Road to The Hydra: The Fort Wayne Leg

Road to The Hydra: The Fort Wayne Leg Photo: Dave Wood.

After every playoff, some of our writers are going to look back at what they have learned and how they think what happened that weekend is going to play out for the rest of the season. Enjoy!

What did I learn?

There are three main takeaways I had from this weekend: London are here to stay, Denver are still a derby powerhouse, and the issues with the current playoff bracket are exacerbated by the imperfections of the ranking calculator.

Who did well?

Ohio were the big winners here; they outperformed many people’s pre-tournament expectations and made it through to championships courtesy of wins over a good-looking Arch Rival team and an off-colour Montreal, and showed themselves to be as adept at forcing penalties on the opposition as anyone out there. While they weren’t expected to lose either game beforehand, both would have been regarded as toss-ups before the tournament started; to win two such games in a row suggests you’re probably doing something right. They might have been destroyed by Denver once–after about 25 minutes–the Mile High Club had them figured out, but they’re still going to champs as a tournament second seed.

That does mean that in Milwaukee they’ll end up facing (in my view, at least) one of Rocky Mountain, Windy City, Angel City, Philly, Rat City or Atlanta–and they’ll have to win that game if they want to silence the doubters. Perhaps ironically, what Denver did to Ohio is precisely what Gotham did to them; memories of a tense start with lead changes across the opening half were erased once the Gotham machine kicked into gear and brushed Denver aside.

Denver did well too; a tournament top seed outside of the meat-grinder that was the Western Region, they claimed their first set of tournament medals despite issues affecting both their A-list jammers. Come Championships, their roster may well be even stronger as rumours swirl about the return of Sandrine Rangeon and the transfer of Urrk’n Jerrk’n As Booty Blockya from Rocky Mountain to the shinier side of the Mile High City.

Assessing their strengths is tough given they only had one particularly challenging game at the tournament, that against London. Their defense held strong for much of it and Wilhem’s jamming showed why she was the one to make it through the long jammer audition that was the Golden Bowl.

London also did well and the nature of their games meant we learned the most about how they’re shaping up this year. In Rose City, they faced the toughest opponent they could possibly have been given for an opening-round knock-out game and they handled them admirably by running into an early lead then managing the clock perfectly to keep risks down at the death–despite what can only be charitably described as a second half penalty meltdown that saw them pick up twice as many penalties as the first period.

They will be disappointed to have not notched up a win over Denver that would have kept them away from other tournament top seeds until the semifinal in Milwaukee, but for a team that has been described ‘like The Borg, but with more pink’ and an awfully long way to travel, they might well be glad of the potential extra game at Championships against top-level opposition as they look to continue the improvement that has now seen them move from entering regionals as a bottom seed two years ago to nearly upsetting the #2 and #3 teams in the WFTDA in the space of a few months. Beating those teams is the obvious next step–and after that, the only thing left to shoot for is The Hydra.

Particular highlights for the London team come from both their defence–anyone holding Scald Eagle as effectively as they did for much of the Rose City game is clearly going to challenge at the very highest level–and their offence. Blooding two new jammers at playoffs level is risky, and the position that Lady Go-Go found herself in donning the star for London Brawling for the very first time in sanctioned play with a narrow lead and three minutes left on the clock is not one any jammer would envy. But her cool lead call and 4-0 jam all but won the game for Brawling and secured their spot in Milwaukee. Lexi Lightspeed’s debut performances were also assured; those two look to be providing London with safer options than they have previously had for backing up the heart of their jamming corps.

Kamikaze Kitten is unarguably the beating heart of Brawling. Her 155-point performance against Denver may well be the single most impressive jamming performance we will see from anyone all year and might have been enough to hand London victory over the Mile High Club if it hadn’t have been for a last-jam penalty. Something to work on. It’s also worth noting that she increased her points total against Rose by 59 at twice the points-per-jam she put up the previous time she played them. She is getting more effective with every game at this level and that’s something that should really worry anyone who draws London in Milwaukee.

Perversely, Rose City did well too. As well as Scald Eagle continuing to prove her uniquely destructive talent (outside of the first half against London), their performances in this playoff included three huge wins–all with attached ranking bonuses, all against relatively highly ranked WFTDA teams. These games will put the Wheels of Justice in a very, very strong position to contend for top seeding in the 2014 tournaments, despite not making it to champs this year. Their success–or not–next year will come down to the strength of their offence in 2013. They also managed a sublime half of derby in the second period against London–if they can work out how to channel that half for an entire game in the off-season, they will be an even greater force to be reckoned with next year. There is also clearly strong competition in the Rose squad for places, and that can only make the team stronger for 2014.

They are quite clearly a Championships level team and look very likely to be in the top five (at least) the next time rankings are released. That they didn’t make it this year is as much a quirk of the bracket as it was a quirk of geography that stopped them in previous years; now that geography has been addressed, it’s probably time to seriously think about the bracket.

What about the rest?

Montreal. They finished in the top four for the first time ever, but would have been disappointed by blowing their best shot at champs with an absurdly penalty-heavy performance against Ohio. Their performance against London was their best of the weekend and had flashes of the brilliance that have kept them high in people’s estimation for the past few years, but the deficit was even greater than last year despite them remembering to field a jammer every time. Their first-game woes continued too; if Wasatch’s legs hadn’t given out midway through the second period as a result of their earlier games, they could well have laid an upset on their singificantly more glamorous opponents. If they spend the next 12 months focussing on discipline, then their continuing good work and improvement of individual skaters of late could pay dividends. But they certainly can’t feel robbed of a maiden trip to championships by anyone other than themselves.

Arch Rival did not have a great weekend. They looked solid but a torrid second half performance against a surging Ohio ruined their weekend. Despite their seeding, they cannot be blamed for a crushing defeat at the hands of a much stronger Rose City team and they can be proud of a number of great individual performances. May Require Stitches’ clockwise apex jumps are one of the best things in the sport to watch and Brickyard’s jamming has massive potential to let the St Louis team step up next year.

What about Wasatch? They are a team that has flown under many people’s radar over the past 18 months and are a team with obvious talent. They have suffered from the loss of Squid Vicious–a key part of their 2012 and 2013 set-up–and the team’s most obvious issue this weekend was finding a successful jammer rotation. Ali3 Kitten and Moonraker both had their moments–the former in particular–but the team as a whole struggled as their jammers did. If they shore up their offense and spend the next 12 months working on both physical and mental conditioning, then they would almost certianly put themselves in a position to profit from the situations that just ran away from them this year.

Cincinnati. Cinci’s only win on the weekend came in the most improbable circumstances–K-Lethal jammed for 12 of the final 13 jams, including the final nine in a row. That stint included two trips to the box for track cuts and finished with a 43-4 run across the final three jams to take the win by three points. Their other games were among the biggest blowouts of the weekend as they were brushed aside in turn by Denver, Rose and Wasatch–but that final stint with the star from K-Lethal will live long in the memory.

Which brings us to Bleeding Heartland and Grand Raggidy. They both look to be on a very similar level to Cincinnati, and Grand Raggidy will be glad to have returned to the top level of WFTDA play and come out with a win. Grand Raggidy can also take a lot from their game with Rose City on Saturday; this had the makings of an utter annihilation, but the Grand Rapids team acquitted themselves well. Their teamwork and mental game held together much better than it did the previous day in their rout by Wasatch–and that improvement was clear on Sunday when they finally picked up the elusive W.

The same is almost true for Bleeding Heartland; they would have had a win on Friday were it not for K-Lethal’s insane ending to the bout. Both teams can take a lot from the weekend into the 2014 season, and can hope to build from here and overtake some of the teams who are coming in the other direction.

And Finally…

There were as many people talking about the bracket, the seeding structure and attendance as there were talking about the roller derby this weekend in Fort Wayne.

It seems clear that while the current divisional structure solves some of the problems of the old regional system, it introduces a few of its own. This is to be expected, and the theoretical beauty of the WFTDA system is that the very skaters who are affected by the imperfections in the current system can change them. It is our view that the structure currently uses too many games to settle matters that aren’t of relevance to the point of the tournament–now we’re out of a regional system and have mathematical rankings, there’s no point generating placing down to ten–and makes tournaments harder to sell to fans because so many of the match-ups are up in the air.

WFTDA’s stated goal of being by the skater, for the skater is sometimes used to justify ignoring the audience–but for large events audiences are necessary to cover the costs of all of the people being paid to be there, and all the expenses being covered, from the officials to the broadcast crew to the official recappers.

We also learned that discounts don’t please everyone. The reduction of the on-the-door price to the pre-sale price seemed like a good move to someone, but made lots of people who had paid the pre-sale price and attendant Ticketmaster fees rather unhappy. Some more thought might go into making prices more even once fees are taken into account, especially for venues governed by Ticketmaster’s rules. The same goes for the stream issues; making the stream free due to issues with the login system could seem like a no-brainer PR win… except when those who have already paid up feel they’ve been ripped off by paying for something now being officially distributed freely.

Lex Talionis

Lex is the Content Director for Derby News Network.