Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Cinderellas Here: Minnesota's road to the Finals (part 3)

Minnesota fan: "There's three minutes left in the game.  Plenty of time for Minnesota to bollocks it up."
Madison fan: "Yes, but that's just as much time for Madison to lose it as well."
- Media riser, Thunda on the Tundra, MNRG ahead 119-93

On Day 2, a lightly-hungover, jubilant team of travelling MNRG fans began amassing for Minnesota's next bout.  Minnesota fans on Friday had consisted of friends and family of the league, the North Star Rollergirls of Minneapolis (we likewise cheered our lungs out for them in their four games), and the Twin Cities Terrors.  

However, as Day Two began, MNRG season ticket holders, members of the newly-minted MNRG Debut-Taunts, and even fans who had just heard about the upset victory all hunted each other out to join us in All-Star blue and brown.  They made the trip to see the MNRG compete against its fiercest rival, Madison's Dairyland Dolls, for a shot at #1 in the Midwest and an automatic invitation to the Championship tournament in November.  

With the semi-finals at stake, the MNRG kept it simple after the win over Detroit.  The team had celebrated quietly at a local Italian restaurant, then most players turned in early.  Coach Dan opted for the same fourteen that we had played the previous night.

Madison significantly changed up their team from Friday's victory over the North Stars.  Madison elected to put in players that had played Minnesota in the past and brought in Allie Gator, Dolly Pardon Me, and Jenny Knoxville.  They also put added to the roster L'il Miss Behavin', a remarkable jammer newly called up to the road team.

Madison's method is to bide its time and to delay their opponents on the track until the other team makes mistakes and goes to the box.  At that point, the Dairyland Dolls become a convoy, delivering jammers down the track come hell or high water.  Their packs are also more fluid than our own, allowing them to hit a jammer, then recycle back to the front where they can hit the jammer again.  However, that fluidity comes at the cost of stopping power; a player that is tough enough will break through such a pack with assistance from her blockers.

What I noticed about Madison was that they looked worried, they were convincing themselves that they were going to win.  We had beat Detroit, it was THEY who had everything to lose and we only had something to gain.  Not only that, we had two shots at it (shots a Championships). But golly gee, we wanted it on the first try!
- Diamond Rough, excerpt from online interview, 9/24/2010

The players of both teams hit the track moments after the Windy City Rollers polished off Cincy's Black Sheep.  The first several jams were skirmishes of attrition.  Suzie scored the first two points, but Behavin' took back the two in the following jam.  After two scoreless jams where our jammers were on each other's heels, Suzie scored again...only to get matched the following jam by Dairyland veteran Mouse.  Five minutes in, we were tied yet again, 10-10.

The next jam gave Madison their first shot at making hay from the power jam. The DDs' Darling Nikki got the power off of a track-cutting L’exi-cuter.  This is precisely the moment where Minnesota in the past would lose it and send blocker after blocker to the box.  
Not so in this bout.  Nikki still scored fifteen points to L’exi’s four as Madison knocked out MNRG blockers, but when the next jammers came to the line, only one blocker from Minnesota sat in the box.  Moments later, Psycho Novia caught a track-cutting penalty and allowed Madison to score 24 points over two jams.  Still, Minnesota’s blockers stood, blocked, and stayed out of trouble.  Madison up 50-15.

Madison scored only once more in the half as the MNRG sent no more jammers to the box over that period.  The flipside of the power jam strategy is that clean-playing scorers are difficult to score off of.  Meanwhile, Minnesota began to build the comeback.  Tiki, Diamond Rough, and the rest of the MNRG pack cleared jammers going through rough packs to bypass DD monsters like Chop Suzzy and and Vicious Van Gogo.  Not a lot, mind you…just enough to score two or three points each time.

Vuedoo Prodigy and Juke Boxx also shepherded and bothered Madison jammers, even forcing DD rookie L’il Miss Behavin’ into two penalties of her own…from which we scored eighteen points.  At the half, Minnesota had come back a bit, but Madison’s two big jams kept them ahead.  59-38.

Madison began the second half with Jewels of Denile beating a pack and scoring one against a pack with MNRG advantage.  Suzie Smashbox responded by breaking past Darling Nikki and Chop Suzzy on the initial passfor four.   Jewels returned to the line, only to be sent to the box…giving Minnesota’s scorers a minute against a short-handed Madison pack.  True to Madison's ability to delay during the power jam, MNRG could only coax ten points over two jams from that opportunnity.  A couple of jams later, Minnesota were closing in, 66-56 with 20 left.

Minnesota's Scarmen Hellectra stepped to the line, picked her way through traffic, and took the next lead jam.  Her opponent, Miss Behavin’, could not get through the pack for love or money as ex-Dairyland Doll Juke Boxx and the rest of the MNRG defense stuffed her repeatedly.  Scar scored seventeen points in that jam; each scoring pass sent the audience cheering madly with approval, hitting a lusty high as the score spelled out the lead change (83-66) with eighteen minutes remained on the clock.  

Madison captain Vicious Van Gogo tried to lead her team out of this rough patch in the next jam, but could only score one point amidst a flurry of defensive activity from MNRG.  L’exi then bust out a nine point jam, and things began to look pretty good for Minnesota. 89-67 with twelve to play. 

We reverted to our old, penalty-taking ways for just a moment, and that moment of panic almost killed our win.  Killamon Jaro came out and got hit with a major track cut.  We lost our cool for that power jam, and Minnesota defenders hit the penalty box as we over-extended and attempted to stop the scoring tide.  That nightmare minute of Man-Jar and the pack in the box cost us our entire lead as Mouse and Behavin’ each scored 13 points over the course of two jams. 93-92 Madison with the lead change.

We charged right back in.  Vuedoo Prodigy, Tara Skatesov, and Diamond Rough opened the pack’s gate for L’exi-cuter to give her the lead, then snapped it shut on Darling Nikki.  Like Scar’s earlier jam against Behavin', this was no power jam; Minnesota merely held Nikki from passing through the pack for three whole passes of L’exi.

Miss Behavin’ lined up against MNRG triple-threat Venus Thightrap.  Behavin’ – getting called on a track cut – gave Minnesota another chance to widen the gap, and Venus fairly threw herself through the pack for an easy triple slam as her teammates screeched the pack to a near halt.  

At the very end of the jam, Venus got called on a track cut. Mouse came up for Madison unopposed. 119-93 with time for perhaps two more jams.  Mouse roared on that track, scoring fourteen unopposed, but the MNRG crowd roared back as Venus came out of the penalty box…only to recoil as she was sent right back in for another violation. 

Madison took a timeout and brought Captain Vicious out to jam one more time.  Meanwhile, Minnesota put the fastest pack out that they could muster – L’exi, Suzie, and Scar (with Juke in the box) – and sped as the whistle blew.  That speed saved Minnesota as we faced the power jam; once Vicious broke through the pack, Minnesota’s pack almost kept up with her lapping passes, making it difficult for Madison to do much within the pack besides keep up.  The pace kept Madison occupied when Venus re-emerged – and then Vicious went to the box.  With forty seconds left on the jam clock, Venus kept moving, intent on the final prize. Madison had nothing left. 

Minnesota’s fans counted down the clock, and when it expired, eyes went to Venus coming around that final corner.  Body low, she skated through that last whistle with a look of jubilation.  As the countdown finished, the skaters sailed into a monkey pile of army and aqua-clad women on the track, and then there was nothing but embraces, high-fives, and smiles between the fans and their team.  The Minnesota RollerGirls were heading to the big dance in Chicago…and they would play the Windy City Rollers tomorrow for the North Central regional trophy.

The next afternoon, Coach Dan brought together everyone for a meeting several hours before the tournament bout while Omaha and Arch Rival played for ninth (Omaha caught on to the Arch Rival slowpack game, defeated their strategy, and easily won).  Dan replaced Venus (having torn a pec the previous night) with Jax "Frau Scientits" Kvaas.   The team conferred for some time.  

Meanwhile at the site of the Regionals, fans continued to stream in.  Friends who had laughed and said, "Maybe if they make the finals..." made good on their word and showed up clad in army and aqua colors.  As the new blood joined the throng of Minnesota Nice at the edge of the track, we gathered to watch our friends on the North Stars defeat the host league, Brewcity, for 7th place.  Once the victorious NS Supernovas returned, a number of men and women split off to plan a little reception for the MNRG All-Stars to be ready for the championship bout.


As Minnesota rounded the corners - being named off to the crowd by famed announcer and MNRG Voice of Reason John Maddening - the gaggle of MNRG fans raised their shirts and proudly displayed 'MN ROLLERGIRLS!!' spelled across their bellies to the audience and players on the track (all cracking smiles).  Sports fans had come at last to roller derby.

The first four jams were ours, and for seven glorious minutes we were unstoppable queens of the rink.  Suzie, L'exi, Scar, and Psycho put fifteen unanswered points on the board as our defense, delighted to learn that Chicago was human, gleefully held back WCR jammers long enough for us to score.

The first concern came when Varla Vendetta - the smiling, fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing beast of Chicago - came to the track against Suzie Smashbox.  Varla picked up the lead, but both received their first trips to the box within fifteen seconds of one another.  As they returned to the track, Suzie could not find a path around WCR's Go-Go Hatchet and Sargentina,while Varla scored fourteen points unanswered points.  In one jam, we had almost lost the lead.  In the next, Jackie Daniels (formerly of Grand Raggidy) scored five against L'exi-Cuter. 19-15 WCR with nineteen to play in the half.

We did our best to hold them back, but it was as if Chicago had scouted our game in those opening minutes.  Their jammers found ways to break through weaknesses in the rear of the pack, where our defensive players traditionally worked alone to take down opposing scorers.  As in previous bouts, Chicago executed at a speed and level of dynamic play that we were not yet prepared for.  We scored three more times in that half, leaving us behind Chicago, 73-24.   The problems of this bout couldn't be laid at the feet on any one single jammer or defender.  We were playing clean and making relatively few technical mistakes; Chicago simply owned the shape of the game over that half.

We fought back.  Noticing the problems in the back of the pack, we tried to adjust our game to move our pack front-to-back, laying in wait up top, then descending the length of the pack to attack.  That adjustment did not go smoothly time; our defense began taking many trips to the  penalty box, and Chicago went on a scoring bender off of the pack advantage.  Shocka Conduit scored two double slams in the opening minutes of the second half, and Athena DeCrime got one.

After a 43-1 point spree by WCR over the first twelve minutes, Suzie started the game rolling again for Minnesota against Athena DeCrime.  Despite a heavy Chicago pack advantage, Athena was sent to the penalty box, and Suzie took the lead and the power jam opportunity.  Chicago's pack tried to run away, but Suzie's sprinting power would not be denied...even going so far as to duck under the arms of two WCR players to pass.  Double slam.  117-35, Windy City up.

With seventeen minutes left on the clock, the effort of bridging a 78-point gap seemed insurmountable...yet we were not yet ready to leave the track.  We sent no more jammers to the box and used a rotation of Scarmen, Suzie, L'exi-cuter, and Killamon Jaro to steal points against the WCR lines.  If we were not to win this bout, we would at least throw our jammers against the best in the Midwest and figure out how to play at this higher level.

We had a good run over those last fifteen minutes.  Chicago only scored fifteen points for the rest of the game, in part due to WCR jammers Ruth Enasia and Athena DeCrime being caught in the penalty box for six consecutive jams, in part because the WCR defense was starting to panic at the loss of their scorers.  The missteps led to more blocker penalties and several jams with the pack advantage to Minnesota.  We scored 48 points on the WCR team, but this was not enough to overcome Chicago.

When the smoke cleared and the final whistle was blown, the Windy City Rollers rightfully won the day and the North Central Regional championship, 132-83.  Hell of a game.  We can't wait to take them on again.

The Minnesota RollerGirls have been rebuilding this team of All-Stars for a year now.  We've said good-bye to players like Misfit Maiden and Harmony Killerbruise and welcomed a new crop of rookies and veterans to its ranks.  We've torn out what we could not use and strengthened the core of our team.  And so...we played one hell of a tournament as a capstone to this rebuilding effort, and we now face the greatest challenge yet.

In November, the MNRG All-Stars travel to Chicago to take on eleven other teams that, like us, are the fastest, the baddest, and the best in the world.  We know of five opponents so far; the next six will be decided over the next two weekends.  We want you there. Join our travelling army of Minnesota Nice.  Let's give 'em a bout that they'll not soon forget.

Reporting from where all the women are strong, all the men are accessories, and all the children turn left,
-Garrison Killer

[Thanks to Geoffrey Saucer of the Mad Rollin' Dolls staff for assistance with the Dolls report and the 'Sconnie refreshments.]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

No Cinderellas Here; Minnesota's road to the Finals (part 2)

"Minnesota became the biggest Cinderella since Kansas City in 2007 and Rocky Mountain last year. I knew my picks [Tank had picked us to finish last] were in trouble when I watched their 1st jam against Omaha. MNRG lost their jammer to the box and their defense would not let them score for the entire minute they didn’t have a jammer on the floor. Vuedoo Prodigy spent the entire time pinballing off of red jerseys and setting the tone for the entire tournament. Minnesota played smart, fundamental roller derby all weekend long." Tank, Cincinnati Rollergirls announcer ("I was wrong: My Recap of Thunda on the Tundra", 9/17/2010)

We entered into the regional tournament ranked 7th. Our low seed meant that we would play the Omaha Rollergirls - ranked 10th - for the opportunity to play 2nd-seed Detroit.  Now, Omaha's an interesting team.  The Nebraska league has been in existence for many years, but their location - far away from colleges and younger people - has made it difficult to find a large, faithful audience and retain new recruits until recently.  Omaha's All-Stars have therefore played with one another for years as they slowly built traction within the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association.  Many of roller derby's best prognosticators believed that this would be the year that Omaha would jump center stage and overtake a decaying MNRG league.  Didn't happen.

Minnesota put forward an experienced blocking line against Omaha's women in red.  Those in charge of the roster for Regionals took very few chances, calling up only Killamon Jaro from this year's group of rookies for the trip to Green Bay.  Putting a team out on the track familiar with one another showed from the first jam.  Jammer Scarmen Hellectra fell to an early major, leaving Omaha's Ima Firestarter a full minute to establish an Omaha lead.  Scar's teammates on defense - Venus Thightrap, Honeydew Felon, Vuedoo Prodigy, and Diamond Rough - did not allow Firestarter to even break through the pack once before Scar's penalty was up, and that first jam ended with no score.

The game quickly broke in Minnesota's favor.  We claimed the lead in each of the next six jams as five of our jammers (Scar, Psycho Novia, L'exi-Cuter, Venus, and Suzie Smashbox) broke through holes opened by their teammates and scored big for us - 38 unanswered points.  One of Omaha's star jammer Anna Maniac finally found a way through as Minnesota entered into foul trouble to score a point.  By the end of that first half, we had scored on over 55% of the jams - three of which we hit them for double-digit scoring runs.  Omaha only scored six times over the same thirty minutes, never for more than four points.

Credit where credit's due; Omaha were no pushovers.  Although Minnesota eventually beat them by over a hundred points (final 144-41), formidable jamming from Anna Maniac and Ima Firestarter kept our defensive line did protecting our own scoring line from the sting of Molly Massacre in the back and the 1-2 of Doozer and Mikilya.  However, less than four hours after our victory over Omaha, the same fourteen MNRG players took to the track against Detroit. 

"Garrison: [Do you] think they'll ever overlook a low seed again?
Jax (Frau Scientits) Kvaas: We never did after 2007."
- excerpted from online interview, 9/2010

We have history with Detroit dating back to 2007, the very first year that the Women's Flat Track Derby Association ran regional tournaments.  Minnesota was highly regarded as a hard-hitting (if perhaps a bit brash) and exceedingly tough league to defeat.  In that first tournament, all we had to do was win one game to advance to Nationals; some unsung league from Michigan called the Detroit Derby Girls.  We underestimated Detroit, and it cost us dearly.  The DDG took us out of the running that year (99-77).  

It had taken us three years to have the opportunity to return the favor...and it appeared that Detroit wasn't taking us seriously.  We put up the same team that we used to take out Omaha only four hours earlier, but Detroit made some confusing choices.  

Quick aside for those unfamiliar with flat-track derby tournaments.  When it comes down to it, the key game to win in a WFTDA Big Five regional tournament is the quarter-final.  If you win the quarter-final, you have two chances to win a game that will take you to November's championship tournament.  If you lose or don't show up (that is, if you were to lose a qualifying bout), you fight for fifth place at best. 

Got that?  So I hope that you will agree that it's with some surprise that Detroit put forward a team without several of their seasoned veterans against Minnesota.  Honestly, we were fine with it.  Winning this bout is what we showed up to do.

However, we did not start well.  DDG's Sista Slitchya and Detroit captain Racer McChaseher dinged us for six points over two jams before Scarmen Hellectra responded by punching through Detroit's defensive wall for two.  Suzie gave Minnesota the lead change with a grand slam as Detroit's Boo D Livers was peeled off the track by our own Tiki Torture. 7-6 Minnesota.

Detroit reasserted themselves.  Racer McChaseHer, Fatal Femme, and the DDG pack moved in on our jammers and stranded our forward players out of play.  They went on a 40-11 tear through the middle minutes of the first half.  With nine to go in the half, Detroit started climbing away from Minnesota, 46-18.  

Two things of note at this point. Racer was already playing a lot of jams and kept getting dinged for minor infractions as her experience made up for the younger talent on her team.  Also, Minnesota was keeping up; Honeydew Felon and rookie Killamon Jaro were all over the Detroit jammers, while our blockers were jumping on any dawdling player to establish a pack and try to catch the Detroit defense ahead of the game.  The problem was that Detroit was playing too well for us to put points on the board. The DDG have fit, large blockers who can skate together to create walls that are impossible to squeak past.  Those jammers eager to charge through will get called on back blocking, while timid players merely get holed up behind the Detroit defense.

Slitchya gave Minnesota a chance to rock late in the first half as she got sent into the box for back-blocking Vuedoo Prodigy.  Suzie took the power jam and scored six despite an attempt by Detroit to speed up the pack.  Juke Boxx, Psycho Novia, and Suzie Smashbox all slashed  through for a combined 13-0, but Racer McChaseHer took her team into halftime, brushing past bruising blows from Killamon Jaro and Coochie Coup for eight.  60-37 at the half.

Minnesota appeared to adjust their jammer rotation for the half, bringing in more nimble skaters such as Juke Boxx, L'exi, and Suzie Smashbox to go around the walls instead of through them.  The electric reaction from the crowd that Juke got from going to the line in MNRG blue can't be commented on enough; Juke's only been playing for us this summer, and many of her former Madison teammates (as well as the Minnesota fans) were solidly rooting for #A18.    Sista Slitchya gave the fans an opportunity to cheer by going to the box twice in the space of three jams. Minnesota took the lead back by scoring 27 unanswered points on the power jam.  Detroit experienced the speed of L'exi and Juke scoring and started to play foolishly, sending many of their blockers to the box as we merely moved fast and turned left.  

Psycho jumped into the action the very next jam, taking eight of her own before the referees called the jam prematurely when Detoit's Effin Money took a hard hit amidst a Minnesota pack that descended on her like a snowstorm over I-94.  Suzie then scored three, and suddenly we had the lead by fifteen points. Minnesota up 75-60 with twenty-two left.

Detroit tried like hell to get back, but the MNRG would return fire jam for jam.  Even a hard hit from Boo D Livers on Psycho that sent her into the Stats riser seemed to do nothing but give Killamon a chance to jam as Psycho rested her knee.  Detroit came back within nine on an excellent jamming run by Boo and Racer, but the night was not to be for the Michigan league.  

With ten minutes remaining, Detroit all-arounder Cookie Rumble got caught with two penalties while carrying the star during the same jam.  Detroit's pack imploded like a black hole as player after player in Detroit colors went to the box over frustrated, over-extended hits.  Suzie scored 19 points, and L'exi took the last minute of the power jam to take another ten. 109-71 Minnesota.

Playing as jammer with eight to go, Racer McChaseHer ran roughshod through a tiring Minnesota back (at this point, the MNRG had been skating for almost three hours of action on the tracks) and scored ten, but gained her sixth penalty.  Minnesota's Scarmen Hellectra came in for the next jam unopposed, and got sent to the box herself.  This penalty returned Racer to the track to score even more...however, the lightest of blocks by Tiki Torture at the front of the pack sent Racer weaving out and back onto the track.  A seventh penalty trip.  

Scar got released back onto the pack, and with seven trips to the box, Racer McChaseHer - who would go on to score 32 points in a single jam later in the tournament - fouled out with three minutes to play and a gap of 18 points for her team to overcome.  Suzie grabbed five more points in the next jam, but they were points Minnesota didn't need.  As the final whistle blew and Minnesota's fans and players alike collapsed into a pile of quivering joy, MNRG finally returned the lesson to Detroit...never look past your next opponent. 118-91 Minnesota.  

Madison - and MNRG's first shot at a ticket to the Championship tournament in November - was next.

[I am again indebted to MNRG's players for this part of the report - particularly Jax Kvaas who attended the '07 Regionals as a fan.  Also, I surely owe a beer to a few Cornhuskers who told me stories about mighty Omaha.  Sincerely, good luck next year.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Cinderellas Here; Minnesota's road to the Finals (part 1)

"That's the kind of s*** that scares me."
- attributed to a player for the Rocky Mountain Roller Girls, on watching Minnesota jump from 7th-seed longshot to Championship contender

The Minnesota RollerGirls defeated three of the top ten teams in the North Central Region of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) last week in Green Bay, WI. In doing so, the MNRG All-Stars booked a berth in the upcoming WFTDA Championships in November.  

Let me repeat that; Minnesota is going to the Championship tournament in Chicago to play amidst the world's greatest roller derby leagues. The derby world was shocked to find that - as the Derby News Network declared on Saturday - Minnesota's back.

Why the surprise?  Fans of the MNRG may have known about our remarkable team of All-Stars for years, but most leagues remembered Minnesota's last Regional outing at our own Brawl of America in 2009.  We placed 9th out of ten teams, getting wasted by the Windy City Rollers (155-25) and lost to Minneapolis' own North Star Supernovas (76-61).  We did take the final win by narrowly defeating Grand Raggidy (91-76) to finish out of the cellar, but the weekend of play seriously disheartened many of our players.  The phrase 'rebuilding year' got thrown around a lot, but the simple fact was that we did not play well.

From the fan's perspective, Minnesota had two major problems at last year's Regionals.  First off, serious penalty trouble.  Whenever one of our jammers went to the box, the defensive unit would quickly follow in number.  The lack of the Minnesota pack on the track allowed our opponents to strike hard on the power jam and take two or three easy-scoring laps of the track.  Those power jams led to 10-15 points scored against us while our jammer cooled her blistered heels.  

We also had great difficulty breaking past opposing blockers; it seemed as if our defense controlled the front of the patrolling pack, but our jammers would slam up against the walls in the back created by the opposing players and could not shove their way through.  We did not break 100 points the entire weekend.  Plainly, something had to shift; we had finished next-to-last in the last two tournaments (and sent out after our first game in the one-loss-and-out 2007 Regionals).  We were tired of rebuilding, but that meant hard work was ahead.

Minnesota's first response to the 2009 Regionals took place in October when we played and soundly beat the fantastic Carolina Rollergirls 105-69.  If you look back at that bout, you can see some good habits begin to emerge.  Most important of those...the All-Stars did not allow a single Carolina jammer to score more than five points in a jam.  Our blockers were able to keep juggling the Carolina scorer by actively engaging the opposing jammer as she re-entered the pack, sending her to the back repeatedly until our own jammer had time to lap.

Over the next two bouts, we took on two low-ranked leagues in the North Central region - Sioux Falls and Hammer City.  Both leagues have great skaters, but we outplayed them both by understanding the fundamentals of the modern game (walling, controlling pack speed and the clock, and shepherding jammers instead of diving at them) and by working as a unit instead of as individual players.  We beat each by margins of over 125 points. 

The All-Stars took a well-deserved break over the spring, played Minnesota's remarkable 6th season of hometeam bouting, and returned to play a very, very busy summer schedule. Ranked 7th in the North Central Region over the summer by WFTDA, we started the All-Star run against lower-ranked teams.  We took on the best from leagues around the region in unsanctioned play (including Appleton, WI's Paper Valley Roller Girls and the La Crosse Skating Sirens), but we also headed west to Colorado. 

We defeated Pikes Peak (ranked 11th in the West) by over 30 points and a younger Fort Collins team by significantly more, then geared up to go to Philadelphia.  We played close games against Providence and Tampa Bay, winning against both by less than five points each.  These bouts were not fantastic; many players quietly opined that we had squeaked out the wins when we should have been able to stomp all over our opponents.  What they did, however, was show that we could hold off other teams even when our level of play wasn't at its highest.

Our trip to Dallas gave us a much needed awakening.  We put up a tremendous first half, outscoring the South Central region's fourth-ranked Dallas Derby Devils 38-21.  It's reported that our blocking line then began to stumble and our team's endurance fell out from under us.  Dallas thundered back, and despite late-game jamming efforts from Scarmen Hellectra and Venus Thightrap, we fell to the Texans 113-73.  We raged back against Dallas' other flat-track league - Assassination City - and toppled them (and their beer can pyramids) 264-20 in a Sunday bout.  

The All-Stars, under Coach Dan's direction, began to more seriously look at the question of conditioning.  They redoubled their efforts to train for Regionals. The team began showing up earlier to practice and started running multi-hour scrimmage practices.  Coach Dan kept up the pressure with heavy doses of additional agility/power work as well as hellish stair drills.  

We had one more road trip to take before September's tournament.  The West's 10th-ranked Sacramento's Sacred City brought us out for some sun, sweat, and a few surprises, but we solidly defeated them 202-57 using a team very similar to the one that we would put forward in Green Bay.  The cherry on top of that trip?  An opportunity to scrimmage against none other than the Bay area's own roller derby league, the BAD Girl All-Stars.  The BAD Girls are ranked 6th in the powerful Western region, and though we got our butts handed to us in non-sanctioned play, the experience gave us one last look at high-level derby as it might be played in the NC Regional tournament.

By this time, we had gotten the news that we would be seeded 7th in Green Bay's regional tournament for the North Central.  The news gave us something concrete to shoot for. We would need to win both of our bouts on the first day of the tournament.  Win those, and we would be one win away from going to WFTDA's elite Championship tournament in November.  Due to our 7th-seed position, we would charge out of the gate on Friday morning against 10th-seeded Omaha.  If (When!) we prevailed, our All-Stars would then need to defeat the Detroit Derby Girls four hours later.  We would have already played full out against Omaha's quickly-adapting All-Star team, while Detroit would start fresh.

Hard work.  Three hour practices.  Countless hours of watching tape.  Going across the nation to learn everything we could to prepare for Green Bay's Thunda on the Tundra tournament.  Nothing magical; just a hell of a lot of training, countless laps of the track, missed work, and personal sacrifice. The result: a newly-forged MNRG team.  

In the second part of this report (coming later this week), we'll follow the rebuilt MNRG All-Stars to Green Bay as they break through Omaha and Detroit's teams on Day 1 to head towards semi-finals.

(I greatly appreciate the assistance from Slam Serif of the TC Terrors, members of the MNRG, Chad Eng, Ayn Rant of NSRG, and for this part of the report.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Minnesota RollerGirls Storm Titletown

The Minnesota RollerGirls broke through heavy competition to take second in the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA) North Central Regionals.  Over three days of derby against four opponents, Saint Paul's MNRG shattered the expectations of players and spectators alike and qualified to play in Chicago at WFTDA's Championship Tournament.

WFTDA's leagues ranked the Minnesota RollerGirls seventh in July amidst a field of nineteen eligible leagues throughout the Midwest.  As a top ten league, WFTDA's governing body invited the MNRG All-Stars to compete in Green Bay at their annual tournament.  The top three teams emerging from this tournament would qualify to play for the WFTDA championship in November.

The Minnesota RollerGirls All-Stars arrived in Green Bay on the tenth and played early against the short-handed Omaha Rollergirls All-Stars (ranked 10th) to qualify for the quarter-finals, defeating the Nebraskans by more than a 3-1 ratio (144-41).  

Their next opponent - the Detroit Derby Girls - proved to be a much more difficult challenge.  Detroit had last met Minnesota at regionals in 2007 and upset the then-dominant MNRG road team by sending them out of tournament contention in the first round.  Detroit's 2010 team - a hard-hitting team with advantages in both speed and size over the Minnesota players - took an early lead.  Minnesota put their most nimble, stable players as jammers (scoring players) to find holes in the defense and battled their way back to a 19-point win (118-99) against a shocked Detroit.

Minnesota likewise made a comeback and a win against the Dairyland Dolls of Madison, WI semi-finals.  Madison's more agile packs gave the Dolls an initial advantage over Minnesota's wall-building strategy.  However, a change in jammer rotation late in the first period brought MNRG players in to score that could barrel through Madison's softer defensive line - giving the Saint Paul team a 74-17 scoring advantage over the middle 30 minutes of the hour-long bout.  As the final jam of the bout ended (final score 119-107), the MNRG team collapsed with joy on the track.  With the semi-final victory, the MNRG qualified for the championship tournament without needing to face another opponent (Madison would eventually take the third spot, defeating the Black Sheep of Cincinnati in the consolation bout.)  They also qualified to play for the honor of tournament champions.

In the Regional championship bout, the MNRG All-Stars played and ultimately failed against the two-year champions, the Windy City Rollers of Chicago, IL.  The Rollers' scoring unit trounced Minnesota's weaker rear defense, while Minnesota's own jammers could not cope with a pack able to block at the rapid pace of Minnesota's best jammers.  Chicago defeated Minnesota 132-83.  

The Minnesota RollerGirls open their home season at the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday, October 16th.  The MNRG All-Stars will travel to the WFTDA championship in Chicago, IL (hosted by the Windy City Rollers) and begin a weekend of tournament play on Friday, November 5th for the chance to earn flat track derby's highest honor; raising the Hydra trophy.  Their first opponent has yet to be determined.

A full report of this amazing weekend - from first whistle to after-party PBRs - will be available soon.  In the meantime, please join us in congratulating our Minnesota All-Stars!  Tickets are available for the WFTDA championship at  We hope to see you there!