2017 WFTDA Championships Preview: Play-in Games

2017 WFTDA Championships Preview: Play-in Games 2016 Champs: Lonon vs Arch. Photo credit: Quick'N'Derby

Hosted by Philly Roller Derby, the 2017 WFTDA Division 1 Championships are upon us with 12 teams converging in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to decide who is the best of the best. Gotham has had their legendary run with the Hydra, and now Rose City has kept it for two years in a row. Many think the trophy will end up down under while others hope to see it go a mile high. Ultimately, with the way the bracket fell into place this season, we will at least get a different matchup for the final game.

There will be no Division 2 element to Champs this season since their Playoffs and Championships all played out in one weekend in Pittsburgh months ago. That leaves room for every team to at least play two games this weekend and keep the focus on one bracket. After everyone gets an extra hour of sleep Saturday night due to Daylight Saving Time, the Championship game will air on ESPN3*** Sunday at 6 PM EST. The rest of the games can be watched on WFTDA.tv, or check out WFTDA’s partnership with Twitch and their Roller Derby Watch Party. (***WFTDA previously announced that the final game would air on ESPN2, read here about the changes.)

We have analyzed each team for the first four games, the Play-in games which determine who moves on to face the four teams who earned a bye into this tournament. The team is listed with the placement they left their respective Playoff in along with their WFTDA ranking as of September 30th.

Game 1: 10 AM EDT/3 PM CET/1 AM (SAT) AEDT
#3 Montréal Roller Derby (#9) vs #4 Crime City Rollers (#12)

The first game of the weekend has the potential of being a very close game with three ranking spots separating the Montréal New Skids on the Block and Crime City. Montréal made their Championship debut last season, and this year will be Crime City’s first time after taking 4th place at the Playoff tournament they hosted in September. Both teams play a similar game with strong, braced tripods, a fourth utility blocker, and a jammer rotation that goes at least four skaters deep. The details are going to be what will make or break this game for either team, whether it’s penalties, adaption as the game goes on, or getting their jammer out first.

Montréal vs Bay Area. Photo credit: Hellslinger.

Montréal vs Bay Area. Photo credit: Hellslinger.

Montréal had great upheaval in their charter three years ago, and while they had many strong skaters fill their spots, it’s been their hard work and consistency since then that has helped them continually rise the past few seasons. They have finally moved into the top 10 WFTDA teams and their 3-1 performance at Playoffs helped show why they’ve earned that spot. Despite a messy game against Bay Area, they sealed victory against BAD 203-154 after only taking them down at Playoffs in 2016 by 12 points.

Returning to the jammer star this year is Mel-E-Juana, after taking a break from charter play, and Mel was their top scorer during the regular season with an average of 66 points per their seven games. However, each of the New Skids jammers took a turn as the lead scorer during their Playoff games, and Falcon Punch left that weekend as tournament MVP after scoring a total of 335 points, that’s 83.75 points per game. One of her weekend highlights was a 46-point jam when Rat City failed to field three blockers.

Heading up their tripod defense is often Surgical Strike, leading fellow blockers such as Biggley Smallz and Lau-Rider back and forth laterally to catch and runback jammers. They tend to open up their triangle and make contact with the sides of their body, which when executed correctly can hold the jammer solidly and set them up for a swift knockout. When the Skids aren’t in full control, they may not always cover all the way to the line or it allows for jammers to plow them over. Mange Moi El Cul and Ptite Pouliche were usually the ones hopping back and forth between defense and offense, taking the key bridge position or setup at the front as a safety for sly jammers.

Montréal typically averages about 25 blocker penalties and 7 jammer penalties per game, but they went above and beyond that against Bay Area, when the Skids picked up 15 of 29 combined jammer penalties and 41 of 87 total game penalties. That matchup was full of long, exhausting jams and while at one point Montréal was nearly up by 100 points, a string of late lead statuses for Bay Area cut it down to a 49-point win. Otherwise, Playoffs showed that Montréal typically performed better in the second half, raising their lead percentage and lowering their penalties later in the game.

Crime City vs Gotham. Photo credit: Marko Niemelä Photography.

Crime City vs Gotham. Photo credit: Marko Niemelä Photography.

As the home team at Playoffs, Crime City’s every victory, large or small, was celebrated loudly throughout the arena. All three of their games were exciting and hard-fought, starting first with a game against their best frenemy, Helsinki. The last time the two played, Crime City won by only 18 points, but this time they took the Fins down 215-170 despite picking up more penalties than them. That put them in a game against Gotham next, and while they were outmatched, Crime City held their own with defense, even holding Mis Tea Maven on her initial pass for the entire jam after she sat for a penalty. Their last game was a battle for 3rd place, and while London maintained their top spot in Europe, Crime City showed that they aren’t far behind, losing 181-138.

Crime City’s main three jammers throughout the regular season were Hanna P, Prince Sofia, and King K who had the highest average of points at 68 per game. While Curly Håår did jam in some of their games before Playoffs, she had the lowest average of 40 points per game. However, she became their clutch jammer in Malmö, earning 50% lead jammer status against Gotham and scoring 34 of their 65 points in that game. For two of their games, Crime City extended their rotation to five, adding Ragna “PonyCat” Rockette to the lineup, who transferred in from Copenhagen this year. Like Montréal, they also had certain jammers do better or worse against certain opponents.

Crime City had 15 returning skater this season, with a majority of the additions being transfer skaters. Strong defense meant that overall Crime City plays long, controlled jams and averaged about 38 jams per game at Playoffs when a game typically reaches about 45. They seem to have a main core of four blockers with Below Me and Tjutet playing a majority of their games, and Dykestalker who was on the track 70% of their match against Helsinki. They employ the tripod defensive strategy, as most teams do, but they seem to rotate and hold jammers like a machine, leaving no way out of the pack. They are able to either pin them between blockers or against the line and are keen on last-minute hit-outs and runbacks. They also use their whole torso to block, latching on to jammers and not letting up.

Against Gotham, Crime City showed they could execute quick and effective star passes when stuck, and never gave up. They don’t hesitate to switch between defense and offense and have at least one blocker who can ping back and forth between helping their blockers or springing their jammer. While even in their win against Helsinki they had only a 50% lead status average, it was what they could do in those jams they controlled that mattered.

The one shared opponent that Montréal and Crime City have this year is Rat City. Crime played them in early May at the Big O, beating them by two points, and Montréal’s 131-point win came just months ago at Playoffs. On paper, Montréal seems to have the upper hand in this matchup, but Crime City’s calm and disciplined game will likely keep this a close one. Both these squads are looking better than ever and will be fighting hard for a chance to play the Victorian Roller Derby League later the same day at 6 PM EDT.

Game 2: 12 PM EDT/4 PM GMT/3 AM (SAT) AEDT
#2 Angel City Derby (#4) vs #4 Minnesota RollerGirls (#16)

The Minnesota All-Stars fell out of the top 10 this summer after hanging out there for about a year, meanwhile, the Angel City Hollywood Scarlets have been riding the #4 spot since last fall. This game puts together the two teams with 12 teams between them in the rankings and is heavily favored for the higher-ranked team. Minnesota knows how to put on the heat when they want it bad enough, and will make it a tough fight for ACD, but the disciplined Californians will be looking to blaze a path for themselves through the Champs bracket.

Angel City vs Tampa in Seattle. Photo credit: Hellslinger.

Angel City vs Tampa in Seattle. Photo credit: Hellslinger.

Last season at Championships, Angel City was taken a bit off guard by Montréal in the first half but pushed past them 217-116 to face Gotham. There it looked like the Scarlets may be the first team to take down the giant in the semifinal round of Champs since 2010, but Gotham outmuscled them for a 29-point win. This season Angel’s only defeats came at the hands of Rose City and Victoria, even taking down Denver at the Big O 190-169, an opponent they will see this weekend if they beat Minnesota first.

Angel City had some big names drop off since last season, but it didn’t seem to slow them down any. Satan’s Little Helper still tops their scoring with 63 points per game in the regular season and pulled off 94 and 100 points in their first two games at Playoffs. Following her up is Darby Dagger and Catch Mikachu to fill out their main three rotation, but have utilized Pearl Jam and Whiskey Von-Sweets as well. Chica Go-Lighting played three games during the regular season but only took two jams at Playoffs, and may or may not be part of their lineup in Philly.

As for blockers, Ima BlowBya and Cheker maintain as strong pieces of their tripod, with Lo Betancourt stopping jammers dead in their tracks while Soledad ushers them out of bounds. The aggressiveness of their packs can hurt and help them, whether it rattles their opponents and keeps them subdued, or leads to an avalanche of penalties like the average of nine direction of play penalties they earned in Seattle. Against Rose City, that adrenaline also led to them being a little frantic in the pack, getting strung out. While in control, however, they play very decisive derby with key offensive moves that spring their jammers quickly.

Laci Knight and Tui Lyon perform perfectly in the pivot role, effortlessly switching between duties and grabbing a star pass as needed. Laci even entered the jammer rotation late in their game against Rose City, providing an extra power punch against the stong Wheels of Justice packs. It was part of their more productive second half as they adapted against the WFTDA Champions and nearly matched them for points. Overall, the speed control of Angel City’s pack kept them together against the teams they beat and fell into braced pairs helped them recycle around chaotic gameplay.

Minnesota vs Atlanta in Dallas. Photo credit: Michele J. Hale.

Minnesota vs Atlanta in Dallas. Photo credit: Michele J. Hale.

Minnesota started the year with a 159-point win over Philly Roller Derby before hitting the road to The Big O and Sibling Rivalry. Heading into Playoffs they were 3-4 in 2017, coming within 60 points of Texas but falling to Denver 348-191. Playoffs pitted them against Atlanta first, which produced one of the most exciting games of the weekend. Minnesota was only ahead by two points going into the last jam and they secured their win after Jacked Pipes battled for 70 seconds through an initial pass. Following that, however, they had to face #1 Victoria who kept them to just 36 total points before MNRG faced their fellow midwestern foe Arch Rival and lost 186-91.

Minnesota has had many longtime skaters in the fold of their charter and benefitted from a few recent transfers. Helping flesh out their jammer rotation, which has needed a solid third to round things out, is Switch Please (formerly of DC) and Shock Therapy (formerly of Rat City). Shock Therapy seemed to be the answer this season along with Switch’s leggy footwork making a debut with MNRG at Playoffs. Unfortunately, Brickyard broke her ankle right before the tournament which took away their top scorer who averaged 96 points per game prior. Second Hand Smoke helped fill in, although her heart clearly lies with blocking, and Jacked Pipes took charge as the lead scorer in Dallas, putting up 25 of their points against VRDL.

The blocking contingent is full of wrecking balls and quiet assassins. Diamond Rough, Hurtrude Stein and Madrad aren’t afraid of taking out a blocker or two while Rhea Volt and Crust Almighty may seem unassuming but make up effective components of the great wall of St. Paul. Minnesota is no stranger to passing the star to Hurty or Rhea, and it was a strategy they used nearly 20 times against Victoria, holding them to short scoring passes at the beginning of the game. Minnesota is also quick to assess each situation and position their blockers where they need to be while controlling the speed of the pack.

Minnesota can fall into penalty spirals as Jacked Pipes can have a hard time keeping forearms to herself or Smoke’s aggressive play can get her seated in the box. This fire and determination are what carried them through their game against Atlanta, however, or what nearly helped them beat Texas at Champs in 2015. It appears Brickyard will be joining them for the tournament this weekend, but it will be the last one for DJ FART NOIZE (aka Lapitsky among other names) with rumors of it possibly being the end of the road for others in the Aqua and Army.

Minnesota and Angel City last played at Playoffs in 2015 with ACD taking the win 192-83. With many similar opponents this season, it again looks like Angel City has the advantage after doing better against teams such as Arch Rival and Denver, but both beat Rat City by about 80 points. The winner will get another shot at Denver in the last game of the day on Friday at 8 PM EDT.

Game 3: 2 PM EDT/6 PM GMT/5 AM (SAT) AEDT
#3 London Rollergirls (#8) vs #3 Arch Rival Roller Derby (#7)

These two black and pink teams met last year at WFTDA Championships in the quarterfinal round of games where London Brawling took the win over Arch Rival 197-94. Brawling is an experienced top-tier team that has had to make some changes with roster turnover this season while ARCH has been getting stronger and stronger each year. Arch Rival made their Champs debut in 2015, earned second Champs game last year, and as of the latest WFTDA rankings release, pushed ahead of London by one spot. While London may have had to play without some of the more well-known names on the charter, they still have had plenty of skill to show off in the postseason.

Arch Rival vs Queen City in Dallas. Photo credit: Danforth Johnson.

Arch Rival vs Queen City in Dallas. Photo credit: Danforth Johnson.

Out of their six games played before June 30th at The Big O and Sibling Rivalry, Arch Rival only won two of them, but the four they lost were all against teams currently ranked in the top five. Their roster has maintained many longtime skaters which have helped build a solid foundation in teamwork and cohesion in the pack. This season they did gain Reptar from Denver who took on a relief jamming role at Playoffs, and Vicious Van GoGo from Gotham who we saw spend time in the pack as a blocker in Dallas.

ARCH’s main jammer rotation is led by Swanson and Bricktator who regularly put up about 50 points a game in the regular season, followed by Bolt Action who became a more consistent part of the scoring lineup this season. Rounding things out is Harmony Killerbruise who scored 145 points in six regular-season games, and then Psychokid D Freakout who picked up 100 points over three games. The versatility and depth to Arch Rival’s jammers meant that different skaters took turns as top scorer at Playoffs, and they were able to fill in their last game effortlessly when Bricktator was sidelined with an injury, an issue that may or may not continue into Champs.

The two games in which Arch maintained control and went on to victory were very clean games, only picking up five total penalties in the first half against Minnesota and avoiding any cut penalties in their first game against Queen City. Their problem areas were forearm penalties and direction of play, a result of their slow and solid braced formations. Arch Rival can effectively take on jammers one-on-one, but Texas was able to extend their lead against ARCH when penalty problems pared down their packs.

Arch Rival’s awareness helped open up their defensive formations against opposing blockers who attempted to play offense, deflecting the hits and rotating around them. Blockers often reformed in pairs but spent most of their time in a braced tripod with a skater dedicated to their own jammer off the start of the jam. They also focused on staying forward facing while blocking, sometimes reverting to a braced three wall and while they are able to catch jammers backward, they would be sure to get back into their braced position.

London vs Denver in Malmö. Photo credit: Marko Niemelä Photography.

London vs Denver in Malmö. Photo credit: Marko Niemelä Photography.

London Brawling got their sanctioned games in this season at Anarchy in the UK and Hometown Throwdown, taking down all their European competition but falling to Rat City, Angel City, and Rose City while abroad. Their last regular season game was a 2-point win over Texas, a team that Arch Rival lost to by 90 points at Playoffs nearly a month ago. With Olivia Coupe and Die Die gone, Stefanie Mainey on Bay Area, and Juke Boxx off the track while pregnant, it’s allowed other major players in the pack to shine. (Read about Juke Boxx’s experience as a pregnant athlete.)

Kristen Lee is back since her pregnancy last season, and Shaolynn Scarlett was off earlier in the season with an injury but returned for Playoffs. Kid Block is the ultimate multitasker as a pivot, either blowing up walls or taking jammers on backward while one-on-one. With her jamming history on Tiger Bay, she can also speed away with a star pass. In fact, many blockers are able to latch on to jammers forward or backward, with Arocha and Gaz sticking to them like glue. These individual skills help them funnel jammers into a deadly pair who can recycle and hold until a third blocker could reinforce their tripod.

Another skater to leave Brawling after last year was Master Blaster who returned to Bear City, and then Lexi Lightspeed stepped away this year as well. Rogue Runner, AnDracula, and Trisha Smackanawa all returned this season as jammers, but Rogue has been a clear top scorer for them at 531 points in seven games ahead of Playoffs. Transferring to London from Bristol, Delta Strike has become a main component of their rotation and also former London Rockin’ Roller Jack Attack saw time in the star at Playoffs. While they have a list of jammers to choose from, Rogue Runner’s patient, jukey jamming, and high-flying apex jumps often carried them through rough spots in their games, adding in large scoring jams to close up gaps.

When London’s jammers got stuck, they were able to execute quick star passes to help keep their opponents from running away with the score. Their blockers also kept things in control with effective penalty kills, although they only averaged four jammer penalties per game in Malmö. In their first game at Playoffs, Brawling seemed to have been still warming up, trailing a strong Rainy City team (ranked #13 now) for the whole first half, and only earning one lead status in the first 8 jams against them. Crime City also played a back and forth game with them, as jammers snuck by Brawling blockers at the edges of the track.

Last year at Championships, Arch Rival showed up strong and took down Denver, an opponent ranked higher than them by one spot. However, ARCH can hit the track a bit frazzled, underperforming in the first half until they can regroup and regain focus. London Brawling has been at this travel game for years now and has maintained a strong roster despite many major skaters leaving. They will need the rest of their jammer rotation to step up and match Rogue’s point-scoring capabilities, and blockers will need to bring their individual skill together to keep their defense from getting spread out. This should be the game to watch on Friday, with the winner advancing to a quarterfinal match up the next day against #2-ranked Rose City at 12 PM EDT.

Game 4:  4 PM EDT/8 PM GMT/7 AM (SAT) AEDT
#2 Texas Rollergirls (#6) vs #4 Rat City Rollergirls (#18)

The final play-in game is also between teams ranked 12 spots apart, but #18 Rat City Rollergirls come to Champs the as the lowest ranked team after they upset Jacksonville at Playoffs on their home turf. #6-ranked Texas Rollergirls took 2nd place at Playoffs in Dallas after facing a defensively strong Victorian Roller Derby League in the final game, losing 193-50. While this game is favored for the Texecutioners to win, Rat City can be a bit of wildcard team that isn’t completely predictable and is possibly closing out the postseason a little under-ranked.

Texas vs Victoria in Dallas. Photo credit: Michele J. Hale.

Texas vs Victoria in Dallas. Photo credit: Michele J. Hale.

Texas hosted the Dallas Derby Devils in April, beating them by 211 points, before traveling the rest of the season to attend The Big O, Hometown Throwdown, and SweatFest. The former two events took them to the end of June with a 4-4 record, losing to Victoria, Rose City, Angel City, and then London by just 2 points. To date, they extended their record to 8-6 after going 2-1 at Sweatfest and then beating both Dallas (248-89) and Arch Rival (209-119) at Playoffs, before their hard loss to VRDL.

The Texies have a pretty familiar roster to last season, although lost Bloody Mary and Fifi Nomenon from their jamming rotation. With a strong B-Team program, they always seem to be fostering the next great jammer in the Firing Squad with Nicki Ticki Timebomb breaking out last season and being utilized earlier this year, fielding Alley Oops for a few games, and then Gravy, Baby! became a regular on the jammer bench. Polly Gone returned as a stalwart in the pack after missing from their charter last season, but the presence of Jackie Daniels was very limited on the track while in Dallas, playing only 14 jams in three games.

The main one-two punch of jamming for Texas has been Freight Train and Olivia Shootin’ John, a lead off that provides power and agility. Hauss the Boss, who took time off during the regular season followed up, as well as Gravy Baby!, but both had games that were better than others. In the past, Smarty Pants has stepped into the rotation as needed, but she was only seen as a pivot during playoffs. When stuck, jammers were quick to pass the star, something they did continuously in their game against Victoria where they could only earn lead status 19% of the game. The Texecutioners play a fairly clean game, giving up zero jammer penalties in the first half against VRDL, and averaging about 20 total team penalties per game.

The Texas defense could draw jammers to the line, pinning them there and forcing them to pull back in order to escape. Sometimes falling into braced pairs, Texas could work through and around the opposing team, using them to take up space. Trauma and Smarty Pants traded off as pivots and broke away often to play offense, while Aja Gair (known previously as Barbara Ambush) took part of their constantly revolving tripod. All three blockers along with Jackie Daniels made it onto the USA Roller Derby 2018 charter, and with the exception of Trauma, will all be attending Manchester for the World Cup in February.

Rat City vs Jacksonville in Seattle. Photo credit: Helslinger.

Rat City vs Jacksonville in Seattle. Photo credit: Hellslinger.

The Rat City All-Stars only picked up two wins before the end of June and lost four games while attending The Big O and Tiny Tourney. Between that and Playoffs they had two more big games that went in opposite directions for their ranking; a three-point win over London and a 302-point loss to Rose City. At Playoffs, it was their spunky, aggressive play that helped push them past Jacksonville (186-170) and earn their spot at Championships before taking 4th place overall in four games at their own tournament.

With a high-density of teams in the Northwest, including many talented junior skaters, the Rat City charter seems to change year to year, even throughout the season. There were nine charter skaters who returned to Playoffs from last year, including jammer Luna Negra whose deft toe stop work and ability to sneak by on the line earned her just shy of 400 points in seven games during the regular season. Filling out the rotation with her this year are Renegade Ruthie, Evergreen Jean, and Alyssa Pray, a former junior who has bounced among other adult teams such as Oly. Alyssa Pray and Luna Negra were relied upon heavily at Playoffs, with Pray’s fast and agile jamming pulling off many impressive maneuvers, but also a hefty amount of penalties.

Rat City can also boast a USA Roller Derby skater in Carmen Getsome who along with CeeCee are on the track more often than the bench, each playing nearly 80% of their game against Jacksonville in Seattle. Carmen is a permanent pivot who can easily take a star pass, and CeeCee is often the last line of defense, two important roles that were taken out of games early due to each committing ejection-worthy actions. Carmen Getsome made it halfway through the game against Angel City but after receiving a star pass, she made contact with a referee on the inside of the track that was deemed avoidable, while CeeCee left during the first half of the game against Montréal after colliding with an opposing blocker while going the wrong way, resulting in a flagrant clockwise block. Combined with a jam in which Rat City only fielded their jammer and one blocker, making it 42-12 jam in Montréal’s favor, these errors contributed to their losses.

Another young skater with an already hefty roller derby career under her belt is former junior skater R. Rickel who proved to be a formidable part of the Rat City defense. Combined with excellent solo blocking by H. Botts, solid knockouts by Thumper Skull, and an overall aggressive and adaptive game, Rat City showed at Playoffs that they can really bring it against higher ranked teams. However, at times their tripod may fall apart as blockers try to work more singularly, something that works against them if they don’t stay in control of the speed of the pack.

While Flat Track Stats has Rat City ranked #12 in WFTDA instead of #18, they predict a 91% chance of a Texas win. Comparing similar opponents, both Texas and Rat City fell to Angel City by 81 and 82 points respectively, while Rat City beat London by 3 points and Texas fell to Brawling by 2 points. Depending on what kind of game Rat City brings to Philly, this one could be closer than expected, or much different than what they showed in Seattle. Texas was their downfall last year at Champs, losing to them 238-50.

If that’s not enough derby for you, read Part 2 of our preview about Victoria, Rose City, Gotham, and Denver and be sure to follow us online all weekend long for scores and recaps. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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