WFTDA West Region Playoffs 2011: Westerns are the New Westerns

Well, that was an uneventful start to The Big 5, wasn’t it? Let’s get this playoff train back on its tracks.

Next stop: The West. Destination: Portland, Oregon.

Woah, woah there, Mr. Conductor! Wait a second. The West? Portland?? That’s not the first place that springs to mind when I think of the Wild Wild West. If we’re going to be previewing the roller derby “westerns,” then we’ve got to talk about the men (and women) that made the west what it is today. I’m talking about cowboys. Real cowboys. Jesse James. Billy the Kid. Wild Bill Hickok. Wyatt Earp. Calamity Jane, too. That’s the west that comes to my mind.

Unfortunately, I don’t know all that much about the history of the “real” west, or real cowboys. But I do know quite a bit about the fake real west: Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Roy Rodgers, other Hollywood cowboys and the films they starred in contributed much to society. Or at least, enough for me to refer to these fine pieces of historical work in an attempt to preview Bridgetown Brawl, the 2011 WFTDA West Region playoffs.

After all, with how closely matched so many of the top teams in the west are, it’s to be expected that a lot of games will wind up being shootouts. And what self-respecting western wouldn’t have a hell of a great shootout?

See you in November

(1) Oly, (2) Rocky Mountain

It's a big deal when #1 and #2 get together outside of the playoffs, which made this year's regular season game against Oly and Rocky something special. (Photo credit: Joe Rollerfan)

Although the top end of the west region is strong and deep, unless both Oly and Rocky both get upset in their semifinal games, they’ll each have had two chances to take on a western top-six rival who they have previously beaten, making a trip to championships for both of them all but a slam dunk.

The Oly Rollers find themselves (again) at the top of the west region rankings. They played nine sanctioned games this year, but only three of them were against their regional rivals, and only two of them were on the road. However, one of those road games was the highlight of 2010’s regular season, the champion-vs-champion game at Rocky Mountain. The 2009 champs held Rocky to a Magnificent Seventy-five point total, the first time Rocky was held to under 100 since Denver beat them at 2009 Nationals.

But 2009 was a long time ago. Since then, Rocky Mountain has learned How the West Was Won, beating Oly in last year’s stunning west region playoff final on the way to becoming the 2010 WFTDA Champions.  However, since then Rocky hasn’t been on quite the same form as they appeared to be on during their playoff run. Though Oly was their only (official) loss this year, #W5 Bay Area got to within 41 points of them…which is a little too close for comfort in a region that’s top-heavy with good teams.

On the other hand, Rose City barely stayed within 100 points in their game against Rocky Mountain, and Rose is ranked higher than Bay Area. So even if Rocky may have had a B.A.D. game (I’m sorry) this year, it’s highly unlikely that they’d have two bad games in two days and miss out on a (very quick bus) trip to Championships.

The Wild Card

(3) Denver

Denver will probably be the key to fans looking to win A Fistful of Dollars with an accurate prediction in the bracket contest. That’s because, as you pick your winners in the three Denver games, there are three traits to the team that you’ll need to consider very carefully: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

If I were Denver, and someone compared me to Clint Eastwood, I don't think I'd complain that much.

The Good: Denver has been a consistent force in the west, which is saying something considering their cross-town rivals have been just as good (or better) for just as long. As the #3 team in the region and fourth-best nationally (says DNN), there aren’t many teams that can beat Denver. That’s confirmed by the fact that the only two that have this year were Gotham (by 71 points) and Oly (90).

Those losses are not quite close enough to immediately threaten the national top 3, but they are not all that far away, either. Their results against Texas (135-117), Philly (143-89) and Charm City (206-99) suggest that they’re consistently better than the “mid-tier” top teams, but still behind the teams beyond the top.

If Denver wants to break into the upper echelon of roller derby, they’re going to have no better chance to do it than to face their neighbors in a possible semi-final for the ages against Rocky Mountain (admission: I just got super-giddy writing that) on Saturday, a match-up not seen in these parts for two whole years. And if they beat them? That’s going to be good for Denver.

The Bad: Not so fast, though. Like Gotham in the east, Denver has a guaranteed trip to Championships in their future. However, unlike Gotham, Denver is up against competition that could actually beat them. As host of the championship finals, Denver would much rather win their way to November than lose and wind up running a tournament that they are not participating in.

All Denver has to do to send themselves an invite is to first beat Rat City in the quarters, who they previously beat during Wild West Showdown in March by only 22 points. If they fail to secure advancement and lose to Rocky Mountain in the quarters, their opponent in the 3rd place game will be either Bay Area (+29 win in July) or Rose City (+14 win in March; +7 home win in May).

Denver can control their own destiny just by playing to their previous results. But that’s a hell of a gauntlet they’re going to need to go through to do it. That last game is an especially ugly possibility, since the tables would be turned on Denver should they play Rose City, who is hosting this playoff tournament—and their home crowd—at their home venue this time around.

Then again, Denver could also be the orangutan.

The Ugly: Speaking of ugly, Denver’s got an ugly streak that may prevent them—again—from moving out of regionals. While there’s little doubt that the team is fantastic in many ways, every so often they have moments of collapse that make you wonder if they’re really ready to bring it against the very best of WFTDA.

One would be remiss to forget that Denver, also going into the playoffs as the #3 regional seed last year, failed to win their opening game against Bay Area. A few jams into that game, the score was 24-1 against Denver before they started building their point total again, but it was too late: They fell by 4 points. When Denver got to the 5th place game they faced Rat City, and gave up a 51-2 run early in the first half…they lost by 9 and had to settle for 6th place that year.

That it’s still happening this year only confirms that it’s something to be concerned with. What that 135-117 score against Texas won’t tell you is that Denver led by 76 points nearing the start of the 4th quarter. They only won by 18….so that means Denver got outscored 70-12 in the last chunk of the game, including a ballistic 52-0 run by Texas during that time.

So that’s why Denver is my wild card. They’re one of the top four teams in roller derby, but with the rest of the region capable of knocking them off and their habit giving up big points swings at any time, there is absolutely no way to accurately predict how well they’ll do overall in a west region that does not look well upon teams making a mistake during close games.

The Real Playoffs

(4) Rose City, (5) Bay Area, (6) Rat City

Denver’s chances of success this weekend, then, may very well depend on which side of the bed they get out of. Their first round opponent, Rat City, has seen what happens in both cases. Their close loss to them this year and their overpowering run on them last year has shown that as much as Denver can win if they’re on their game, their opponent can win if they’re off it.

Denver shouldn’t have too much trouble staying ahead of Rat City should they not go on one of their binges and start vomiting up points left and right. However, should Denver have a bit too much to drink and start to get wobbly, Rat City may shoot them down and bury them again, to head the grave with a Tombstone that shows exactly how Seattle may take advantage of Denver’s lapse in judgement:

(We regret to inform you that this classic scene from the aforementioned film could not be located in its original condition. Instead, we have used portions of another great western, An American Tail: Fiefel Goes West, to compensate for this defect. We apologize for any inconvenience. – The Management)

While Rat City shoots it out with Denver, Rose City and Bay Area will have to stare down each other for a chance to stay in the hunt for the Hydra. Whoever wins the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral will almost certainly be playing for third place once Oly gives them an (all but assured) drubbing in the semi-finals. Whoever loses? Well, guns aren’t toys, you know.

Rose City has got to be confident coming into the proceedings this weekend. Of all the teams in the land this year, they got the closest to beating Gotham (if you call a 68 point loss “close”) and only suffered three other losses to Denver (twice) and Rocky. As the hosts of the tournament, they get to enjoy all the comforts of being home on the range. And first on their to-do list is to beat Bay Area, who they beat 167-123 earlier in the year.

But if every rose has its thorns, There Will Be Blood if Rose can’t beat at least two of the top three teams in this tournament. Assuming they can take care of Bay Area in the first round, they’re up against Oly in the second, which is a very unlikely win even with the talent on Rose City’s side. A potential third place game against Rocky or Denver is no guarantee of a spot in championships, either. However, the fact that all the other teams in the top six are facing equally ridiculous brackets doesn’t change that Rose is still in a pretty good spot, should things fall their way.

If Rose City wants to beat Bay Area again, getting around their tough defense will be the key. (Photo credit: FunFrank/flickr)

But there’s still the matter of Rose’s first game. Bay Area is very much a team that can hang with anyone thanks to their incredible defense. The average score in Bay Area’s six wins this year was 109-80 (+29) against teams capable of going to Championships (Rat, Charm, Philly, Windy, Texas, Detroit). Just scoring 100 points on Bay Area is an accomplishment in itself.

However, it’s a different story once their opponents break the century mark. In the five games where their opposition did just that, Bay Area went 2-3 and found themselves losing on aggregate by an average score of 129-110 (-19). The numbers would suggest that their offense isn’t good enough to stay ahead of a defense that can hold teams back, but not always hold them back forever.

If Bay Area wants to repeat their magical 2010 Championships run, they’re going to need to bring in some offensive reinforcements in the form of more points this weekend. If they don’t have the firepower to out-shoot their opponents, they’ll be like the spirited defenders of The Alamo…and we all remember how things went for them.

We’re Just Happy to Be Here

(7) Sacred City, (8) Jet City, (9) Tucson, (10) Angel City

In the west, it’s the top six, then everybody else. The little guys here have zero chance of getting past the the six-shooters this weekend, so they’ll play for the title of Best of the Rest of the West amongst themselves with their cute little pop-guns. Quick…draw!

High Noon – Sacred City has a lot of blowout wins, including a 338 point victory over Central Coast just last month. But their only win of real merit was over Jet City, 108-72. They did have an impressive showing against Montreal in a 176-113 ECDX loss, however. This team seems like they’re more than capable of meeting up with Oly, who will await the winner of Sacred’s first game against Angel city on Friday at…well, when else?

True Grit – Holy crap, Jet City. These girls will play anyone, any time, any place, anywhere. They went 8-7 overall this year, but check out who they lost to: Montreal (by only 21), Philly, Sacred City, Nashville, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Charm City, and Boston. A schedule like that may serve them well against the small fries in the bottom of the western bracket. But aside from the outcome against Tucson in their first game, there’s something just as important that needs to be settled: The Duke, or The Dude?

Back to the Future: Part III – Westerns are the new Nationals! Westerns are the new Championships! Yeah we get it. But don’t forget: Westerns were the old Nationals, too. As venerable hosts of the Dust Devil tournament, WFTDA’s first national dance party, Tucson knows something about facing the best in the country. However, they appear to have been erased from the histories of games played against the top 10 in the west this year (there weren’t any). In other news, a Delorean was spotted in Phoenix this summer, around the same time some of Tucson’s skaters were participating at Battle on the Bank IV. Hmmm…

3:10 to Yuma – Angel City is making a return trip to the playoffs after missing the train last year, and did so after twice beating #W11 Silicon Valley to secure their trip this year. They have no competitive wins against teams above them in the bracket, though, so it will almost certainly be a quick playoff exit for L.A.’s flat track team.

But wait…what does 3:10 to Yuma have to do with Angel City? Yuma is in Arizona! Well, if you start at the airport in Yuma and drive exactly 310 miles, you’ll arrive at your destination in…Yuma. Yuma Place, in Hollywood.

Don’t you just love a Hollywood ending?

Bridgetown Brawl – The WFTDA East Region Playoffs are scheduled for this weekend, September 23-25 in Portland, Ore. Download the printable bracket here, and enter the official WFTDA Big 5 Bracket Bonanza here.

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