Photos: Jules Doyle
After previous visits to Austin, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and Atlanta, the best in flat track derby converged in Milwaukee for November’s 2013 WFTDA Championships, competing for the Hydra trophy that New York’s Gotham Girls had earned in 2011 and successfully defended in 2012.
In many ways, 2013 was a fresh beginning for the organization, which had dramatically overhauled its ruleset, its ranking method, and its playoff structure since 2012. The shakeups led to a few new faces among the 12 teams left standing after the playoffs; Ohio, Angel City and London appeared for the first time ever, while Rat City was present for the first time since 2008.
It was also the first Championships since 2008 that wasn’t going to feature the Oly Rollers in the final bout; Oly won in 2009 and was the runner-up in each of the next three years, but opted not to participate in the WFTDA playoff structure this year. Few doubted that dominant Gotham, riding a 41-game win streak into the weekend, would reach the final, but with most of the rest of the field practically impossible to triangulate, there was no clear favorite to challenge them.
Friday’s opening-round action, featuring the 8 teams that finished second and third in September’s four playoff tournaments, did absolutely nothing to clarify the situation – but it did represent the single most well-matched day of action the WFTDA postseason had ever seen. All four Friday games saw multiple lead changes and remained in question until the final five minutes – or later.
In the weekend’s first game, London crossed the pond for the second time in two months and kicked off the weekend as the first non-U.S. team to make an appearance at WFTDA Championships. After their very impressive performances against Rose City and Denver at the Fort Wayne regional playoffs – and opponent Atlanta’s 127-point loss to Bay Area in the final of the Salem playoffs – many observers thought London had a solid shot at going deep in the Championships tournament, but Atlanta didn’t quite see it that way.
The teams traded the lead five times over the first third of the game before Atlanta took a 68-59 lead with just under ten minutes to play in the first half. Atlanta never trailed again, although London was within single-jam striking distance for the whole run. Atlanta’s lead peaked at 31 points, 171-140, with three minutes left to play; London won the three last jams of the game, including a full-length 19-13 donnybrook of a final jam, but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit. Atlanta advanced to play Texas with a 15-point victory, 184-169.
In the second game of the day, Angel City and Rocky Mountain went at it in another close matchup that was somewhat structurally similar to the opener. RMRG came in as a highly regarded team following two wins over Denver earlier in the season and a respectable performance against juggernaut Gotham in the final bout of the Asheville playoffs, while Angel City’s star had dimmed a bit after they were convincingly beaten by Philly in the Richmond semifinals.
Rocky Mountain had to recover from a flat start that saw them slowly fall into a 90-40 hole by the waning minutes of the first half, but a half-spanning three-jam, 37-0 run put them ahead by a hair in the opening minutes of the second half, 103-101. Angel immediately retook the lead, but lost it again with about 15 minutes to play. Rocky Mountain was clinging to a 182-174 lead with five minutes to play when they put Triple Shot Misto out for her first jam of the game. She cut the track twice in two jams, letting Angel City run up 30 unanswered points. That sequence put Angel City up by 22 points with under two minutes to play; two jams later, Angel City advanced to play Denver with a 228-198 victory
Though they got strong performances from a rotation of Casstrator, Toxic Taunic and Alpha Q Up, Rocky was missing a key jammer in Sweet Mary Pain, who’d been one of their best weapons in the playoffs. On the flip side, Angel City got a surprising performance from Satan’s Little Helper, who put up a team-leading 54 points after having scored a grand total of zero points through the playoffs.
Both Rat City and Ohio came into the third opening-round game with a lot to prove. Ohio, making their first-ever appearance in Champs, had gotten something of a fortunate draw in the regional playoffs when powerhouse five seed Rose City ended up eliminated on the other side of the bracket against four seed London and second seed Montreal had a very flat weekend. That helped six seed Ohio qualify for a final game where Denver squashed them by 170 points. Meanwhile, Rat City, who finished third in Salem, had reached Championships in 2007 and 2008 but missed out for four years from 2009 to 2012 due to being stuck in the toughest region in the WFTDA.
In Milwaukee, it was Ohio that got to silence the doubters, riding a truly phenomenal performance from tireless Phoenix Bunz. Bunz not only put up an incredible 130 points on 13 jams for a +62 point differential, she also blocked an equal amount of jams and was only boxed twice.
Rat City didn’t go quietly, though, clawing back from a first-half 113-43 deficit to take a 151-147 lead early in the second. From there, neither team could gain solid advantage. The game climaxed with whiplash momentum changes as Rat’s own double-threat Carmen Getsome scored a 19-0 power jam to put Rat City up 208-195 with under five minutes to play, but Bunz put an exclamation point on her career game with a full-length 35-4 power jam of her own to put Ohio up 230-212 on the penultimate jam. The last jam went scoreless, allowing Ohio to advance to play Gotham on Saturday.
Friday’s closing grudge match between Windy City and Philly managed to live up to the standard set by the day’s opening three – not to mention the standard set by the teams’ most recent meeting, a 190-189 overtime thriller for Philly at June’s East Coast Derby Extravaganza. This time out, Philly led for much of the first half, though WCR was up 115-99 at the break; Philly came back to lead twice in the second half and hold a 170-169 lead with nine minutes to play. However, WCR’s defense, led by heavily-used Bork Bork Bork, KonichiWOW and Ruth Enasia, nearly flatlined Philly in the homestretch and WCR closed the game on a 47-4 run to win 221-174
It was a particularly satisfying victory for the team from Chicago, who finally broke a four-year streak of being eliminated in their first game at Championships – and also finally got their first win ever over Philly, who’d defeated them in their previous four meetings. The win sent Windy City to face Bay Area in the quarterfinals.
After the nonstop lead changes and late-game heroics on Friday’s opening-round games, things suddenly got a lot more predictable in Saturday’s quarterfinal rounds. All four of the #1 seeds – Texas, Denver, Gotham and Bay Area – handily blew out Friday’s winners.
Denver’s 200-125 win over Angel City stood as the closest quarterfinal, while Gotham absolutely crushed Ohio, setting multiple new records for Championships dominance with a 445-point win at 509-64; Ohio only scored 8 points in the first half against 304 for Gotham. The other quarterfinals saw Texas boot Atlanta by 93 points (227-134) and Bay Area eject Windy City by 95 (230-135).
That set up a final four of Texas vs Denver and Bay Area vs Gotham – which got back to expectations being subverted. History suggested that Texas / Denver would be a close one, as it was a rematch of the memorable 2012 third-place game that saw Denver come back late to narrowly win 210-199; earlier in 2013, Texas had won a close regular-season game 227-189. In Milwaukee, though, it was a much different story as Texas was at the absolute peak of their game while Denver simply could not keep their jammers – or blockers, for that matter – on the track. The Mile High Club got smacked with 13 jammer box trip and 51 penalties overall against 4 / 27 for Texas, leading to a lopsided 298-129 win for Texas and their first trip to the WFTDA championship game since 2009.
To pretty much everybody’s surprise, Bay Area / Gotham ended up being the more competitive semifinal. Although Bay Area trailed for all but the first jam of the game, they captured the crowd by managing to stay in the ring with the previously untouchable champs all the way through. Gotham’s average margin of victory through the postseason stood at a stunning 244 points going into the game, but Bay Area never fell more than 70 points behind in this one.
The second half included a stirring seven-jam Bay Area stand that saw them hold Gotham scoreless for ten minutes and put up 34 unanswered points. That put Bay Area within shouting distance of an improbable upset at 145-117 with around ten minutes to play, but Gotham shook it off and brought the game in for a safe landing at 174-125. Still, though, Bay Area won the second half 78-72 – the first time Gotham had been outscored in a half in three years.
After a night for everybody to catch their breath, action began a bit earlier than usual on Sunday as WFTDA’s new division structure allowed for third-place and championship games for Division II teams. The third place game saw Blue Ridge (Asheville, NC) win 215-188 over Sac City (Sacramento, CA), while the Division II championship proved to be the closest game of the weekend as Jet City (Everett, WA) squeaked out a hotly contested one point win over Santa Cruz.
Back in Division I, the third-place game between Bay Area and Denver was a rematch of a July bout that Denver had won by 44 points, but for the second day in a row Denver ran into a team playing their best derby of the year right as Denver was stumbling. Bay Area won by 50 points this time out, 224-174.
Although the overall penalty situation was even in this one at 37 for each team, Denver again was beset by jammer penalties, committing ten to Bay Area’s six. The 50 point margin was actually a bit misleading, as BAD already had a 52 point lead at halftime and consistently padded it through the second, leaving them up by a very comfortable 83 points with five minutes remaining. Denver’s 33-0 run to end the game was far too little far too late, and Bay Area claimed their best postseason showing ever by finishing in third place
The tournament had one final surprise in store for the derby faithful in the Gotham / Texas final. Even after looking uncharacteristically mortal against Bay Area on Saturday night, Gotham was an overwhelming favorite in the game, riding a 43-game win streak and having smashed Texas 313-66 in June. But Texas, historically known for playing their finest derby in the postseason, took things to a whole new level against Gotham, giving the defending champions their toughest test since 2010.
The game started mostly as expected, with Gotham opening up a 49-23 lead after about ten minutes; Texas had scored almost all of their points on a single 19-0 power jam at that point. But it quickly became clear that Texas was going to improve on Bay Area’s already-impressive performance. A tight Texas blocker rotation that saw a lot of work from Smarty Pants, Fifi Nomenon and Barbara Ambush managed to slow Gotham scoring down, allowing Texas to tie the game at 67 with ten minutes left in the half, and they’d hold the lead over the next three jams before Gotham took it back at 97-80. At the half Gotham was up by just a jam’s worth of points, 108-82.
Gotham opened the second half on a four-jam 14-1 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 122-83, but Texas erased all of that in a hurry when a jammer penalty on Gotham’s Claire D Way turned into 19-0 and 25-0 jams for Texas. It was 127-126 Texas with 21 minutes to play, and Gotham would run Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod back to back for the rest of the game.
The Texas trio of Bloody Mary, Hauss the Boss and Olivia Shootin John paced them almost perfectly for the next nine jams, which saw three lead changes and Gotham ahead by just four points, 167-163, with eight minutes left in the game. But just as was the case against Bay Area on Saturday, Gotham remained calm and effective even under unfamiliar pressure. Their defense clamped down and only allowed Texas to get lead on one of the final six jams, and Texas could only convert it to 4-2. Going into the final jam, Texas still had a prayer at a score of 199-173, but Bonnie Thunders claimed lead jammer and called it at 0-0 to hand Gotham their third WFTDA title in a row and 44th straight win
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