Posts Tagged ‘Diaries’

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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USARS Nationals 2012 Diary: That Was Fast

usars-derby-nationals-logoRoller derby history was made this past weekend. Although, exactly what kind of history will take a few years to fully figure out.

USA Roller Sports held its very first national roller derby tournament at the Fresno Convention Center in Fresno, Calif. Eight teams from around the country skated in three days of competition, culminating in–who else?–the Oly Rollers of Olympia, Wash. winning it all and taking home the inaugural Seltzer Cup championship trophy.

After a calamitous series of regional tournaments, which were hosted by local derby leagues, USARS itself organized and ran the national tournament, though not without the help of Fresno’s own NOtown Roller Derby who supported USARS in putting on the event.

The result of this switch was night and day. The schedule was followed like clockwork, and with a few significant exceptions the event ran smoothly for the most part. A brand-new SkateCourt surface was brought in for the competition track, while a second surface was tucked away in another room for team warm-ups.

As for the roller derby? Well, there’s a lot that happened. Some things were good. Some were great. Some were not so good. Some were terribly bad. For example: All of it was broadcast live on DNN for free (good!)—but sadly, USARS may not be posting the archives any time soon, if ever (bad!). Every team in attendance was able to play in at least one competitive game during the weekend (really good!)—but unfortunately, one of those teams ran into a serious problem that jeopardized their ability to continue playing in the tournament (really bad!).

Much could be said about last weekend, but I’ll keep it down to the five items that struck me most about it.

That Was Close!

The first day and a half of the tournament went pretty much how everyone expected: Teams far apart in skill level playing in one-sided games resulted in lopsided victories.

Oly had no trouble with Port City, winning 312-21. San Diego RD beat Deep South Derby 224-57; Resurrection RG did the same to Birmingham RD, 220-24. The closest contest of Friday, if you could really call it “close,” was a battle of derby leagues, the Tulsa Derby League All-Stars beating Underground Derby League 156-40.

Day two started off looking much the same way, with Port City further burying Underground 126-39 and Oly skating through Tulsa with a 241-24 victory.

Six blowouts in a row do not a competitive roller derby tournament make. (Then again, neither does a tournament that only started with 16 total teams who had but a few months to learn the rules.) But with how the seeding worked out, the regional rematches that were on the horizon teased that the good match-ups were yet to come.

And boy oh boy, did they come.

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USARS Regionals 2012 Diary: A Rough Start

On four weekends throughout September and October, USA Roller Sports held its inaugural regional roller derby tournaments, which were in fact the first USARS-rules games officially played. Sixteen teams and hundreds of players braved the unknown to take the track and participate a style of game that turned out to be the extreme opposite of “slow derby,” the style most prevalent in the WFTDA. If you think roller derby should be played at a fast pace, then the USARS game delivered that during its maiden matches.

Unfortunately, a lot of teams might have thought it was too fast derby. The punishing style of play required massive endurance and constant physicality, causing many serious problems among players. The newness of the USARS roller derby rule set also caught out teams and even officials, leading to many confusing and frustrating sequences. The wide skill gap between competing teams also crated some very ugly games to watch, particularly when teams were forced to play in multiple bouts in the same day.

If I had to rate to the overall first effort of USARS roller derby, having watched three of the regionals via DNN and attended the fourth in person, I’d have to give it a straight “D” grade. In the end, the events did not feel well-organized from the USARS perspective, which one might expect to be the case when they were essentially scrambling to put together everything within a matter of weeks.

However, despite the rough start, there are a lot of positives that can be taken from what was essentially a large-scale test run at a new way to play roller derby. Assuming USARS can move quickly to work out their rule and organizational issues, they might actually be able to pull together a legitimately viable alternative to skaters that are wanting to put the “roll” back in roller derby. But if the first USARS roller derby regional tournaments are any indication, the issues USARS has to worry about are daunting ones.

With that, here are my thoughts and observations on the derby that took place in USARS-land over the last few weeks. These impressions will focus on the Southwest regional (which I traveled to Stockton, Calif. to see personally) though they will also touch on the other regionals as appropriate. There will also be a quick preview of the USARS national championship, set for December 14-16, and a couple of thoughts on some of the gameplay issues that cropped up.

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MRDA Championships 2012 Diary: Not Your Mother’s Roller Derby

Earlier this month, the Men’s Roller Derby Association held its second championship tournament in St. Louis. The event featured the top eight men’s derby teams in the country.

If you were fortunate enough to see it happen live on DNN, you witnessed something special indeed. There was speed. There was power. There was drama. Crowds (and announcers) were going ballistic. When it was all said and done, “Gateway to the Best” lived up to its name, and Your Mom Men’s Derby took home the 2012 title.

There is much to say about MRDA Championships 2012 and the state of men’s roller derby, so let me jump right into it.

Supercharged Competition

The argument could have been made that all the teams coming in with a top 5 seed—Your Mom, St. Louis, New York, Magic City, and Puget Sound—had at least an outside shot of winning the title, which is saying something considering a men’s roller derby championship has only been around for three years.

This showed in the contests between these teams during the 2012 tournament. Except for games featuring Dallas, which has had to deal with a weakened roster, the largest margin of victory between the top teams was about 100 points. Most were much closer than that. But even in the games the outcomes were in never doubt, their fiercely competitive nature made almost all of them must-see-TV.

“Fierce” is indeed the best word to describe the action. If you like hits, there were fierce hits. If you like fast jammers, there were some fiercely fast jammers. If you like scrum starts, there were fierce scrum starts too, though they tended to break up rather quickly due to the fierce jamming  at the front of the pack—which must be said, was greatly aided by front walls quickly stringing out to maintain pack proximity.

Some teams were much better at working together than others. I must say, the teamplay of St. Louis—when it happened—was marvelous. Magic City’s teamwork is also getting much better, although they need to stay out of the penalty box to best use the pick plays and screens they love to set up. Your Mom, the new champs, have come together very quickly with a deadly combination of (mostly) clean skating and and immensely talented pool of jammers to call on.

When it comes together, men’s derby played at its highest level feels like a supercharged version of the roller derby we’re accustomed to seeing in the WFTDA. Encouragingly, it appears as if it will only get better. If you consider the amount of progress teams have been making between the major MRDA events (Spring Roll and Champs) over the last few years, it’s almost scary to imagine the amount of potential the men’s game has.

However, for that potential to be realized, a few loose ends need to be tied up.

The Laces Were Out

Many, many memorable things happened throughout the weekend. However, the ones that I remember the most vividly happened in jams where skate laces were working themselves loose from the boots of player. Just a few jams, mind you. But I bring up this seemingly minor occurrence not because I’m a wacko obsessed with laces, but because the common thread between what happened in these jams framed things for me in a way I hadn’t seen before.

The first lace failure was simultaneously hilarious and incredible to witness.

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WFTDA Westerns 2012 Diary: Simply the Besterns*

I’ve made this admission on Twitter before, but let me make it here, too: In the almost six years I’ve followed modern roller derby, I hadn’t attended a full-on WFTDA-sanctioned event until this year. (Not for lack of trying, it’s just L.A. is all about the banked track.) Aside from Rollercon, Bay of Reckoning, the 2012 WFTDA west region playoffs, was truly the first big-girl flat track derby showcase I had a chance to attend.

Let me tell you: I’m glad I went, and I would go again in a heartbeat.

Though I knew there was going to be an awful lot of non-derby to be had, the fact that so many derby folk were going to be there guaranteed that I would have a good time no matter what was happening on the track. Plus, with such a high concentration of skating talent and team experience out there to see happen in so many games in three days, there was bound to be a lot of good stuff worth watching.

Thankfully, there were at least three great games every day, and not just from the vaunted top six in the west; even the bottom four put on a fantastic show. The venue was rocking, the skaters were (for the most part) skating, and when everything came together during the close games, it was bloody fantastic.

However, that doesn’t mean that everything that happened in Richmond was worth celebrating. In addition to the action and excitement, there was a lot of bad derby and vibes where there maybe shouldn’t have been. I saw a lot of things happen on the bay that I didn’t like, and I’m not one to keep that insight to myself.

As I share my thoughts about both the good and the bad I saw at Bay of Reckoning, I’ll relive some of the moments via the live tweets I put out on the WRDN Twitter. I’ll tell you right now that my overall experience at the event was wonderful…but strictly going by the derby played on the track, there’s still work to do for the WFTDA.

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