The seeding for the 2016 WFTDA Playoffs was announced July 15, and among the 60 teams that will be attending, five teams will be heading to playoffs for the first time. Attesting to the growth of the sport, and improved balancing of rankings among teams outside the United States, four of the first timers will be crossing borders to attend. As we head towards the start of the games with Division 2 at the end of August, we will highlight each of these freshman leagues and familiarize you with their history and how they have come so far.
First up is the team who had the most dramatic rise in the rankings recently, and will be playing at tournaments for the first time in Division 1: Rainy City Roller Derby. Hailing from Manchester, England, Rainy City recently underwent a branding makeover. They have been putting in the hard work for years, and this season it will finally pay off with a spot on the highest WFTDA platform.
Established in 2008, Rainy City seemingly snuck onto the scene with due diligence on and off the track, and have put in the time to accomplish many hefty goals. The first major project they took on was in 2011 when they solved the money vs. venue problem that most teams run into, and converted an old pool hall in Oldham into their new home called the Thunderdome. After a long refurbishing process, they now have their own building, sport court, and even the Rainy Cafe where they sell refreshments, cakes, and alcohol. (Check out how that process went, and how your league can do it, too.)
Next, they took on the transformation from “Roller Girls” to “Roller Derby” by updating their name, logo, uniforms, and overall aesthetics with a reveal in February of this year. Often, leagues who rebrand go through an intensive overhaul while updating their identity, but Rainy City’s PR Director, Harlot Jo Ransom, says their new look was an effort to catch up with the success they had already been having on the track. “When we were re-branding, we made it clear to league members that our overall ethos wasn’t changing or being watered down – we were still the same Rainy City, just new and improved.” (Again, they wrote about this process on their website with some helpful tips.)
Lastly, they achieved their competitive goals by earning their first Playoff invite through a process that has been a few seasons in the making and by working towards a shared team vision. Having only been a WFTDA member since the end of 2013, it took 23 sanctioned games and two trips to the United States to not only qualify for the WFTDA post season, but to do so in the top 40. “During our time at Beach Brawl it soon became apparent that getting into Division 1 was achievable, and we became driven to ensure that we made it a reality.”
Towards the end of their first year of sanctioned play, Rainy City attended the WFTDA European Tournament where they won games against Oslo and Copenhagen, two teams in the low 100’s at the time. At #132 themselves, Rainy City also played an unsanctioned Strength Factor Challenge game against Bear City who was #45 at the time. The Berlin team was just coming off their initial trip to WFTDA Tournaments where they placed 2nd at D2 Playoffs and then 3rd overall at Championships in Nashville in 2014. Rainy City only lost to Bear City by 22 points and had it been sanctioned, Rainy City could have earned a bigger boost than just the +12 to #120 they got in the November 2014 rankings. Although it did increase their Strength Factor, they were also heading into the off season and weren’t able to make use of it in the three month allotment.
“We were finding it increasingly difficult within Europe to secure sanctioned games that would be beneficial in any way to our rankings,” says Harlot. So in 2015 they organized a trip to the U.S. East coast in an effort to get their ranking up to speed with their game. “Understandably, European teams that have had to travel and work hard to increase their rankings and have to be cautious with the games they sanction, so as not to jeopardize this.” She mentioned how that trip was not only expensive, but difficult to organize since they were ranked #119 at the time.
In about a week’s time, they played four sanctioned games after taking on the Wall Street Traitors, Gotham’s B team, in an “unforgettable” game despite losing 217-164. Their sanctioned ones went 4-1 with wins over Lehigh Valley (292-74), Black Rose Rollers (334-100), and Dutchland (281-59). Their final game was against Green Mountain, who was ranked #74 at the time, and Rainy City lost by only 19 points. That trip boosted them 16 spots to #103 and was the end of their sanctioned play that season.
Starting this year ranked #93 in January, they had one sanctioned win in March against Tiger Bay, and then returned to the United States to play at Beach Brawl in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Their first game was against Newcastle, ranked #104 at the time, but was benefiting from a boosted strength factor from their own SFC game against Glasgow a few months prior. This seemed to be one of the pieces to the puzzle for many people who worked out the rankings maths and were amazed to see Rainy City jump 87 spots to #29 in the May 31st rankings release.
While their trip to the states was a calculated move to help them rise, a struggle to get sanctioned games back home resulted in only five games getting them to D1 Playoffs in Columbia, South Carolina this September. “As a lot of European teams know, if you want the opportunity to show how strong your team is, you have to play the maths game but that can only get you so far. It’s the hard work and the dedication of the skaters and the Bench Crew who got us where we are today.” They did get one more sanctioned game in Europe playing Kallio Rolling Rainbow, another newcomer to Playoffs this season, and Harlot said their 133-91 win was a positive experience that will help them for the road ahead.
Part of their journey over the last few seasons was making use of the strengths they
already had within their league to take their All Star team from just a recreational pursuit to an endeavor with a more competitive edge. In that time, Harlot says they introduced a Coaching Body made up of their own skaters to pull from the talent and knowledge within their ranks, but they also had help from an experienced
globetrotter. “We’ve been really lucky over the last two seasons to have Mick [Swagger] join the Coaching and Bench Staff on an ad-hoc basis. We have definitely benefited from her experience and knowledge which has been invaluable in the structure of our on-going training.”
Also helping them towards their goal of WFTDA Playoffs have been an array of fundraisers. They have been holding some open scrimmages, like an upcoming one themed USA vs Europe, and bootcamps at the Thunderdome. A GoFundMe page also started upon their Playoff announcement, which you can donate to here.