COLUMBIA, SC – Rainy City Roller Derby made their Division 1 debut as the #7 seed against stalwart #10 seed Steel City with a bang, proving that their meteoric rise from #117 in April to their current #26 place in the WFTDA is no accident.
The squad from Manchester, UK played strongly and consistently throughout the game, with smart offensive work as well as major clock management discipline, courtesy of coach Mick Swagger, keeping Steel Hurtin’ at bay the entire game, finishing with a solid 175-93 win.
Both teams employed dynamic, rotating walls, with a special focus on a braced three wall defense, with one skater playing offense right off the line. Rainy City had the most success with that strategy, with cohesive play by blockers working edge to edge, and able to transition almost seamlessly between defense and offense, plugging holes, and bridging when needed.
Steel City had trouble getting into the first portion of the game, despite an initial lead win by Leanne Groll, who would go on to be their most effective jammer in the game. After that, Rainy City jammers found consistent success off the line, with smart pack work opening up lanes and speeding up and spreading out Steel’s defensive lines.
The Manchester crew – with stellar blocking and offense by Bruise ’em Banshee, Liz Yeatman, and Fay Roberts especially – kept Steel City scoreless for the first ten minutes of the game, opening up an early lead that they never gave up. When Pittsburgh finally broke the streak, putting 3 points up, it was due to a late call-off by Rainy City’s jammer – a rare instance in a game otherwise dominated by expert clock management on the part of the team in purple.
Steel City continued to struggle to put up points in the first half, even with the return of longtime jammer / pivot Hurricane Heather to wearing the star. Fisher was an offensive mainstay player for Rainy, frequently infiltrating Steel’s packs to create enough disarray for jammers to take advantage.
Rainy City jammer Alex Valentine enjoyed 100% lead status in their time on the track during the first half, using agile footwork on the lines and burst speed power to blow apart Steel City’s packs. Each team only suffered one jammer penalty a piece in the first half – both in the same jam – as Wilde picked up a forearm but was followed into the box in short order by Baranauskas, on a track cut. A 15 point jam by Alex Valentine helped further open Rainy City’s lead heading into the half, as Steel was unable to stop the bloodshed or fend off the Manc’s effective manipulation of pack speed.
At the half, Rainy City was up 87-37.
Steel came out of the break with a burst of energy and what appeared to be a new, if risky strategy: Coach Dad clearly instructing the team to run out jams where Rainy took the lead, preventing further point scoring but also running down the clock. The tactic worked in their favor for the first few jams as they pulled a track cut on Alex Valentine and Hurricane Heather got a shot at a power jam, expertly leaping over the straightaway for 5 points.
It didn’t take long for Rainy City to adapt and use Steel’s own strategy against them, however, as they too began racing out jams where the opposing team had lead. Time and the score was in the Manchester teams’ favor, though, even as blocker penalties began to become a problem mid-second half.
Even so, the skaters Rainy kept on the track showed impressive discipline and conditioning, still able to hold Steel’s jammers for long stretches. Steel City was slow to send offense, even on power jams, opting for initial passive work to see what jammers could do but often allowing precious seconds to tick away before deciding to throw in to help spring them free.
Bonecrusher and S’FYA, blocking for Steel, were consistent menaces for Rainy’s jammers, however, pulling big hits and frequently representing the last line of defense stopping jammers from breaking through even when they thought they were clear.
Quick, heads up offense off the line sprung Baranauskas for a 14 point jam, followed by a power start and 7 unanswered points for Leanne Groll that began to eat away at Rainy’s lead. It represented the closest Steel came to catching up, with just a 22 point gap separating the teams at 95-73. Given Steel’s history of second half comebacks, as well as patience for exploiting the opposing team’s weaknesses, it began to look like the game was very much still up in the air.
Rainy once again adjusted to these game tactics, however, tightening up game play and pulling several penalties on Steel’s jammers while taking advantage during their power jams – including the highest scoring jam of the game with a 19 pointer by jammer Wilde.
Next, GoGO Chanel bashed into Steel’s blockers for lead but overcooked her scoring pass to garner a back block penalty, giving Baranauskas and Steel Hurtin’ a power jam opportunity, but once again Rainy’s offense proved frustrating as clock time continued to bleed away.
Coach Dad began taking a series of time outs for Steel, trying to refocus the team as the game wound down. Even after Wilde picked up two penalties in a row, finishing the game in the box for an illegal reentry that she’ll likely never repeat again in her career, Rainy’s sizable lead and deft jam time management just proved too large an obstacle to surmount.
All told, Wilde was the point leader for both Rainy and the game, at 70 total. GoGO Chanel came in at 35, Alex Valentine at 34, Smack mamba at 23, and Faye-tal Blonde picked up 13. For Steel Hurtin’, Leanne Groll came out on top (and second overall in the game) with 41, followed by Baranauskas at 29, Hurricane Heather with 15, and both Ada Bloodlace (as pivot) and Snarkolepsy with 4 points apiece.
Rainy City’s 175-93 win means they go on to play tournament #2 seed Jacksonville today, at 4 p.m. EDT (9 p.m. UK time). Steel heads to the consolation bracket and will play the loser of game 5 (Atlanta vs. Crime City) Saturday at noon EDT.