“It’s the biggest three days of the roller derby year and I am excited to hear what you think is going to happen or will happen or could happen and I am sure our readers will be as well.” -Tank
The most important event of the year is less than a week away, and just about everyone we know is starting to get giddy about the prospect of twelve incredible games. We assigned our writers to talk about three things they were looking forward to at Continental Divide and Conquer…then pony up and make a prediction about who enters the semifinals.
Never say ‘no’ to a challenge.
Caesar (RDIT editor):
- Naptown vs. Philly. I knew Naptown was really good heading into the NC playoff, and I knew they would continue their trend of turning heads. I just did not realize how complete a package they have become (vast improvements on offense, defense, general smarts, coaching, game management, and confidence). Pair that with more questions than ever out of the City of Sisterly Shove regarding the Liberty Belles’ depth and their ability to make in-game adjustments, and you have all the makings of an upset.
- Minnesota going deep. MNRG could easily have won the NC tournament, had they not been drawn into Windy City’s mental trap in the second half of their match up and had they not lost key player Second Hand Smoke to suspension. If they can improve on their confidence, swagger, and play their own game, they’ll go farther than the rest of the NC.
- Kansas City vs. Rose City. This should be one of the two best games of the tournament (see below). Although I pick KCRW to advance, I won’t be surprised if I am wrong. I expect this to be decided by fewer than 20 points. Clock management by the coaches could be the difference maker in this one.
Who goes forward:
We won’t see the first-ever back-to-back champion, as Rocky Mountain lacks the firepower and depth this year that fueled their dominance in 2010. But we will see our first repeat champion. Either Gotham or Oly will take home the Hydra. They’ll do this after eliminating Minnesota in Gotham’s case; Kansas City in Oly’s. Minnesota vs. Kansas City for 3rd place will be one of the most epic games in the history of the sport.
The outcome of Gotham vs. Oly will come down to a number of intangibles: health, penalties, who wants it more, who is more focused, etc. I could see it going either way, and I could see it being a very close game, or not. I give Gotham a slight nod, although I think they are the more inconsistent of the two. If they are not 100% focused and in the right mind set, Oly’s impressive ability to stay calm under pressure combined with their superior skate skills and athleticism could result in victory.
Tank (RDIT editor):
- Minnesota vs. Charm City vs. Texas: Paper, Rock, Scissors 2011. The first game in the bracket gives us Minnesota vs. Charm City, two of the toughest teams in the sport today bar none. Minnesota’s teamwork is astounding. They work with a hive mindset in their pack, constantly moving as a unit. Charm City has grown as a team over the years in terms of strategy, but underneath all that big brain thinking, they are still what they have always been: One of the hardest hitting teams in WFTDA history. Whoever wins moves on to play Texas. The expectations for TXRG are always high, as a trip to the WFTDA Championships is basically a sure thing for them every year. After coming in second in 2009, Texas took a couple of steps back in 2010, but they have reloaded for 2011 with a plethora of talent. I could watch these three teams play a mini round robin tournament any time of the year, but adding in the one and done aspects of the WFTDA Championships is going to make this part of the bracket something very special.
- Oly vs. Gotham: Undefeated vs. Undefeated for the Hydra? In 2009 an undefeated Oly won the Hydra; the last game they lost was by one point, in 2010 in the WFTDA Championships final game to Rocky Mountain. In 2011, they are 13-0. Gotham won their first Hydra in 2008. The last time they lost was to eventual champions Rocky Mountain at the WFTDA Championships last year. Since that game they are 12-0 (10-0 in 2011). The storylines write themselves for this one: Small town vs. the big city, West Coast vs. East Coast, and the what-if matchups that happen when some of the best roller derby players on the planet are compared against each other on paper. These two teams have met once before, back in 2009, when Oly denied Gotham a chance at back-to-back Hydras en route to winning their first one. I know people love seeing an underdog get a chance to grab the brass ring, but this possible matchup has been building for a number of months now, and I want to see these two juggernauts go at in 60 minute battle to find out who is the Queen of the Mountain in 2011.
- Is Naptown the Next Rocky Mountain? Stick with me for a minute. In 2009 an upstart Rocky Mountain came to Philadelphia and took on the WFTDA Championships host league, Philly Roller Girls. During the course of my favorite game I have ever called, I watched an underdog (at the time) Rocky Mountain go jam for jam with Philly, a game that went into overtime, and saw the Fight Club win in a thrilling upset. In 2011, Philly takes on another black, red, and white clad-team, but this team comes from the Circle City. Naptown is like a Swiss army knife: They have a lot of things to choose from. Fast game? Yep. Slow game? Sure. The Scrum? You best believe. Smash and Bash? If they need to. Add in the fact that Philly tends to play up to or down to the level of their opponent and we could have ourselves quite the game. Is this a lock? Not at all. Philly looked tough as nails at Easterns this year, handling both the biggest surprise of the tournament season, London, and fellow East Coast powerhouse Charm City. No matter what, this is going to be one of the biggest games of the weekend to watch and could prove to be very pivotal for 2012.
Who goes forward:
- Rose City
deadeye knight (RDIT Admin):
- Rinxter stats from new high level matchups. There is a lot of potential to see some new pairings and it will be interesting to pour through the stats. I’m sure they are working on getting that into the live feed, but I can’t speak for the production/stats crew.
- On-demand archives after the last whistle blows. So we can pore over every detail, sweaty pore and jammer call off. This would be a first for WFTDA derby at this level. Lots to learn from all angles striped, pink and panty wearing.
- Officiating. I know the officiating is taking things to a new level this year. I’m happy to root from home for Autobots, X-Men and the Justice League (NSO crews). Now if Blaze could pull back from the jammers a bit more to capture all that extra action better…
Who goes forward:
Garrison Killer (North Central writer and long-time reporter for the MNRG):
The newcomers. Rose City and Naptown got their tickets punched for Championals this year. Rose has been on the verge of the playoffs for as long as I can remember, and their strategies and fast rhythm finally broke them out of the pack. Their counter against Rat’s no-play strategy was fantastic and reminded me of Oly’s victory over Denver at 2009’s Championals. Rose plays Kansas City on Day 1 and – should they advance – Windy City in the quarters. That’s not an easy path, but Rose has shown itself able this year to rise to the occasion.
As to Indianapolis. Naptown came up with a jammer-line start variant (ie: “the Naptown Fence”) in 2010 and honed it well enough with it to nearly upset the MNRG on Saint Paul’s home track in April. They adapted their play throughout the summer, executed on the Fence and a wide array of tactics, defeating Detroit and almost taking out Chicago. This team gets its first-ever taste of serious inter-region play against the Liberty Belles at the WFTDA Championships on Day 1. I have to wish the Northern underdogs well. MNRG came within a jam of defeating Philly in August. After watching their defeat of Detroit’s physical field, I feel as if Naptown might pull off the upset against the Belles.
- The Scrum. I love the new Eastern opening – call it The Scrum, call it Derby v3.0 – I think it’s incredibly fun and powerful to watch. This tough, forward-moving, physical version of roller chess is far more exciting to me than the no-movement game of the past couple of years. If Gotham were to succeed with this method (and they are the current queens of the strategy, though Philly, MNRG, and others are adherents), my only issue would be whether the folks at Blaze Media can get their cameras in tight enough to follow the movements of the pack. It doesn’t film well from the side, but from my point of view at NCs (watching from just above the back apex), the shifting, tight game was incredibly fun to watch.
- Our people. Last year’s trip to Chi-town gave me an opportunity to meet leagues from across the nation. I walked into a pizza shop for a quick bit before Day 3 and met a whole damn league texting, slinging a little gossip, and totally ZOMG for Bonnie Thunders. Felt like home. I remember walking through a Chicago El station that final day and noticing that every tough-looking woman – the kind that you wonder whether or not she plays plays or refs – was in fact wearing some kind of derby swag. There is nothing like spending a weekend amidst people who get it. We are all fans, and going to Championals gives us the opportunity to watch the best sport in the world with an incredible audience.
Who goes forward:
- Oly. Oly is the standard that you must train harder than and be smarter than to win the Hydra. They’ll make the semis…and have a very strong shot at going the distance.
- Gotham Girls. you did see Gotham play this year, right?
- Rose City. I don’t invest in the ‘Besterns’ nonsense, but there are few teams I enjoy watching more than Portland. In the final equation, I think they can outplay both KC and Windy.
- Minnesota. Charm outplayed the MNRG last year at the 2010 Championships, but both teams scrimmaged each other to a near-draw earlier this year. Texas is ascendant, but Charm came within six of them in May. Triangulation at this level is rather difficult; I feel the Charm City/Texas/Minnesota bracket is the one that we can least predict. Three excellent teams, and only one will go forward. In such cases…if there’s one thing you should bet on, it’s the will of the team you know. I believe in the Great Wall of Saint Paul.
Vince Hannity (South Central writer and beloved SC AFTDA rep):
Simply Unpredictable – At “Uproar on the Lakeshore” last year, with the exception of maybe Texas vs. Bay Area Derby, most of the opening round bouts seemed to be foregone conclusions. Precious few outside of their respective hometowns saw Minnesota (with maybe a few exceptions – DOH!), Madison, or Nashville making it past the opening round. Those three teams each lost by no less than 131 points. In 2011, “Continental Divide and Conquer” has four opening round bouts for which it’s much harder to predict the winner. For example, during last year’s opening round, Charm City handily defeated Minnesota, 249-118. While last year’s MNRG team seemed to hit the wall in losing to Windy City in the North Central Regional Championship bout, this year’s MNRG team looks even better than last year, and might just give Charm a run for its money, just how they gave Windy City a run for their money in two bouts this year.
A banged-up Philly Roller Girls team proved me wrong and finished second in the East Region this year, the third consecutive year that they’ve finished no lower than second. They face a Naptown team that went 10-and-2 in the regular season before defeating Detroit to take the third seed from the North Central Region. Windy City remains their lone defeat so far in the postseason, and that loss was by a mere 11 points. Philly’s got the obvious experience edge, but one or two breaks for Naptown might just lead to an upset.
Reigning and defending WFTDA Champions Rocky Mountain face an improved Nashville Roller Girls team, who looked absolutely dominant in the second half over Atlanta to once again claim the third seed from the South Central Region. Both Nashville and the Kansas City Roller Warriors (still reeling from the loss to Texas in the South Central Championship bout) will fight to become the first South Central team other than Texas to win a bout at Championships, as the Roller Warriors face Rose City’s Wheels of Justice. The best bouts are the ones with evenly-matched teams with an equal chance of winning, and with any luck, “Continental Divide and Conquer” will offer just that.
The Second Verse May Not Be The Same As The First – Through the quarterfinal round of “Continental Divide and Conquer,” we have the possibility to see no less than three matchups from last year’s championship tournament: Charm City vs. Minnesota, Oly vs. Philly, and Rocky Mountain vs. Gotham. However, in at least two of these bouts, we could end up watching this year play out much differently from last year. Oly vs. Philly in last year’s semifinals was a fairly-competitive bout, and in that aspect, I hope this year’s bout remains the same. You’ve already read my thoughts on Charm City vs. MNRG.
Perhaps the most intriguing rematch (assuming they defeat Nashville, of course) is reigning and defending WFTDA Champions Rocky Mountain vs. Gotham Girls Roller Derby in the quarterfinals. The derby world was poised last year to see a Gotham-Oly championship bout, but Rocky Mountain killed that dream, completely stymieing Gotham in the semifinals. Moreso than any other Gotham bout I’ve seen since 2008, the Mile High Fight Club bewildered Gotham, making both Suzy Hotrod and Bonnie Thunders unable to negotiate the pack. This year, a less-focused-but-still-dangerous Rocky Mountain faces a more-focused, much-angrier Red Army from New York City. Can Rocky Mountain get it together and become the first team in four seasons to beat Gotham twice? Or will Gotham continue its march towards a possible rematch with Oly and its second WFTDA Championship?
- Can The South Central And North Central Finally Compete With The East And The West? – Since WFTDA went to four regions in 2009, the collective won-loss record for teams from the South Central and North Central regions at the Championship tournament is 3-and-12. The Texecutioners are responsible for all three of those wins. The last time any team from either the South Central or North Central Region made it past the quarterfinals was 2009’s “Declaration of Derby,” during which the Texecutioners fell to the Oly Rollers in the championship bout. This year’s teams from Windy City, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas City, Naptown, and Nashville arguably comprise the best-ever collection of talent from both regions at the Championship tournament. With that said, however, there can be no more excuses this year. If the North Central and South Central regions ever want to be viewed as competitive with the East and West regions, this is the year to start winning those bouts.
Who’s Going Forward?
- Oly Rollers
- Gotham Girls Roller Derby
- Rose City Rollers
- Minnesota Roller Girls
I think it’s safe to say that we were all a little surprised by the commonalities between our points of view. We look forward to reading your opinions as well.