“Work until your idols become your rivals.”
This adage, adopted by the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes Brawlstars in 2016, could not be a more accurate way to describe their road to success. The road that led them to steadily climb the WFTDA rankings in 2014 and 2015, quietly making a name for themselves among the greats. The road that led them to nearly make Division 2 playoffs in 2015, missing the mark by only two spots. And the road that ultimately led them to earn their spot in their first-ever WFTDA tournament – the 2016 Division 1 playoffs in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Work until your idols become your rivals.”
And work they did.
Officially founded in May of 2010, the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes worked hard from their start, beginning with the hope of bringing banked-track roller derby to Michigan. They spent a portion of their inaugural year working to raise money to build a local banked track, but fell madly in love with the flat track in the process and their goals soon shifted. A2D2’s early challenges were not unlike most new (and not-so-new) derby leagues – they struggled to find a practice space, a place to hold games, getting people involved, keeping people involved, and, well, generally figuring out how to roller derby.
The league originally consisted of two home teams and a travel team, the Brawlstars. In 2013, they not only obtained full-WFTDA status, they also transitioned into their current A/B/C team format. 2013 also seemed to be the year that Ann Arbor really found their footing, winning 16 of the 19 games they played that year. By the end of 2013, it was clear that the hard work that had been put into building the league’s strong foundation was beginning to pay off.
“This league was built on passion,” said Slamlet, Co-Captain of the Brawlstars. “Even though it took some time for the league to find its footing, I feel it has always been moving forward relentlessly. Some of our skaters have been there since the very beginning, and we have evolved into a solid group with clear intentions and goals.”
The Road to Playoffs
When asked if it was always one of the Brawlstars’ goals to make it to a Division 1 playoff, I was met with laughter and wide eyes. Of course the team had dreams of playing with the best of the best, who doesn’t. But their progression to climbing the WFTDA ladder was taken one step at a time, one game at a time until their D1 dream started taking the shape of possibility, and then reality.
2014 was a season of immense growth in this way. The Brawlstars worked. Hard. They cross-trained on top of their normal 3-4 practices a week. They took on tougher opponents, and beat the predicted spread time and again. They began that season with their debut in the WFTDA rankings at #107 in April, and with a record of 7 wins and 6 losses in 2014, they finished their first full WFTDA year at #86.
But the 2014-2015 season was when Ann Arbor really began turning heads in the flat track community. They went to the 2015 Big O where they won games over Northwest Arkansas and the DC Rollergirls, and took a loss to Sacred City, but still beat the predicted spread. By the end of May, Ann Arbor had jumped in the rankings to #63 in the WFTDA. Later that summer, the Brawlstars went to Midwest Brewhaha for the second time (the first in 2013), this time coming home with three big wins over Grand Raggidy, North Star and NEO, also beating the predicted spread in each game. It seemed Ann Arbor was on track to squeak into Divison 2 playoffs, but at the end of June, they were ranked #64. When all tournament calculations were finalized, this left them two spots short of a Divison 2 playoff invitation.
However, the Brawlstars had no intention of slowing down this momentum regardless of a disappointing end to their 2014-2015 season. In many ways, they were only beginning.
“At the beginning of our 2016 season, we just…wanted to do our best and see where it would take us. Our focus was to make D2 playoffs since we had missed making it by two spots [last year],” said Brawlstar Michelle O’Bombya. “It wasn’t until halfway through our season when we were moving very quickly through the rankings that we all had a moment where we looked at each other and whispered ‘Oh my god, what have we done?’”
What they had done was, well, work. In 2016, the Brawlstars had their most challenging season to date, but also their most successful by far. They took on Ohio in March of this year, taking home their only loss of the season. From there, Ann Arbor went on to beat Calgary, Wasatch and St. Chux at Skate to Thrill 2016. It was clear after this tournament that the Brawlstars were on fire and were easily headed for a Division 2 spot as they rose quickly through rankings. By the end of May, the possibility of making a Division 1 tournament became more and more real. And after taking seven more wins by the end of June, Ann Arbor ended their season ranked #34, putting them safely in Division 1 territory. Their dream of rising to the top had become a reality.
“We are extremely proud and find this to be a reflection of the hard work we have been putting in, not only over the past season, but for many of us, over the last several years,” said Lezzie Arnaz, Brawlstar Co-Captain. “We are a young league and an even younger team. We couldn’t be more proud, and are going to give our everything when we get to Columbia.”
In just a few days, the Brawlstars will take the line with the best of the best. They first take on the host league, the Columbia Quad Squad at 12pm EDT. They are headed into the tournament with a #9 seed, and if they clinch their first win, they will play the Rose City Rollers, truly coming full circle in their mission to make their idols their rivals. While Brawlstar skaters and fans anxiously await the outcome of this momentous weekend, it is safe to say that the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes have earned their spot in this tournament, and that, in and of itself, is an enormous victory, summed up best by Slamlet.
“Work until your idols become your rivals. That’s where we are. No matter the outcomes of our games at playoffs, we are guaranteed to learn a ton, which will inspire and fuel us in the off-season, putting us in a great place to continue our training and come back even stronger in 2017. We will work hard, do our best, and soak up every little bit of top-40 derby awesomeness we can. Because now that we’re here, we plan on staying.”
Stay tuned for more about Ann Arbor and their bracket in our Columbia preview and get to know Rainy City better, who is also debuting this weekend, with our article detailing their history. Make sure you like Derby Central on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more updates on the tournament this weekend.