Posts Tagged ‘Battle on the Bank’

RDCL Battle on the Bank VII Preview

rdcl-botbvii-logo

As roller derby rolls through the spring and summer, anticipation builds as fall approaches. The autumn months are when the roller derby championship season begins in earnest, and is when all eyes are on flat tracks around the country (and world!) to see what teams are the best of the best.

For the impatient lot, the Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues has plopped its national get-together smack-dab in the middle of the year. Thanks to them, we don’t need to wait to see some bracket-busting action. We can have it right now!

This weekend, June 6-8, Battle on the Bank VII takes place in San Diego. The five founding member leagues of the RDCL, along with two guest leagues, a host of juniors, and for the first time a pair of men’s teams fill out the three-day national banked track tournament.

Banked track derby has been through a rough stretch as of late. Over the past several months, a handful of leagues have been forced to seek out or move to a new location, forced to mothball or sell their track, or forced to shut down altogether. There aren’t many banked leagues to begin with, so when things like this happen to a few, it affects the many. Even so, the spectacle of banked track roller derby is hearty, and even during trying times it continues to succeed in many places.

There is much good news to report on in this year’s battle. A team new to the tournament is getting a third chance to make a second impression. A team still-new to RDCL play is getting a second chance to get their first win. Two teams no strangers to each other are getting ready to mark a roller derby first for the second time. While victory seems inevitable for the coalition’s powerhouse, the middle placings may all be in play among the teams returning to the tournament.

That’s good news for fans, since the roller derby played in the RDCL can be downright incredible when the wheels hit the Masonite in a game between level participants. Though tournament participation is down this year, there is a still a healthy number of teams ready to duke it out in downtown San Diego across 17 half-length and full-length games.

Live streaming coverage is being provided by hosts San Diego Derby Dolls for free through the live stream page on the Battle on the Bank website. The full game schedule and adult brackets are available below, followed by a comprehensive preview of who’s who in the tournament, the kind of gameplay to expect on the banked track, and the current state of RDCL in general.

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Battle on the Bank VI Diary: The Most Interesting Jam in the World

Heading into Battle on the Bank this year, there was little doubt that the L.A. Derby Dolls and their Ri-Ettes all-star team were the runaway favorites to repeat as banked track champs. Having destroyed both their closest rivals earlier in the year, the San Diego Derby Dolls Wildfires and the Arizona Derby Dames Hot Shots, Los Angeles did not have have much in the way of resistance to claim the title for the second straight year.

And so they did.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. But this isn't about them.

The L.A. Derby Dolls, winners of three out of six Battle on the Bank tournaments and two in a row. That’s great and all, but this story isn’t about them.

Despite the winner being a foregone conclusion, there was still a lot to look forward to a few steps lower on the bracket.

At the bottom, the Sugartown Rollergirls and Penn-Jersey Roller Derby got their first taste of the RDCL national tournament. In the middle, Tilted Thunder and the OC Rollergirls showed that they are not too far off from competing for the podium, putting in a good showing against the top teams after putting on a great show against each other. And off to the side, the juniors of the RDCL demonstrated that it won’t be long until they replace the players occupying their eventual spots on the senior rosters.

But back to the top steps. Though San Diego was seeded ahead of Arizona, it wasn’t an easy pick to say who would overcome the other on the way to the finals. But it was all but certain that which ever one did would lose to L.A. in the finals, making the battle between them a race for second place.

The double-elimination format of the tournament virtually ensured both teams would face each other twice: Once in a 30-minute game in the winners’ bracket on Saturday, and again in a full tilt the next day for a place in the grand final.

Thank goodness they did. The two AZ/SD games, by a fair margin, featured the most engaging, most fascinating, most exciting roller derby I have seen at Battle on the Bank out of the four editions I have attended. Dare I say, it was the most compelling action I have seen in the Doll Factory in two or three years—a period which includes all-star appearances by Gotham, Rocky Mountain, Team Legit, and Team Bionic, among many other top-tier teams that have rolled through in that time.

A bold statement, that, but there are numbers to back it up. In ninety total minutes of gameplay between the two teams, leads larger than 20 points were a short-lived luxury. Sustaining a low double-digit lead was about as good as either team could manage throughout. In the 60-minute semifinal game, teams were averaging less than 2 points each per jam. Two! Factor out power jams, and it was even closer.

Close scores are one thing, but with the 2013 RDCL rules having almost eliminated “cheap” points gifted to teams during goating and power jam situations, it was literally back to the case of every point mattering and every point needing to be fought for tooth-and-nail.

The sausage non-engagement tactic has, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated in the new rules. Front-loaded defenses were at a formidable advantage, forcing both teams to engage and assist offensively to break through. Packs were moving at a reasonable speed, allowing a defense trapped ahead of a goat time to lock on to, match speed with, and slow down an opposing jammer wanting to complete a pass, making goating itself less effective and no longer an easy play to complete a full pass.

This restored competitive balance to gameplay, but it also created a most exciting side-effect. If two equal teams both have an equal chance to play defense, are equally proficient at playing offense in the pack, and have jammers of equal speed and skill levels, odds are that both jammers are going to frequently complete their initial pass equally—or simultaneously, as it were.

That is exactly what happened in the Arizona/San Diego games. I don’t have an exact number, but I can almost guarantee that their games saw the highest number of close double-jammer breakouts all weekend, by a fair margin. In fact, a good percentage of jams had jammers within a quarter-track of each other or closer after completing the initial pass, leading to a hard and fast jammer race back to the rear of the pack. This often led to low-score, and even no-score jams, but not for a lack of action.

As both teams began to realize that uncontested scoring passes were rare, the only thing they could do was gain every millisecond of advantage they possibly could with the jammer race on the track and against each other in the pack to secure a favorable position for the scoring pass. The AZ/SD games at Battle on the Bank were brilliant examples this kind of hold-your-breath gameplay.

However, they also showed clear signs that the strategy behind jammer-race contested scoring passes is yet-to-be discovered by many teams in roller derby, not just those in the RDCL.

There was one jam in particular that demonstrated this.

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Battle on the Bank V Preview

While the WFTDA and flat track roller derby doesn’t get to see playoff action until September, banked track roller derby’s biggest playoff event is happening this weekend.

Battle on the Bank is now in its fifth year, and after stops in Los Angeles, Austin, San Diego, and Phoenix, it’s now Seattle, Wash. and the Tilted Thunder Railbirds playing host to the summer interleague tournament.

Eight banked track teams from five different states will be fighting for the really big Battle on the Bank trophy in 12 games over three days. Of the teams accepting their invites to Seattle, seven played in last year’s Battle on the Bank and have at least two years’ worth of tournament experience; four had played in the first BotB five years ago; three are returning champions; and one team, the Salt City Derby Girls, are playing in their first banked track battle.

The weekend is scheduled to have four games on Friday, six games on Saturday, and then two full-length games on Championship Sunday to determine the top three. Sunday will also feature an interleague junior derby bout in the morning between the L.A. Junior Derby Dolls and the Tilted Thunder Railbird Peeps. Click the image to the right for the full schedule in printable bracket form (PDF) to keep track of the action.

Though there are only two, or maaaaaybe three teams that have a legit chance of starring in the championship final this weekend, the action in the middle of the pack should be very, very interesting to watch, with some of the stronger teams beginning to slip and the up-and-comers firing on all cylinders. This may be the first time in a while where the majority of 30-minute games on the schedule will be relatively close and competitive.

Alas, although all of the teams are winners in our hearts, only one can be a winner on the track. So which team has got the stuff to take it all this year? Let’s find out…

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BotB IV Diary, Part V: The Microcosm of My Conflict

Welcome to WRDN’s continuing Battle on the Bank IV Diary, a wrap-up of banked track derby’s national invitational tournament. This six five-part diary will highlight six five games and use them to comment about the event—and the state of derby in general—from a different perspective.

How did I have the best AND worst derby weekend of my life? What does it mean to take pride in your team—and your city? Why was the closest game of the weekend boring to me? And what does it mean for derby to see a superstar in the making? To find the answers to these and other questions, read on…

Previous BotB Diary Entries: Part I · Part II · Part III · Part IV

The Microcosm of My Conflict

San Diego 67, Texas 52

On the evening of June 12, some hours after Team Legit claimed the Battle on the Bank IV championship trophy, I dispatched this tweet out onto the Internet.

At the time I was experiencing a very strong conflict of feelings about roller derby, and I was trying to sort out who was at fault for this conflict: Me, or the game. This has been a conflict that I’ve carried with me for a while, but it’s one that’s been getting stronger and stronger in the past few months.

This conflict came to a head during Battle on the Bank IV. The sequence of events that took place in the 24 hours after the last game on June 11 (the BotB consolation semi-final between the San Diego Derby Dolls and the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls) caused me to seriously rethink everything I knew about the modern game—for better and for worse.

The tricky bit, as I’ve tweeted, was finding the right words for it, finding the right way to express my elation and frustration for derby. As it turned out, the words were right in front of me all this time: Those 24 hours were an exact replication of everything that was causing a rift of confusion through me. A microcosm of my conflict, if you will.

So what’s my deal? To find out, let’s go back to June 11, 2011, where San Diego and Texas were ready to see who would advance to the BotB IV third place game…

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BotB IV Diary, Part IV: Birth of a Superstar

Welcome (back) to WRDN’s continuing Battle on the Bank IV Diary, a wrap-up of banked track derby’s national invitational tournament. This six five-part diary will highlight six five games and use them to comment about the event—and the state of derby in general—from a different perspective. 

How did I have the best AND worst derby weekend of my life? What does it mean to take pride in your team—and your city? Why was the closest game of the weekend boring to me? And what does it mean for derby to see a superstar in the making? To find the answers to these and other questions, read on… 

Previous BotB Diary Entries: Part I · Part II · Part III

Birth of a Superstar

Team Legit 141, Los Angeles 117

The championship game at Battle of the Bank was to be contested between the L.A. Derby Dolls and Team Legit, the two teams that should have faced each other all along. They were the best teams all weekend, and the two teams most familiar with each other.

L.A. and Legit had faced each other three times the 15 months prior to the BotB finals. Last year, the Ri-ettes beat Legit in a full-length game at home, but Legit stole a semi-final win at the Battle on the Bank III that summer. Earlier this year, Legit beat L.A. after a convincing run in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.

Every game between L.A. and Legit is close, as they always seem to be at about the same level of skill. The teams’ equality was confirmed on the scoreboard of the championship match  at three-quarter time, when the score was tied 95-95.

During the quarter break, I couldn’t help but think back to the game earlier this year, where L.A. and Legit were also tied (or close enough to it) at the end of the third quarter. But in the fourth, Legit showed their stuff, outscored the Ri-ettes by 30 or so points, and ultimately coasted to a 125-96 win.

Flashback to the Doll Factory, January 22, 2011. I guess they hadn't invented color yet. (Photo Credit: Mia More/LA Derby Dolls)

From L.A.’s perspective, that January loss was somewhat understandable. The team had just picked its all-star roster, which had significant turnover from the year before. They also had a new coach to work with. Plus, it was the first game of their 2011 season. Any new team playing in the first game of the year would have to work some kinks out.

However, as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, Los Angeles had since worked hard and set their sights of becoming Battle on the Bank champions. Their hard game schedule (vs. Gotham and Rocky Mountain? Yikes!) and harder training schedule was proof of wanting a little bit more out of themselves this year. Their decisive victory over San Diego in the BotB semis made the outgoing two-time champs look more like a speedbump than a roadblock on the way to that goal.

Team Legit, meanwhile, was mostly the same between their appearance at the Doll Factory earlier this year and their showing in Phoenix a few weeks ago. Going up against a much-improved and meaner Ri-ettes team, one would have to think that L.A. would have had enough in the tank to prevent a repeat of January’s defeat.

Yet, as the fourth quarter of the championship game got under way at the Veteran’s Memorial, Team Legit pulled a repeat of their fourth quarter performance in January and again pulled away from Los Angeles, skating home to an easy victory and taking the Battle on the Bank championship trophy.

So what happened this time around? L.A. lost to Team Legit two times in a row in the exact same way, despite the Ri-ettes’ clear improvement in the months between meetings. Team Legit couldn’t have improved as much as L.A. did within the same amount of time, surely, considering Legit “practices” by email and only gets to work together when they’re at the track for gametime. So it’s not as if they got to train super-hard together as a unit like the Ri-ettes did. Is there anything that can explain this?

Yes, actually.

Her name is Sarina Hayden.

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BotB IV Diary, Part III: Pride

Welcome to WRDN’s continuing Battle on the Bank IV Diary, a wrap-up of banked track derby’s national invitational tournament. This six-part diary will highlight six games and use them to comment about the event—and the state of derby in general—from a different perspective.

How did I have the best AND worst derby weekend of my life? What does it mean to take pride in your team—and your city? Why was the closest game of the weekend boring to me? And what does it mean for derby to see a superstar in the making? To find the answers to these and other questions, read on…

Previous BotB Diary Entries: Part I · Part II

Pride

Los Angeles 65, San Diego 53

Los Angeles: The Greatest City in the World. Those are just the facts, ma'am.

I love Los Angeles.

The city, I mean. I love any and all things about big cities, but there’s something about Los Angeles that gives me a feeling of pride and joy every time I journey into its bustling and beating heart. The constant activity, the mix-up of different backgrounds and cultures, and the size of space to explore makes me consider it my home. Though I don’t technically call it my home (yet), my travels have me come and go through L.A. so often that it might as well be.

I also love roller derby.

I’ve loved it ever since I can remember watching re-runs of old roller derby games on TV during my childhood. The Los Angeles Thunderbirds were my favorite team, or at least I think they were. They had to be, since they’re the only team which I remember watching, and liking. The 1980s were a long time ago, though, so I can’t remember specific details. Only the feelings I experienced.

A few years later, when David Sams and his Figure-8 roller derby track hit the airwaves in 1989, my favorite team was back on TV. I was thrilled to watch Rollergames action every week and cheer on the World-Famous, World Champion L.A. T-Birds. But even as a 9-year old roller derby fan, I started to suspect something was amiss when they brought out the alligators for sudden-death overtime.

Long story short, I yearned for legitimate roller derby ever since then.

It was fitting that when I finally stumbled onto the existence of the legit game some 18 years later, I first found it in Los Angeles, and with the L.A. Derby Dolls.

Oddly enough, the specifics of my discovering the Derby Dolls are also fuzzy. I’m somewhat confident it was a random YouTube video that I came across, although it also could have been a handbill or flier that pointed me to a website. I also know that my first LADD game was in 2007, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what month of the year it was without taking the time to look it up. Again, specifics escape me.

But I know the feeling I got the first time I saw them play. It was if I had never skipped a beat. Everything about the roller derby of the past and the roller derby of the present is very different, but for me, the feeling I experienced while watching was exactly the same.

I also know the feeling I get when I think of the City of Angels. It’s a feeling I’ve grown to know and love ever since my family took my brother and me to a Dodgers game at Chavez Ravine, or to the telescope at the Griffith Observatory, or to the history-rich buildings of old downtown, or to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.

Such is why if someone asks me how long I’ve been a fan of the Derby Dolls, I would need to pause and recalculate before answering with the facts from my brain: Five years.

Because if I didn’t, the feelings I have for Los Angeles and the feelings I have for roller derby would mix up inside of me and have me answer that same question with the truth from my heart: Twenty years.

BotB IV Diary, Part II: Boring Excitement

Welcome to WRDN’s continuing Battle on the Bank IV Diary, a wrap-up of banked track derby’s national invitational tournament. This six-part diary will highlight six games and use them to comment about the event—and the state of derby in general—from a different perspective.

How did I have the best AND worst derby weekend of my life? What does it mean to take pride in your team—and your city? Why was the closest game of the weekend boring to me? And what does it mean for derby to see a superstar in the making? To find the answers to these and other questions, read on…

Previous BotB Diary Entries: Part I

Boring Excitement

 Tilted Thunder 89, Tuscon 88

I have a rule. A sports rule, specifically. It goes:

A true fan of a sport will be able to watch and enjoy a game between any two teams of that sport, even if the teams involved are not their local and/or favorite teams.

I like to think this rule is universal. After all, a true sports fan loves the game as much as or more than their favorite team, right? Just think about the Olympic games. A lot of obscure sports are featured during the Olympics, particularly during the winter games. You can use this rule to pick out the true fans of those small-time sports in the crowd of nation-loving bandwagoners.

For instance, I can guaran-damn-tee you that no one in the U.S. cares about curling unless the U.S. curling team is winning during the Olympics. Do most of them care about our curling team when they’re not going for Olympic gold?  Why do they root for their country’s curling team to win that one day they’re on TV, but not do it the other 1460 days between Olympics?

After Canada beats the U.S. in curling—again—invite your red-white-and-blue-clad friends to watch the game between Germany (pictured) and Japan. If they decline, then they ain't fans of curling. (Photo credit: Michael Burns Photography/Flickr)

Clearly, the majority of them are just rootin’ for the red, white, and blue to win, regardless of the sport the team is playing. They’re fans of their country above all else, only to be temporary “fans” of whatever sport they happen to be playing at the time.  The real curling fans know when the next bonspiel is. Or what the hell a bonspiel even is. But I digress.

As a fan of roller derby, I can enjoy a game regardless of which teams are playing. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the same boat. Derby fans love derby, period. I certainly wouldn’t have driven seven hours to get to Phoenix to watch a bunch of teams I didn’t know if I knew I wasn’t going to have a good time from start to finish.

Even so, there were a lot of blowouts on the first day. Die-hards who got there early in the weekend (like me!) that knew they were coming, but still sat through them. A good time was had, anyway. Personally, I appreciated how good the good teams were during the lopsided bouts. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy watching San Diego, Los Angeles, or Team Legit do their thing unopposed?

As the tournament progressed into its second day, games between closer seeds promised more competitive matches. If there’s a way to appreciate a great team tearing a new one into a team that’s not so great, a closer game between more evenly matched teams would almost certainly be even better. After all, if the outcome of a game isn’t certain until the very end, how can you not like what you’re seeing along the way?

I arrived at the Veteran’s Memorial early Saturday afternoon, hopeful for a good start to the weekend proper. First on the bill was Tilted Thunder of Seattle and the Arizona Banked Track Robbers of (mostly) Tuscon.

What took place was closest and most down-to-the-wire game of the weekend. Neither team seemed to be able to pull away from the other as the score see-sawed back and forth. The crowd was going crazy from start to finish. When it was all said and done, Tilted Thunder managed to overcome and hold off Tucson in two tense last jams to take their first-ever interleague victory, much to the delight of their fans.

But as for me?

While I was watching this game, I became bored. Very, very bored.

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