others who appear in the book will also be available to sign autographs.

Tickets are now available.

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Team Canada Releases Roster for the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup

Team Canada 2014

Team Canada

On Sunday, December 29th, 2013, Team Canada management released its 30-skater roster for the 2014 Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup to be held in Dallas, Texas, on the weekend of December 4th, 2014.

The roster includes ten returning players (indicated with an *) from the 2011 team that came in second place, losing to USA in the final.

There are nine skaters from Montreal’s New Skids on the Block, Canada’s top ranked WFTDA team (15th in WFTDA, 1st in Canada). There are six skaters from Terminal City’s All Stars (37th, 3rd), five skaters from Toronto Roller Derby’s CN Power (29th, 2nd), and two returning skaters from the Rideau Valley Vixens (69th, 7th). The remaining Canadian leagues represented were Red Deer (4th in Canada) and Calgary (WFTDA Apprentice, 14th in Canada).

Team Canada will feature six skaters who play for US-based WFTDA leagues (after having only one in 2011). The represented leagues are the Texas Roller Girls (3rd),the Windy City Rollers (8th), Atlanta Rollergirls (10th), the Philly Roller Girls (14th), Boston Derby Dames (16th), and Detroit Derby Girls (28th).

The Roster

Bala Reina (Toronto Roller Derby –  CN Power)
Buffy Sainte Fury (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars, Public Frenemy)
Chasing Amy (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
Demanda Lashing (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block, Les Filles Du Roi)
Dusty (Toronto Roller Derby –  CN Power)
Dyna Hurtcha (Toronto Roller Derby –  CN Power)
Evada Peron (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars)
Eve Hallows (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars, Bad Reputations)
*Georgia W. Tush (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
Greta Bobo (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
Heavy Flo (Philly Roller Girls Liberty Belles)
*Jess “Bandit” Paternostro (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
Kim Janna (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars)
KonichiWOW (Windy City RollersAll Stars)
Kriss Myass (Calgary Roller Derby AssociationAll Stars)
*Lil’ Mama (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
*Luludemon (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars)
*Mackenzie (Terminal City RollergirlsAll Stars)
Maya Mangleyou (Boston Derby DamesBoston Massacre, Nutcrackers)
Mel-e-Juana (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
*Murphy (Rideau Valley Roller GirlsVixens, Slaughter Daughters)
Nasher the Smasher (Toronto Roller Derby –  CN Power)
Nattie Long Legs (Atlanta RollergirlsDirty South Derby Girls, The Toxic Shocks)
*Rainbow Fight (Toronto Roller Derby –  CN Power)
Sarah Hipel (Texas Roller GirlsTexacutioners)
*Smack Daddy (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
*Soul Rekker (Rideau Valley Roller GirlsVixens, Slaughter Daughters)
Surgical Strike (Montreal Roller DerbyNew Skids on the Block)
*Taz (Red Deer Roller Derby AssociationBelladonnas)
USS DentHerPrize (Detroit Derby Girls, All Stars, Detroit Pistoffs)

Team Canada Management

Head Coach: Ewan Wotarmay (Montreal Roller Derby)

Assistant Coach: Mack the Mouth (Terminal City Roller Girls)

Manager: Flyin’ Bryan Killman (Toronto Roller Derby)

2014 Worl Cup logo

2013 WFTDA Championships Preview

Hydra 2013 WFTDA ChampsAtlanta Rollergirls (8th) vs. London Rollergirls (13th)

(Friday, 2:00 PM)

Last year’s host Atlanta heads to the 2013 WFTDA Championships on the strength of an 8-1 regular season record; however, their record was padded by wins against lesser-ranked opponents, and they recorded relatively narrow playoff wins over Toronto and Rat City before losing to the B.A.D Girls 233-106 in the Divisional final.

London Rollergirls, the first international team to ever qualify for the championship tournament, amassed a 3-3 record on limited play in the regular season, but it came against top-notch opponents (including Windy City, Rose City and the Oly Rollers). In the playoffs, a narrow win over Rose City followed by a narrow loss to Denver set up a must-win against Montreal, which they handled well, defeating their international rivals by 101 points.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Atlanta_Rollergirls_logoATLANTA:

The pack is led by former Gotham skater, Wild Cherri, a formidable, frightening blocker. But it is a pack that has a lot of depth. Other key Atlanta skaters are Queen Loseyateefa (56% playoff jam percentage: IE, she was on the track for 56% of her team’s jams), Alassin Sane (53%) and Switchblade Siousxie 53%). Siousxie though, is also potentially penalty prone (averaging 5 minutes a game in the playoffs). Siousxie somewhat makes up for this by leading her team with a +49 plus/minus.

Atlanta’s jammer rotation is led by Jammunition, who has already donned the star 40 times in the playoffs. She leads the team with a 60% playoff lead percentage, has scored 199 points and has registered an impressive +127. The rest of the rotation is filled in by Belle of the Brawl (115 points, 39% lead percentage), Merchant of Menace (89, 27%) Bruze Orman (73, 54%) and Hollicidal (69, 48%).

LONDON:

London Brawling, featuring 11 Team England skaters, helped provide a World Cup preview.Despite also being a primary jammer, the incredible Stefanie Mainey is also a key London blocker, appearing in 41% of her team’s jams. Also look out for Raw Heidi (53%), Knickerblocker Glory (62%), Olivia Coupe (59%) and Shaolynn Scarlett (55%). Raw Heidi has the highest blocker Plus minus at +108, followed closely by Scarlett’s +103.

Kamikaze Kitten has been one of the top jammers in the 2013 playoffs, putting up an impressive line of 317 points (6.6 points per jam!), 56% lead percentage, and +166, scoring an incredible 50% of her team’s points so far. While London does have a strong, four-jammer rotation, there is an intense and noticeable drop off in lead percentage among the rest: Rogue Runner (135, 21%, +27), Stefanie Mainey (97, 40%, -2), and Lexi Lightspeed (57, 23%, -27).

*Read the Derby News Network’s preview of Atlanta and London.

OPPONENTS: Texas Rollergirls  (3rd)

(Saturday, 10:00 AM)

The winner will have to face off against perennial powers, Austin’s Texacutioners. Champs at the inaugural event in 2006 and runners up in 2009, Texas Rollergirls have finished in the top four in every tournament except 2010. TXRG cruised past Terminal City and Naptown in the playoffs and held off Philly to win its divisional.

After going 5-3 in the regular season with  losses to Gotham and Bay Area (the top two teams in the league) and a narrow three-point defeat at the hands of Windy City, the sport’s most experienced league once again seems poised to make noise when it matters the most.

TXRG logoSKATERS TO WATCH

Texas takes a balanced approach with its pack, riding a core of Smarty Pants, Polly Gone, Barbara Ambush, Sarah Hippel, and Fifi Nomenon almost equally. Polly, Hippel and Ambush have all run into penalty troubles at some point during these playoffs, but nothing serious as Texas was rarely challenged in their divisional.

While Hippel and Fifi Nomenon are used as depth jammers, Texas has been running a pretty tight three-jammer rotation through the playoffs that has been fairly evenly productive. Olivia Shootin’ John leads the way with 326 points (8.6 PPJ) a 55% lead percentage and an incredible +210.  Watch also for Hauss the Boss (234, 47%, +96), and Bloody Mary (208, 45%, +114).

*Read DNN’s preview of Texas.

Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (10th) vs. Angel City Derby Girls (6th)

(Friday, 4:00 PM)

After winning the WFTDA champs in 2010 and losing in the semis the following year, Rocky Mountain has been on a rebuild since, but it’s been a quick rebuild. 9-2 in the regular season (with wins over Rat City, Kansas City and Denver), Rocky Mountain knocked off Houston and Windy City before running into Gotham in the Divisional final (losing by a respectable 216-99).

Angel City roared up the rankings this season on the strength of an 11-1 record (only loss was to Rat City), although their schedule has been criticized as being a little too soft. After crushing New Hampshire in the opening round, they were upset by Philly in the semis before handling Naptown 222-130 to secure the spot in the Championships.

SKATERS TO WATCH

rocky mountain rollergirls logoROCKY MOUNTAIN:

The key to Rocky’s rebuild is in a pack that used to be filled with skaters like Psycho Babble, Deranged and Amanda Jamitinya. Triple Shot Misto has emerged as an unbelievable presence in the pack (and can jam as well when needed) while Bob Loblaw, a veteran, has grown into a much bigger role. Also expect to see Winona Fighter, Assaultin’ Pepa and May Q Pay on the track a lot.

Rocky’s three-jammer rotation is led by Casstrator (156, 41%, +26), Sweet Mary Pain (147, 60%) and Alpha Q Up (125, 29%). Look for Toxic Taunic in relief, who managed 51 points in limited playoff action on a 47% lead percentage.

ANGEL CITY:Angel_City_Derby_Girls

Angel City has a very balanced approach to its blockers, with the impressive Soledad, Jane Wilkins, Duchess Von Damn, Laci Knight, Krissy Krash and Rachel Rotten all hovering around 50% jam percentage. Big-hitting Soledad and Laci Knight both have had penalty troubles in the playoffs. Rachel Rotten has the highest plus/minus in the playoffs at +109.

Angel City also spreads out their jammers as well, although led by a core of Chica Go Lightning (214, 59%, +110) Mickispeedia (143, 37%), and Cris Dobbins (95, 48%). Look for Ghetto Fabu-lez (70, 80%) and Tyra Shanks (36, 54%) in relief.

*Read DNN’s preview of Rocky Mountain and Angel City.

OPPONENTS: Denver Roller Dolls (4th)

(Saturday, 12:00 PM)

Denver returns to defend its third place finish at last year’s championships. They had an up and down 6-6 regular season that saw them lose twice to cross-town rivals Rocky Mountain, (potentially their quarterfinal opponent). It was a tough schedule though, and prepared them well for the Divisionals where they crushed Cincinnati, had some trouble with London and finally dispatched surprising Ohio 304-134 to win the Division.

Denver LogoSKATERS TO WATCH

Denver’s pack is led by a couple of the best blockers in the game: Tracy Akers and Shaina Serelson who finished the Divisionals with amazing plus/minuses of +396 and +359 respectively. Look for one of these skates to always be on the track. The core is also made of Jessica Rivas and Susie Long, although Rivas has run into some penalty trouble sitting for 14 minutes in the playoffs so far.

With last year’s playoff hero Sandrine Rangeon out of the lineup, Julie Adams (313 points, 68% +215) is back at the front of the rotation. There is a ton of depth though with Stacie Willhelm (229, 50%), Amanda Sharpless (142, 61%) and Krystal Sprouse (117, 38%) rounding out an impressive rotation

*Read DNN’s preview of Denver.

Ohio Rollergirls (21st) vs. Rat City Rollergirls (18th)

(Friday, 6:00 PM)

After tearing up the North Centrals last year and becoming the sweethearts of the WFTDA, in 2013 Ohio took it to the next level and have qualified for champs for the first time. One of the hardest working teams in the sport, Ohio went 15-5 in the regular season before knocking off Arch Rival and upsetting Montreal in Divisionals. They eventually  ran out of steam against Denver (304-134) in a one-sided loss in the finals.

One of the game’s original leagues, Seattle’s Rat City returns to champs for the first time since 2008! They went 4-4 in the regular season against top-notch competition, before brushing past Boston the Divisionals and losing to Atlanta in the semifinals. They handled Detroit easily, 254-129, to secure their berth in the tourney.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Ohio logoOHIO:

Ohio is led by two skaters have announced that they will be retiring at the end of the season, Pippi Ripyourstockings and Phoenix Bunz. With an incredibly short bench, look to see a ton of Pippi, Outa My Wayman, Bratislava Bruisers and Loraine Acid (who were all on the track for at least 60% of Ohio’s jams in the playoffs so far).

Phoenix Bunz, one of the game’s best all-around players, was a monster in Divisionals, basically jamming or blocking constantly, recording 211 points and recording a 50% lead percentage. The Smacktivist led the team in scoring with 243 points. Kitty Liquorbottom (72 points, 21%) rounds out the short rotation.

RAT CITY:Rat_City_Rollergirls_logo

Rat City is led by the excellent Carmen Getsome who can (and will) do it all on the track. The pack play is well balanced with only K. Beezy and Shorty Ounce playing 50% of Rat’s jams in the playoffs. Look for Full Nelson, Method of Madness and Rumble Fish as well. Method of Madness and Full Nelson recoded amazing plus/minuses (+127, +125).

While Carmen is often used as a jammer, she is also so effective in the pack that she will probably be used in relief. That leaves a majority of the work to go to Jukestapose (179 points, 47% lead percentage), Luna Negra (167, 50%), and Jalapena Business (75, 48%). Sintripetal Force provides the depth and managed an impressive 142 points in limited playoff action (she scored 110 points on 11 points per jam in the clincher against Detroit).

*Read DNN’s preview of Ohio and Rat City.

OPPONENTS: Gotham Girls Roller Derby  (1st

(Saturday, 2:00 PM)

Either Rat City (returning after a long absence) or Ohio (in their first ever appearance) will be rewarded for their win by having to play the three-time champ Gotham in the quarterfinals. Winners of the past two WFTDA championships, Gotham completed another unbeaten regular season (9-0) but did suffer a loss to MRDA champs, Your Mom’s Roller Derby to remind them what losing feels like (they hadn’t lost a game since the 2010 WFTDA semifinals). They won all of their divisional games by at least 100 points including a record-setting 545-21 victory over Oklahoma City.

Gotham logoSKATERS TO WATCH

Despite playing without perennial strengths Fisti Cuffs and Mick Swagger in Divisionals, the Gotham packs looked unbelievable. Led by Donna Matrix, Anna Bokkocks, OMG WTF, Hela Skelter and the always imposing Sexy Slaydie (who is riding a WFTDA playoff leading plus/minus of +440 so far in the playoffs), there aren’t many holes in these walls.

Led by the best jammer in the game, Bonnie Thunders (367 points, 77% lead percentage and +315 in the playoffs) the Gotham jammer rotation is frighteningly deep: Suzy Hotrod (291, 65%), Vicious Van GoGo (184, 65%), Claire D Way (157, 61%) all bring something different to the line.

*Read DNN’s preview of Gotham.

Philly Rollergirls (14th) vs. Windy City Rollers (9th)

(Friday 8:00 PM)

When Philly and Windy met in June this year, Philly snuck away with a one-point win, meaning that this game is anyone’s to call. Philly had an up-and-down year, despite a 10-3 record. They got it all together for the playoffs though, where they swept aside Kansas City and easily upset Angel City before giving Texas everything they could handle in the Divisional final (253-210).

Windy City rode a 9-2 regular season into the playoffs where they crushed another long-time WFTDA team Madison in the opening round. Despite falling in the semifinals to Rocky Mountain, they held off chief-rivals Minnesota in another nail-biting 160-154 victory to earn their spot.

SKATERS TO WATCH

Philly LogoPHILLY:

Philly has incredible depth in the pack, anchored by a core of Shenita Stretcher and Teflon Donna who have as much experience as nearly anyone in the game. In the playoffs, track time leaders have also included Castro, Persephone, Tarantula, Heavy Flo and Ginger Vitis. The pack can run into penalty troubles though, with Tarantula Persephone, and Shenita Stretcher all picking up over 10 minutes in penalties so far (jammer Devoida Mercy also has 10 minutes).

Philly boasts one of the game’s most impressive jammers in Vanessa Sites (AKA V-Diva), and she was awesome in Divisionals, scoring 328 points on a 57% lead percentage (and finishing with a +188). Devoida Mercy (162, 38%), Clam Jammer (146, 52%), and Antidote (94, 45%) round out the rotation.

WINDY:Windy City Logo

Anchored by the physically imposing Sargentina and Bork Bork Bork, the Windy pack is depth defined: Konichiwow, Moby Nipps, Ruth Enasia, Yvette Yourmaker and Hoosier Mama all put in a lot of track time in Divisionals. Bork Bork Bork finished with a +196 plus/minus, and no Windy blocker has wracked up more than 9 penalty minutes so far in the playoffs.

Prototypical double threat Jackie Daniels (101 points, 52% lead percentage) anchors a deep and talented five-jammer rotation. Ying O’Fire led the team in scoring in Divisionals (215 points) and recorded a 57% lead percentage. Killa Nois (124, 50%), Athena DeCrime (146, 58%), and veteran Varla Vendetta (59, 52%) round out a tough offense. 2012 playoff superstar Sandrine Rangeon has also joined the team: the size and success of her role remains to be seen.

*Read DNN’s preview of Philly and Windy City.

OPPONENTS: B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (2nd)

(Saturday, 4:00 PM)

Popular thought coming into this season was that if anyone could unseat Gotham, it is the Bay Area Derby Girls. They kicked off 2013 living up to those lofty expectations winning 5 in a row. But then shocking back-to-back losses to Windy City and Denver put all of that into question. While they did follow those defeats with a win over Texas, it wasn’t until an absolutely dominant Divisional playoff where B.A.D looked like themselves again, crushing Victorian, Detroit and Atlanta to earn the first-round bye.

SKATERS TO WATCH:Bay_Area_Derby_Girls_Logo

The names of Demanda Riot and bell RIGHT hooks are enough to inspire fear in any jammer, but this deep B.A.D team also includes transfer Amanda Jamitinya (and former champ with Rocky in 2010), Dolly Rocket, Kristi Yamagotcha, Murderyn Munroe, Sherlock Homeslice and Brawllen Angel. Demanda (+374), bell (+337), and AJ (+336) all recorded monstrously high plus/minuses in Divisionals

If that’s not enough, they have an amazing, four-jammer rotation to match the deep pack. Chantilly Mace has been dominant in the playoffs, scoring 312 points and recording a 71% lead percentage. But that doesn’t mean you can overlook Bricktator (215, 50%), Lulu Lockjaw (194, 55%) or Nock Nock (166, 56%) all with at least a 50% lead percentage.

*Read DNN’s preview of the B.A.D Girls.

DON’T FORGET THE D2 TITLE!

The first ever Division 2 Championship will be settled on Sunday as well, with Sac City and Blue Ridge kicking off Sunday’s action at 12:00 PM in the D2 third place game. At 2:00 PM Jet City and Santa Cruz will contest the first ever D2 Championship.

Finally, Derby News Network also profiled the reffing crew of this year’s championships. Read it here.

*** All games will be boutcast live on WFTDA.TV.***

wftdatvlogo

Word on the Track: Montreal Splits in Chicago; Forest City City Rolls; Rankings Released

Montreal's Surgical Strike and Jess Bandit give Windy jammer Jackie Daniels a hard time. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Montreal’s Surgical Strike and Jess Bandit give Windy City jammer Jackie Daniels a hard time. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

SKIDS 1-1 IN CHICAGO

Montreal’s New Skids on the Block (currently ranked 17th in the WFTDA) travelled to Chicago this weekend to take on Chi-Town’s two WFTDA teams: the Windy City Rollers (6th) and the Chicago Outfit (34th). It had been two years since Windy and the Skids faced off (Windy City took that matchup 130-105), and it seems that not much has changed since then. In another tight, exciting game between two teams that have high hopes for the WFTDA playoffs this year, the Windy City Rollers skated away with a 249-211 victory in what was a fast paced, high scoring game.

On the undercard for the evening, Toronto’s CN Power took on Windy City’s Second Wind and beat the B-Team 231-179. It was the first regulation (IE: non-sanctioned) bout of the year for Toronto and coming after an up-and-down Quad City Chaos, it provided a much needed confidence boost (the 52 point victory exceeded statistical expectations).

Toronto defeated Second Wind on Saturday before falling to Windy City on Sunday. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Toronto defeated Second Wind on Saturday before falling to Windy City on Sunday. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Montreal closed out the weekend with a closed, sanctioned bout against the Chicago Outfit on Sunday. The Skids avenged their Saturday night loss with a massive victory over the Outfit, 339-88, an impressive victory over another First Division team, and one that made the playoffs last year as well. The Skids improved their record to 4-1 on the season and look phenomenal early on in 2013. The one question that remains is can they maintain it? It has seemed in the past that the early-season-bout-heavy Skids have peaked too early in the year, only to run out of steam come playoffs.  They’ve got games this month against River City (the 14th) and Toronto (26th).

Jammer Bloodlust Barbie is a big part of the Timber Rollers developing offense. (Photo by Joe Mac)

Jammer Bloodlust Barbie is a big part of the Timber Rollers developing offense. (Photo by Joe Mac)

FOREST CITY ON THE VERGE OF FULL WFTDA STATUS

Forest City’s WFTDA Apprentice Timber Rollers hosted Toronto Roller Derby houseleague team The Death Track Dolls in their second (of two) mock sanctioned bouts as a requirement of their apprenticeship. For the first time, Forest City has separated its travel team roster from its home teams to improve competitive play, and it has seemed to pay off so far in 2013. Entering the game on the heels of victories over Tri-City’s B-team and Royal City’s Brute-Leggers, they faced off against the Dolls in their new venue, the Agriplex, to a near capacity crowd.

The Rollers flew off the jam line to start things off, amassing a 33-0 lead before the Dolls were able to get their first lead jammer status and their first points (courtesy of Audry Hellborn, who had a strong opening half with the star). It only stemmed the flow, as they increased their lead to 68-9 (Audrey would score the first 13 points for the Dolls) at the midway point of the half. Comparatively, the Rollers penalty box was quiet during the first half, while the Dolls ran into early penalty trouble and gave up three power jams in the period. The Rollers were up 102-37 at the half.

The Rollers have built the team around a strong core of veteran blockers led by Sufferjet, Dollface Massacre, Back Alley Sally, Freez’er Burn and Anya Face, but also a new generation of on-track leaders like Andi Slamberg and Glamarchist. While double threats Slamberg and Pixie Kix provided solid offense with the star, Bloodlust Barbie is the breakout jammer of the 2013 Timber Rollers and gave the Dolls a hard time all night.

In her second game with the Dolls, Rainbow Fight looks increasingly comfortable in her new league. (Photo by Joe Mac)

In her second game with the Dolls, Rainbow Fight looks increasingly comfortable in her new league. (Photo by Joe Mac)

The Dolls entered the game with a far different lineup from the one that defeated the Chicks Ahoy a few weeks ago, and with some rookies and less experienced (or just newer skaters) getting a lot of track time, it took a while for the team to get going (they scored 28 of their 37 first half points in the final 12 minutes). The Dolls came out much stronger in the second, earning the first four lead jammer statuses. But while it was a much more even half (the Dolls would eventually outscore the hosts 62-58 in the half), the Rollers managed to keep pace and not relinquish the lead they’d so carefully built early in the game. A strong line of Dollface, Sufferjet, Freez’er and Pixie finally were able to shut down the suddenly hot Dolls early in the second, a confidence boosting jam that got the Rollers back on track.

The second half was actually an exciting half of derby marked by momentum shifts and scoring runs from each team, with the final score being 160-99. Dolls co-captain Scarcasm and Sinead O-Clobber were both strong on defence, while Getcha Kicks provided some strong relief jamming in the second half, and recent transfer Rainbow Fight was able to play her second game with her new squad and looked increasingly impressive in the pack, but especially on the jam line. Most importantly for the Dolls, second year skater UpHer Cut and rookie Chicken Sluggets (in her roller derby debut) gained a ton of track time, which could come in handy later this season as they continue their quest to finally reach the ToRD championship.

In the opening game of the night, a new-look Thames Fatales led by veteran blocker Jemicide, double threat Mirambo and rookie jammer phenom Kindree Surprise, took out their co-houseleague team the Luscious Lunch Ladies 186-82. The Ladies were led by Killary Tough, the mulit-talented and surprisingly agile Anne Tastic, and power jammer Torque E. Mada. One of this country’s oldest leagues, Forest City seems to have taken a turn toward a more competitive focus in 2013 and look to be well on their way.

Hammer City fell to 0-2 on the year, but nonetheless, seem to have turned a corner.

Hammer City fell to 0-2 on the year, but nonetheless, seem to have turned a corner.

CANADA STORMS THE FORT (AGAIN!)

Just over a month after ToRD’s CN Power and Bay Street Bruisers traveled south to take on the Fort Wayne Derby Girls, Hammer City and Royal City did the same this past weekend. In the opening game, the rapidly rebuilding Brute-Leggers took on The SWAT Team in a high scoring contest that saw the hosts hold on for the 218-168 victory. In the main event, the Hammer City Eh! Team took on Fort Wayne in a WFTDA sanctioned bout. Hammer City and Fort Wayne have a history that dates all the way back to 2007, but the last time these guys squared off in a WFTDA bout was in 2010 (a 119-44 Fort Wayne win). Hammer City, who have had a rough go of it for the past few years (including enduring the WFTDA’s longest losing streak), seem to finally be turning things around, and lost narrowly 199-177 on the weekend (falling to 0-2 on the season).

POWER RANKINGS RELEASED

And finally, just in case you missed it, the first ever Canadian Power Rankings were released on the Nerd yesterday. Read about the first rankings here.

Bigger Still: North Centrals Kicks off Most Anticipated WFTDA Playoffs Ever

Minnesota and Windy City met in the final of the North Central Regional Championship for the third year in a row. (Photography by Neil Gunner)

It seemed like for the first time in the whole tournament everyone who was in Niagara Falls, New York, for the Thrill of the Spill, the 2012 WFTDA North Central Regionals, was in the venue. Every bleacher seat and suicide seat was finally full; the crowd was loud from the first welcome that blared out over speakers. More than any other year even, this showdown seemed inevitable. Minnesota. Windy City. The North Central Regional Championship game.

Every year in the organized history of flat track roller derby, the WFTDA playoffs and championship has represented the best of this sport: the best the game has ever been played, the best sporting event that the game has seen, the most memorable performances, the greatest celebrations; it’s been the grandest stage. Regardless of in-fighting, dramatics, disagreements about the game, the culture, or the identity, the one constant has remained that this tournament is the tournament to win. Like or not, the WFTDA Championships is the biggest thing, athletically, that the sport has ever known. It hasn’t stopped out-doing itself every year. And this year, it is getting bigger still.

Minnesota (teal) and Naptown (white) met in the semifinals with Minnesota winning with surprising ease 283-86.

While like the sport itself, the buzz around it has continued. There’s a certain buzz around this year’s WFTDA playoffs that is new and unique to this year. Since the first ever WFTDA championship in 2006, every year has seen the sport advance considerably. From 2006 to 2009 the game on a national and increasingly international stage had to “find itself” on the flat track. By the 2009 championship tournament (aptly titled “Declaration of Derby”), the game seemed to have settled. The parameters had been set.  A team culled from national level USARS inline skating sports based out of Olympia, Washington, was bringing a level of athleticism and professionalism to the game that the sport—in any of its previous incarnations—had never seen. But it would be another western team, the Denver Roller Dolls, who, despite losing to those aforementioned Oly Rollers in the semi-finals, would be the team that would lead the forefront of the flat track game’s greatest evolution, and would lead the sport in its Great Leap Forward.

Arch Rival (in black) entered the tournament 4th, but exited in 8th spot.

2009 was so essential for so many reasons, not all to do with what was happening on the track. While the Derby News Network was already taking its spot in the derby world and had dabbled with boutcasting in 2008, it would be the 2009 championships that would truly see DNN and roller derby boutcasting reach the larger audience. Perhaps for the first time, there truly was a larger audience to reach. But as it were, the greater derby community tuned in to that tournament because they could, and what they witnessed there was the flat track game finally throwing off the shackles of the past and truly finding itself. For the first time it seemed like strategies and game-play philosophies were emerging organically from the fact that the game was being played on a flat track. And although they may not have invented it, it was Denver who introduced the derby world to flat track’s greatest (and admittedly most controversial) evolution: the slow game.  Perhaps just as importantly—as confused boos rained down on the track from the baffled fans—it gave the sport one of its first major on-track controversies.

Despite being overwhelmed in the 3rd place game against Naptwon, Ohio won big in the hearts of the fans.

Controversy surrounds the 2012 playoffs as well, and Oly is once again at the centre of it. Transfergate may be the overarching narrative of this Big 5 cycle, but in Niagara Falls at the North Centrals it isn’t quite the news that it most certainly will be when Westerns kick off less than a week after this opening tournament. Perhaps more than any other region (from top down), the teams in the North Central Region still adhere to a fast-pack game (though the once controversial aspects of the game that Denver ushered in in 2009, like isolating blockers to control pack definition and trapping on power jams, have become such a ubiquitous part of the sport that it’s funny to think they churned up such vitriol only three short years ago). There isn’t much passive offense in the North Central game, and when teams do employ it, for the most part, it’s being used as a set-up to other plays. The game is fast and it’s hard hitting.

Naptown (in red) will return to the WFTDA Championships for the second year in a row.

If they weren’t already the darlings of the region, the Ohio Roller Girls won legions of fans this weekend with their spirited play. Small in stature by the standards of the North Central (they looked like a junior league next to teams like Brew City and Windy City), they are big in spirit. After completing the busiest schedule in the WFTDA this past year (21 games), they still came into the tournament underdogs in their opener against Arch Rival. In the most thrilling game of the opening day, Ohio would show the resilience that has made them so successful and would constantly fight back; showing endurance gained from those countless games on the road, they roared back late in the bout as Arch waned. They won by 10 points to set up a showdown against Windy City.

In the semi-final against Windy City, they would leave it all on the track. Windy City was riding a 26-game regional unbeaten streak heading into this one, and they would be pushed all game by the upstarts from Columbus.  Battered, bruised, injured, Ohio would limp away from that 50-point loss to the defending champs knowing they’d done all they could. Unfortunately, they had little left for the third place showdown with Naptown who dominated the game from start to finish to ease their way into a second straight WFTDA Championship Tournament. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Ohio’s Phoenix Bunz take Tournament Blocker MVP, but it was a surprising sweep when her teammate the Smacktivist was named top jammer. Small consolation for the hardest working team in the game.

It so rarely happens in sports, but the Minnesota Windy City showdown lived up to its high expectations.

The final delivered. Easily the best game of the tournament, it was wide-open, fast, full of hard hitting blockers and jukey jammers. A stunning display of the game by two of the sport’s most venerable leagues. Having played to a controversial tie earlier this summer, this one seemed capable of going the same route as neither team could gain an advantage in the first half. In the second, Windy seemed to pull away early only to have Minnesota climb all the way back. But as champions do, Windy City brought its best game of the tournament—and perhaps even the season—when it mattered most. The 165-153 win meant that the same three teams (in the same ranking order) will be returning to the championship this year.

The Thrill of the Spill couldn’t have provided a better start to this year’s WFTDA playoffs.

****For complete-game recaps head over to the Derby News Network where Justice Feelgood Marshall captured the blow-by-blow action.

2012 WFTDA Championship Participants

North Central Region

1. Windy City Rollers All Stars

2. Minnesota RollerGirls All Stars

3. Naptown Roller Girls Tornado Sirens

Word on the Track (Rankings Update Part 1: WFTDA)

WFTDA UPDATE

The first quarter WFTDA rankings have now been released, and already the playoff races are starting to take shape.  While a lot of the top teams in each region are just starting to play, the fight to reach the top 10 is well under way. For complete rankings, visit the WFTDA Rankings.

North Central:

1.  Windy City Rollers (1)

2. Minnesota RollerGirls (2)

3. Naptown Roller Girls (3)

4. Detroit Derby Girls (4)

5. The Chicago Outfit (5)

6. Brewcity Bruisers (7)

7. Ohio Roller Girls (9)

8. Arch Rival Roller Girls (6)

9. Cincinnati Rollergirls (8)

10. Mad Rollin’ Dolls (10)

**15. Toronto Roller Derby (17)

**17. Tri-City Roller Girls (16)

While the teams in the North Central’s Top 10 stay the same, the order has been shaken up. 1-5 remain unchanged with the two Chicago teams sandwiching Minnesota (who are 5-0 on the season including a huge 155 point victory over 9th ranked Cincinnati), Naptown (5-2, whose only losses this season have come to the two teams ahead of them in the North Central), and Detroit  (yet to play in 2012). After this, things get interesting.

One of the busiest teams in the WFTDA (9-1), Ohio has made the biggest  jump moving from 9th to 7th based, especially, on a 53-point victory over Arch Rival (4-1) who has the biggest drop from 6th to 8th. For Canadian derby fans, Toronto’s CN Power, on the strength of their 5-0 record, leaps two spots to 15th just behind Fort Wayne (1-3) despite defeating that team in their season opener. The Tri-City Thunder  (2-1) drop one spot after losing to CN Power at this year’s Quad City Chaos. The playoffs are still in reach for these two teams, but they will both need to pull off major upsets over Ohio this month (May 19th, and 20th) and hope for 10th ranked Mad Rollin Dolls (0-2) to continue their losing streak if either hopes to sneak in.

East:

1. Gotham Girls Roller Derby (1)

2. Philly Roller Girls (2)

3. Charm City Roller Girls (3)

4. Steel City Derby Demons (4)

5. London Rollergirls (5)

6. Montreal Roller Derby (6)

7. Boston Derby Dames (7)

8. Carolina Rollergirls (8)

9. Dutchland Derby Rollers (9)

10. DC Rollergirls (11)

Remarkably, only one change so far in the Eastern Region: DC Rollergirls spent all of last season on the fringe unable to break into the top 10. Determined to do so, they have embarked on an ambitious 2012 schedule so far, travelling coast to coast and compiling a 6-3 record.  But their biggest victory came just last month when they defeated Maine (3-3), the formerly 10th ranked team in the region, 197-131, as part of their current four game winning streak that has vaulted them into the top 10. For the most part, things are just getting underway in the East with Gotham recently getting rolling (they’ve outscored their opposition 1135-84 in only two games) and Charm City winning a banked track tournament. Montreal has been the busiest of the top 6 teams so far, but has stumbled to a 4-4 record (with those losses coming against stiff competition from Naptown, Minnesota, Kansas City and Philly), and have unable to make up any ground on the teams ahead of them.

South Central:

1. Texas Rollergirls (1)

2. Kansas City Roller Warriors (2)

3. Nashville Rollergirls (3)

4. Houston Roller Derby (5)

5. Atlanta Rollergirls (4)

6. Tampa Roller Derby (8)

7. Omaha Rollergirls (10)

8. No Coast Derby Girls (6)

9. Jacksonville Rollergirls (11)

10. Tallahassee Rollergirls (15)

Things start to get interesting in the South Central with some massive changes from last year’s final quarterly rankings.  Out of the top 10 are Green Country (who had occupied 7th spot but are 1-6 in 2012 including 5 losses to teams ranked below them) and Gold Coast (9th with a very similar 1-5 record in 2012) who represent some big swings in placement in this region. Even the top 5 saw a switch up between Atlanta (now 5th) and Houston (4th). Houston had been, and still is, one of the hotter teams in the Region and kicked off the year on a 6-0 run including a dominant tournament win at the 2012 Clover Cup. That streak came to an end last week with a 139 point loss to North Central powerhouse Windy City.

This shake up at the bottom of the top 10 has allowed Omaha to jump three spots to 7th. Omaha has worked hard for the placement, compiling an 8-3 record  that includes a 3rd place finish at the Clover Cup. Jacksonville at 9th (from 11th after a 5th place finish at the Clover Cup and wins over Green Country and Gold Coast) and Tallahassee 10th (who makes one of the biggest jumps of the quarter from 15th) now have a spot to hold for Regionals. Since 2009, Tallahassee has never been ranked higher than 13th, so this represents a big step for the team.

West:

1. Oly Rollers (1)

2. Rocky Mountain Rollergirls (2)

3. Rose City Rollers (3)

4. Denver Roller Dolls (5)

5. Rat City Rollergirls (4)

6. B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls (6)

7. Sacred City Derby Girls (7)

8. Angel City Derby Girls (9)

9. Jet City Rollergirls (8)

10. Arizona Roller Derby (13)

**16. Terminal City Roller Girls (23)

The West is about to get wild.

Although the first quarterly rankings show very little change, the small changes show hints of things to come. Starting at the top: the Oly Rollers, who have had a firm grip on this Region since 2009, have suffered some major losses to the lineup and with only one game played in 2012 (a victory over the so-far inconsistent Jet City), it remains to be seen the impact that this will have. Rocky Mountain has also suffered a shake up at the core, but looked like they were weathering those losses after winning the Dust Devil 2012 until losing to 6th ranked B.A.D. Girls last week 160-113. Denver, slipping up to 4th, also looks to be gearing up for a big 2012 as well, as they kicked off their season with a convincing 235-97 victory over the B.A.D. Girls.

Historic Tucson Roller Derby wasn’t able to hold its spot against another historic team that is surging: Arizona. Arizona’s Tent City Terrors are back in the mix with a new-look lineup featuring game-changing transfers in Joy Collision from Charm City along with Hockey Honey and Atomatrix from Oly.  While Arizona is one of the original WFTDA leagues, it has never had much success, winning only five of its first 18 games between 2005 and 2009. Since 2009, the team has never climbed higher than 12th in the region. But the team is off to a 3-1 start so far in 2012, with its only loss coming in an 11-point game against Rocky Mountain at the Dust Devil.

For Canadian fans, Terminal City is the talk of the West, leaping an amazing seven places in the standing from 23rd to 16th. They have been extremely busy as well, tearing through the Western Region and gong 9-2 in WFTDA action this year already (not to mention another 2-1 record in unsanctioned games). Their only losses were to playoff team Jet City and Santa Cruz, whom they turned around and beat in a rematch ensuring their 16th place spot. An upcoming showdown with 5th ranked Rat City could have a lot to say about their chances of making the West Region playoffs.

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.

*

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.

*

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